After five and a half years living with homeless and the mentally ill in the inner city of Louisville and dealing with a Southern Baptist Convention split that seemed at least locally to be focused way too much on the powerless it was time to take a break. I had chosen to go to the country. Specifically to a Christian commune called Koinonia. It had been integrated in the 1942 in rural South Georgia and had been the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity to name two of its claims to fame. I was to garden and work with the youth in the surrounding neighborhoods. Part of the process was to have a spiritual mentor. John was to be mine. John was a tall lean man who did not say much but worked hard. Because he did not speak a lot and was hard to get to know I had no clue what to expect from him as mentor.
We were to meet at least once a week but he said we will meet how many times was not important. Having had spiritual guides in seminary and other places I was happy with the concept of meeting whenever. The first meeting I was given a two hour notice to meet him I try to explain to him I was scheduled in the garden and this would not please Bob the gardener. He said tell him it is to feed your soul. So the next thing I know I was with John in the old beat up farm truck he drove. “Are you scared of needles”, he asked as we drove down the road to where I had no idea. ‘No’, I said. He nodded his approval as he continued down the road. I looked at him with questioning eyes. ‘We are going to town’, he reluctantly volunteered. Going to town was not something we did every week so now I was confused and maybe a little nervous. My previous spiritual guides and I met in offices and here we were in a run-down truck going to town and needles were going to be involved.
He asked how things were going. He offered no commentary on what I said only continued to drive very fast. We reached town faster than I had ever done before and he pulled in a church parking lot. Aw I thought this must be one of his spiritual meccas he went to when he needed to get away from it all. Now everything made sense. He looked at me and said,’ The Red Cross needs blood. Have you ever given blood?” Now I was even more enlightened. ‘Yes’, I replied. He nodded his head in approval. We went and were placed on tables and stuck with IVs. Half way through my pint he looked over at me and said,” Jesus said to lay down ones’ life for another was the greatest love you could give’. He looked away that was my lesson I thought. After we were having our cookie and drink as is the ritual after giving blood. He looked at me and said in a serious tone which caused me to lean in expectantly,” Man does not live by bread alone.” He smiled to himself he thought that was funny.
I began to look forward to our rare but always eventful meetings. He told me he too had gone to seminary and was to be a pastor but one thing sidetracked him ‘I am a bad preacher’, he explained, ‘and you may have notice I am not a great conversationalist.’ One of our other meetings consisted of a ride in his truck to the cow pasture. We rode over hill and dale with me hitting my head on the roof of the truck before he stopped. I looked over the meadow and saw at least fifty cows in the large field. “He looked at me and said,’We need to herd these cow back into the barn yard”. ‘Okay,’ I said. I looked at him for guidance I had no clue how to herd all these cattle. I opened my door and got out and waved at one of the cows that was actually close to the truck and the cow moved in the general direction of the barn. I looked back at John as a kid looks back at their parents for approval. He shook his head and waved for me to get back in the truck. I knew he must have been able to tell by my waving at the cow I had no idea what I was doing. I was dejected. Once I got back in the truck he blew the horn twice. All the cows looked up and headed for the barn. He looked at me, ”Sometimes when you do not know what to do it is best just to sit and wait, instructions will come if we let them.’ Message received I thought. I also wondered if I was not his most difficult mentor job.
Our final session was when he called me and asked if I could bring the truck to an area off the farm on a highway. I as usual had no idea of what would come next. When I arrived I saw the large cargo truck the farm owned turned on its side with all of our harvest crop spilled on the side. People were trying to harvest the crop. He came over to me and said, ‘ I drove too fast around the curve and the load shifted and the truck fell over.” I nodded and said, “The tortoise will eventually win the race.” He stopped, looked at me, put his arm around me and laughed,” The student no longer needs the mentor.” We went to salvage what we could of the crop.