Nearly 40 years ago Carole and I embarked on a trip from Polson, Montana to Salem, Oregon, stopping in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to get married. We were without a clue as to what we were doing, had no concrete plans, had no work waiting for us…  We just knew that we had to change our environment if we were to survive as (relatively) new Christians.

The first weekend we went to a church that was recommended to us, New Covenant Chapel in Salem. A couple — Rollie and Betty Rogers — introduced themselves to us immediately. We really didn’t fit in the scheme of things there — my long hair  being one thing quite out of place — but they immediately invited us to dinner after church.  I don’t recall if we accepted that first week, but that invitation initiated the first of many after-church dinners at their house over many years.  They had children at home that were close to our ages, and they lived in a humble little house they rented a couple blocks from the church. While their house was small their hospitality was as expansive as their hearts were,  and they became friends with us and extended hospitality that transformed our lives.

They began by helping arrange an after-the-fact wedding shower for us, and their acts of kindness stretched over decades.  We became close friends with some of their children. Rollie was a church elder, and taught us on Sundays and eventually in a Bible college the church started. Rollie invited me to play basketball, and we competed in table tennis (where I eventually became good enough to finally beat him — at least a couple times).

Without their hospitality, friendship, and care I don’t know how we would have turned out… John Maxwell says, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” Just a few weeks ago I attended a life study at our church in Florida by John Ortberg on Soul Keeping.  In one of the sessions he spoke about the parable of the sower, and how we have to monitor our soul, which he paralleled to the soil Jesus spoke of.

My Bible reading included Mark 4 this morning, and it struck me that God placed Rollie and Betty in our lives to be that good soil Jesus spoke about. Rollie’s friendship helped me when I was being mocked at my work because of my faith (“In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy;  and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”)

Their example of how they lived humbly affected our view on wealth and prosperity (“And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word,  but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”)

Their (relatively) large family and love of children impacted us also, in a culture that was critical of us as our family grew over the years. I will be eternally grateful for their friendship, and for the Grace that placed our paths together.  Rollie passed away to be with Jesus (and Betty) recently but I know that departure from this life does not end a friendship that was so critical to my life and that friendship can extend eternally.

Michael W. Smith says it so well:

Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
I can’t believe the hopes He’s granted
Means a chapter of your life is through

But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends

And with the faith and love God’s given
Springing from the hope we know
We will pray the joy you live in
Is the strength that now you show