Geez, was it really 45 years ago, Kay? You brought me along to your house? It most likely was for our lunch break from school. What must your parents have thought as their preacher’s kid showed up with this girl who was just a tad on the shall we say “impulsive, high strung, energetic” side of things. Of course I can’t really know what they thought, but I know this. Your dad never blinked an eye. Or at least not where I could see it!
I was not a follower of Jesus at the time, and neither were the members of my family. That did not seem to bother Mr. Barnett in the least, as it might well have bothered others. Some years later as I would relate my testimony as we began our missionary service, people would ask me how I came to know the Lord. And I would tell them about Kay (most of you call her Paula) and her family. I do not remember Jesus being presented to me in a four step plan or a bridge plan. I do not remember being asked “If I died tomorrow do I know if I would spend eternity in heaven.” I do not remember a Romans Road presentation or a one way or an EE or a CWT or any of the other tools employed during that time to present Jesus to someone. I do remember being loved and being accepted. I would share during my testimony that the Barnetts didn’t tell me how to follow Jesus, rather they showed me what it meant to be a follower of Jesus as they welcomed me into their family. They loved me no matter what. How fitting that my Senior year of high school when I accepted Christ, Kay and I left within days after my baptism for a mission trip to the border with Texas A&M. And then that summer the day after graduation we took off together for the border for a summer mission trip. Kay, did Mr. Barnett know that I was teaching you to drive a standard on the trip? He might have drawn the line there if he did, but I don’t think so. You see, Mr. Barnett believed in me.
As my call to missions evolved, Mr. Barnett was one of my biggest champions. While others wondered about marrying Butch at the time because he did not sense a call to missions, Mr. Barnett said not a word. Rather he married us. A note here, some of us learned the hard way that it could be a dangerous thing for Mr Barnett to go off script during your wedding ceremony! There was no telling what joke he would share or what story from your youth he would bring up! As Butch and I began our married lives, Mr. Barnett welcomed us into his church at Reliance Baptist. When we later began our seminary and then missionary journey, Mr Barnett would joyfully and proudly ask about where we were, what we were doing, what were our plans. He was always one of our biggest champions. Mr Barnett believed in us. In fact the last time he saw me a couple of years ago, when he would recognize me which was off and on during the time we had together, he would say, “Nell, I pray for you and Butch every single day.” I have now been a career missionary for over 33 years. I do not doubt for one second that Mr. Barnett did indeed pray for us every single day.
What I would like people to know is that while I enjoyed a special relationship with the Barnett family, I am not the only person Mr. Barnett believed in and invested in. I am one of an endless host of others. He did not care how far down you had fallen. He did not care about your family history. He did not care about past mistakes or frankly even present mistakes. What he did care about was helping you become all you can be in the power and love of Christ. I am sure Mr. Barnett knew and studied all of the various plans for sharing Christ. His gift was in coming alongside you, no matter where you were at and loving you. Believing in you. Believing to the point that he would help in whatever way he could.
I know Mr. Barnett believed in his children, Kay and Clifford Lee, but I have a word for Jonathan and Noelle. You had a unique relationship with your grandfather. A relationship not always experienced by other grandchildren and grandparents. Your grandfather believed in you. I have watched over the years. Your entire lives in fact. He did not just love dearly. He believed in you. He invested in you. He championed you. That is his legacy to you.
John 20:21 in the CEB says, “But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.”
Mr. Barnett lived these things so that others would believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing others would have life in Jesus’ name. He believed in me and I have had the joy, grace, and power of living life in the name of Jesus.