When he came into my life he was a tall, thin, 15-year-old lad who stood as straight as a fence post. His father had just walked out on the family, leaving him and younger siblings in the daze of abandonment. Fifteen is a bad age for a boy to be deserted by a father.
David turned up at church but not regularly, and sometimes he came knocking at my study door just to touch base. In a sense, in his distress he attached to me.
One Sunday night I preached a sermon on Jesus’ parable of the Pearl of Great Price. David was present. I made the point that in everyone’s life there are secondary treasures that must be surrendered to gain the greatest treasure of all – Jesus.
The next day he arrived at my house bearing a single shot, 22-caliber rifle. David loved guns. The single shot 22 wasn’t much to look at but he insisted I have it. It was apparently a love gift. I think that gift must have reflected in some way what he had got out of the sermon.
When David was eighteen he joined the army. The Vietnam war was on. I lost track of him but after he had done a tour of duty in that distant war zone he turned up again, now a handsome young man in uniform, proud of himself and confident. The army had apparently become something of a father to him, giving him the discipline and purpose he needed.
My recollection is that he signed on for a second and then a third Viet Nam tour of duty. For one tour he was a sharpshooter and on another he was assigned to the paratroopers.
He told me of one combat situation in which he was hunkered down in a bomb crater when a Viet Congsoldier came over the rim. David got to his revolver first.
He told me about another time when he and a select number of other soldiers were on a sweep through a thick forested area. The point man was ahead and David was behind him and to his right, ready to deal with any enemy who might be flushed out.
The point man had scared up an enemy soldier who was running top speed toward him on a jungle path to escape. David had to take him out, but in this Viet Cong’s final steps before falling David saw his face. It was a human face. Maybe the face of a husband and father. Why do this to me? it seemed to ask. With that he had had enough of war.
My experience with David was one of what might be called peripheral pastoral contact. All active pastors have them. I think back through the misty past of my exchanges with him and ask if I was thorough enough in sharing the Gospel. Every pastor must at times be left with such questions.
In any event, although I knew you long ago, David, and the years have since piled up, I hope you are still out there. And I hope you are serving the Lord.