You’ve probably heard the idea that says something like no two human beings on the planet are separated by more than 7 degrees of “connectable dots”. While that seems somewhat far-fetched, it is pretty amazing how small the world is, and how connected we can be in the providence and purpose of Almighty God.
I became aware of an amazing connection this past week, a link that actually starts way before I could even imagine seeing it; but I know historically when the lines began to merge that would connect two families together in significant ways. It’s a long story, so hang with me!
The part I know started about 60 years ago, in, of all places, Tucumcari, New Mexico. A young couple named Duane and Mary lived there, involved in the service station business and also very involved in their local church. Many churches of that era were small and financially unable or simply not interested in paying a man to be a “full-time” preacher/pastor, so their pulpits were filled each weekend often by young men who were training in ministry. It was a good arrangement. The young preacher needed the practice, it didn’t cost the small church much, and neither party was generally injured significantly as the neophyte parson mastered his craft before a very forgiving circle. In this case, once a month, the young preacher-in-training was my brother Gene. And as his life intersected with this young Duane and Mary, a friendship developed. This all was happening about 1955, a few years before I was even a sparkle of passion (or example of poor judgment) on the part of an older couple in Amarillo who probably should have quit having kids while they were ahead. That’s another story.
A part of the back story in this is that my father ran in Amarillo the very school for preachers and Christian workers that launched my brother and a dozen other men out on weekend preaching appointments in small towns and farming communities nearby. This school’s location embedded within what would one day be my home church guaranteed that said church was filled with young families and children, some outstanding, others with great potential, and maybe a few who had tried just about everything else in life to make a living besides preaching. It was a vibrant fellowship. And it beckoned in that warmth to that young couple in Tucumcari. The more they learned about it, the more they liked the idea of being a part of it. So finally in 1958 they packed up, moved to Amarillo, and opened another service station on Washington and Wolflin that they ran by day and then attended this school by night. A lot of life-long friendships were born, and others firmly cemented, including those with my own parents-to-be. The dots were getting connected, the picture taking an early shape.
After a few seasons in Amarillo, this somewhat itinerant family would pack up and move to Oklahoma, where Duane would excel in the gift of salesmanship. A few years later would find them moving to Lubbock, and then about 1968, back to Amarillo, back again to the familiar church setting where my father pastored and ran his school. This time they would come with more baggage, two little boys to be exact, brothers named Shawn and Brendan. By that time the elder Shelburnes had also re-filled their nest with two boys, Curtis–and the one writing this blog. The four of us were kind of stair-step in ages, but the two boys in my family sure enjoyed the two boys in Duane’s. It would not last too long, this connection, because Duane would take a job selling tires that would all-too-soon find his family moving to Hereford. The family paths had crossed and merged–and now headed off in different directions for decades—never to cross again? No. Not by a long shot!
Some 40 years later two of these four boys, now grown men, would be blessed with briefly overlapping roles in an Amarillo church once again, But soon it would be the Shelburne boy, this time, moving off to New Mexico, keeping the reformation of a decades-old-relationship still in dormancy, with just occasional connections over the years until finally, in about 2010, some almost 50 years after their first fellowship as little boys, the two men, now much older than their fathers had been when this story began, would find themselves by God’s grace all sitting on the same pews, along with Duane and Mary. A perfect circle? Perhaps. But the story doesn’t end there.
The two boys-grown-to-men in this story, Jim and Shawn, had also had a daughter and son each. And Shawn’s son Shane had gone off to college a few years back, not unlike his granddad almost 60 years before, to learn about the Bible and preaching. It was last Sunday, Palm Sunday2016 at Washington Avenue Christian Church, that Shawn’s son Shane preached his first sermon as a staff pastor at our church. Now I call that a pretty perfect circle!
Now did all of these connections occur because a young couple in Tucumcari decided to attend church faithfully there? Or did it happen because a young man (my brother) decided to go once a month and preach the gospel in New Mexico? Or did it happen because the parents of Duane and Mary Wyly instilled in them the importance of being involved in a church family? Or did it happen because a young man, my father, some 80+ years ago listened to the whisper of God when he told him to consider training preachers as his life’s work? Or did it happen because my grandparents had instilled the roots of faith in my father’s life that made it possible for him to listen? Was it because the Gospel is an incredible force that draws people toward a life response? Or did it happen because a hundred years ago someone in Tucumcari took the great commission seriously enough to start a church there where all of these dots would begin to connect? Did it happen because God had a firm grip on the lives of every man in this story–and their parents and grandparents? Or did it happen because 55 years into this chapter a grandpa’s grandson would answer the call to preach the Gospel? YES!! The answer to every question I’ve posed and the hundred others I can’t even know to ask—is—YES!
Isn’t God wonderful in his ability to connect the dots? “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)