Well Done, Don Johnson

I learned early this morning that a saint died. His name is Don Johnson. Most likely, very few of you who are reading these words have ever heard of Don. I met Don in 1986, when I was planting a congregation just south of Memphis, TN, on Getwell Road. Through the wonderful twists and turns of the Holy Spirit, I had been the pastor of Don’s sister-in-law, Doris, the previous two years in a small the Mississippi Delta town.


When we were gathering folks to be a part of this new congregation, Doris suggested to Don and her sister Billie that they should consider coming to the new church. They listened to her advice and were at the first service on September 11, 1986.  Since that day, Don missed only five Sundays. Three of those were when he was out of town, following his grandson’s baseball team. Two of those Sundays, he found a church where he could worship while he traveled. The other two misses were because his health didn’t allow him to attend.


Don showed up every Sunday morning at 7:15 and did not leave until 12:15. He greeted every person who came. Made sure the coffee was made. Picked up trash in the parking lot. Weeded the flower beds. Moved chairs. If Don had had a nickel for every chair he moved over the last 31 years he would be a wealthy man. Every Monday night Don would gather with a handful of other members of the church and take the visitor cards from Sunday and go to pay a visit to those who had worshiped on Sunday. I wish I knew how many visits he had made over the last 31 years.  When we were building the first building back in 1988, a group of clergy, led by my father, a master electrician, gathered in the cold of winter to wire the building. Don took vacation days to come to work with us every day until the job was completed.


You get the picture.


Today, by the grace of God, I was in the Memphis area when I heard the news and went by to visit Billie, Don’s soulmate and wife of 60+ years.


It was like I was back in 1988. We picked up where we left off.


Don and Billie were married at the ripe old age of 18. Billie rocked our daughter Laura in the nursery from the time she was born until she was ready to graduate to the 3 year-old Sunday School Class. Don and Billie loved our children like they were their own.


I give thanks to God for the life of Don Johnson. He gave the last 31 years of his life to a place that connected him to the love and mercy of God. He was faithful, in many ways more than any person I have ever known. We could learn a lesson or two from Don. As Billie told me today, “I never heard Don say an unkind or critical word about anyone.” That is the man I knew. I’m proud I had the privilege of knowing Don Johnson. Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be more like him.


His death in these days before Christmas reminds me of all those who have walked the valley of the shadow of death in Advent and Christmas. I am mindful of my sister, Deb, and my niece, Caroline, as they continue to grieve the loss of my nephew, Gale, who died on December 23, 2013 serving in the line of duty as a police officer.  I am mindful of Beth, Dixie and Skip, Gale’s wife and children.   Grief is hard any time it visits us. It is especially difficult during the high and holy seasons of the Christian year. My friend Jorge Acevedo held a service last Sunday night called “Blue Christmas,” a service of healing for those walking this lonely, grief-stricken season of Advent and Christmas. Those of us who remain in the land of the living would do well to pause and offer prayers for Billie and others who walk this lonesome valley.


Jesus said, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11: 28-30


May God grant a measure of peace to those walking with a limp through  Christmas season.


Well done, Don Johnson, thy good and faithful servant.