Paying it forward

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. -1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV)

In the 1970's in Mesquite, Texas, we used to run church buses in the neighborhoods around our church. They were called J.O.Y. buses (Jesus first, Others second, Yourself third). We would sign up riders (mostly kids), and go by to pick them up for Bible classes - every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. Obviously, "Stranger Danger" was not the issue it is today. While en route, we would sing songs, play games, and have a Bible lesson.

When I got to be about 14, having recently been baptized, my dad thought it would be a good idea for me to start working on one of the JOY buses. The first "bus captain" that I worked under was a long, lean Texan named Jimmy Carty. Jimmy was married to Sue and they worked on Bus 3. Jimmy always had a smile, always had a piece of gum in his mouth, and always wore a cowboy hat unless he was inside the church house. He was tough as nails but friendly as all get out.

After being on the bus a few weeks, Jimmy told me it was my turn to teach. I told him I couldn't, but he just kept smiling. I told him I didn't want to; he just kept smiling. So I took a turn teaching. It was a full-on dumpster fire. I couldn't remember my story, I dropped my pictures, my object lesson didn't work right, and the kids were bouncing off the walls. Afterward, I told Jimmy I didn't want to work on the JOY bus anymore. Jimmy kept smiling, but he said we'd go talk to my dad about it together and if that's what we all decided, then I could quit. I thought my dad would appreciate my predicament and let me off the hook. Of course, Jimmy knew better.

We talked to Daddy, and he said we should give it three months, then re-assess the situation. Jimmy spent those three months investing in me - heavily. He gave me some tips for preparing and presenting a Bible lesson on a moving bus (hint: you can stay on your feet if you pretend you're on a surfboard). He took me on his Saturday visits to the riders' homes to meet their families. He let me know I had room to fail. In other words, he gave me the skills, he taught me to care, and he encouraged me to keep trying. I worked on Jimmy and Sue's bus for two years. When I got a driver's license at age 16, I became captain of Bus 8. And Jimmy was still smiling.

Jimmy was one of many who made an impression on me by pouring into my life. He and the others like him helped make me the man I am. I still have people who are doing that to this day, over 40 years later. Maybe you have a Jimmy Carty or two in your life. Whoever they are, wherever they are, make them smile today by passing on what they gave you.

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. -Philippians 4:9 (ESV)

Scott Thompson