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Tuesday, November 24, 2009


J. Grant Swank, Jr.

Jeff had so many Operating Under the Influence breakings of the law that he spent too many years of his young life behind bars.

“I’m the black sheep of the family,” he said one Friday evening when I visited him in jail. Many of my Friday evenings were spent in that ugly visitors’ room. But it was worth it. At least that’s what Jeff told me. He had no other ones to call on him except one young woman, Yonna.

“The rest of my family made something of themselves, but the bottle got to me over and over again.”

However, I learned that his biological father had not paid much attention to anyone in the family. Soon his mother married again. And again.

“She goes from one loser to another, like looking after stray dogs,” Jeff explained.

One jail visit I offered to be his father. He immediately took me up on it. We shook hands on the deal. He was in his late 20s when discovering me as his dad. I felt it to be God’s will and a privilege.

Jeff was winsome, witty and intelligent.

“My grandma took me to her church when I was a boy.” It then spilled out that he learned about Jesus, salvation, hope and love. But grandma’s influence faded from his youth when she died. From then on out, it was pretty much whatever religion Jeff grabbed hold of — which was practically nothing.

Jeff went from job to job. But the bottle forever got in the way.

I drove him to the motor vehicle department one spring morning. He expected that he would not get his license back for 8 years. Then all of a sudden I saw his slender frame leaping out of that front door toward my car. He was ecstatic. Instead of 8 years, he’d get his license in 4. That was something to cheer about, at least Jeff reasoned it that way. In the meantime, he was at the mercy of others’ wheels. However, seemingly that was a known art to Jeff.

When he got released from jail after his last stint, I collected several hundred dollars from friends to help him get into a rehab center in the city. He bunked out with several other men on the second floor. His chores were listed on the kitchen wall. He got his meals, counseling and a warm building.

On Sundays, I picked up Jeff for worship. He joined us in our house church. A group of us moved into the house church mode several years back, that is, after having spent our lives in a real-life church building. However, the simplicity of a house church — like unto the Early Church — appealed to us more.

We worshiped from house to house on the Lord’s Day.

By a miracle, God provided Jeff with a house in the city. An elderly woman died, her daughter wanted to sell her property quickly, and Jeff got it at a very good price.

Our house church had a house warming for Jeff one Sunday morning when meeting in his living room for a service. Then from time to time I’d slip him a ten or twenty, sometimes a fifty-dollar bill when I had it. He needed it. After all, he was starting all over once again — out of jail and making it. Further, he said I was his dad and I said he was my son.

One day he protested about my gifts. “But that’s what a dad does,” I answered. “He helps his son out.”

I had looked forward to a son. I have two daughters. But I longed for a son. Now God brought Jeff along.

Then came Yonna. She was hankering for a man big time. Like crazy. Like moving in to Jeff’s house. Furthermore, she had wheels.

Early on Jeff testified to receiving Christ as His Savior. Our fellowship provided him with a new Bible. He was also reading daily from devotional booklets distributed during our worship times.

Jeff had two children — one from one mother and the other from another mother. The children worshiped with us. As youngsters they too reached out to Jesus’ love. The day they did, I noted tears in Jeff’s eyes. He was so happy to know that his own children had a new start of soul, far more than he had when their ages.

Sometimes Jeff needed a ride to a school meeting with his son. Before Yonna moved in, I drove into the city, picked Jeff up and drove him to the meeting. At another time Jeff had a doctor’s appointment at the other end of the city. I drove him to the doctor. At still another time Jeff had a social worker’s appointment with one of his children. I drove him there, too.

I was putting a lot of miles on my van. But I was his dad. He was my son. It was a joy. And I told him so.

Jeff was growing spiritually in the Lord. He was a quick learner. He picked up biblical teaching readily. I was very proud of my new son.

But then it was that one day Yonna moved her furniture from her trailer out in the country to his city house. All of a sudden it was stashed in every corner of every room. Far too much for the space; but it was all there.

When we worshiped on Sunday mornings in Jeff’s home, Yonna went off somewhere. She never joined in with us. That was sad. But his children worshiped with us. They were more than anxious to learn another story about Jesus. At Christmas, our house church presented the children with gifts, particularly the nativity scene for under their tree.

On a Sunday morning when we drove to Freeport for worship followed by a fellowship meal, Jeff announced something in the van upon our return. I had said, “Well, Jeff, how about next Sunday we meet in your home for worship?”

“We won’t be able to meet in my home any more,” he replied simply. No other explanation.

I looked in the rear view mirror to see Jeff seated in the middle of his two children, his arms around their shoulders. I wondered what my ears had just picked up. But I said nothing in reply. I just let his sentence sink way down deep.

“We won’t be able to meet in my home any more.”

It was Yonna. She had moved in, taken over. So we never met in Jeff’s home for worship again.

The next Sunday I told Jeff where we were meeting. He did not show. Nor the next Sunday. It was that quickly that I had a son, then he slipped away.