Thanksgiving at the Mission

Remembering my Grandpa Barnes this morning. I guess I always think about Grandpa around Thanksgiving. He was born on Christmas Day, 1900, the one birthday I can always remember. Otis Theodore Barnes, the tallest, strongest, and most devout man I knew as a child. He seemed to me a gentle giant, with the large, powerful hands of an auto mechanic, hands that showed me how to throw a curve ball.

When Grandpa wasn't under the hood of somebody's car, he was always doing "the Lord's work." He would take off his gray work shirt with his name on the red and white patch, and put on the white shirt and narrow tie of "Brother Barnes." Grandpa was a lay preacher in the Nazarene church, serving in small churches that needed help. But his main gig was at home, where he would record and broadcast "The Voice of Hope" Gospel program on Kansas City's AM radio waves. For years, "Brother Barnes" taught the Bible on the radio, not with the glitz and glamour and bad theology of most radio preachers today, but with plain, simple, straightforward Bible teaching, and lots of people tuned in. I guess there is no way to know how many people he touched and blessed through those broadcasts, but the letters and postcards kept coming as Brother Barnes shepherded his radio flock. Year after year, he never faltered. He never quit.

When it was time to retire from the auto shop, instead of slowing down or taking it easy, Grandpa and Grandma took on the biggest project of their lives - "The Voice of Hope" storefront mission in a rough part of downtown Kansas City. For years Brother Barnes and his faithful wife drove down to the mission every day, preparing a meal for all the street people who came through the door. Grandpa would stand at the door and greet each one as if his guest was the King of England. Along with the hot meal, Grandpa led a worship time and presented a simple Gospel message, every day, without fail, until his health faltered and he grudgingly gave it up.

That's why I always think of Grandpa and Grandma Barnes at Thanksgiving. Every year my family drove downtown to the mission on Thanksgiving morning to lend a hand and celebrate Thanksgiving with Grandpa and Grandma and all the folks that had no where else to go. Being the youngest, all I did was stand beside "Brother Barnes" at the door as he welcomed each person, most he knew by name.

The last chapter of Grandpa's life was difficult and sad, his health failing quickly. He was bedfast for seven years, blind and deaf for the last two years. Believe it or not, my grandmother cared for him at home all those years until he died. I was in college at the time in nearby Liberty and was often called over to help with Grandpa, sometimes in the middle of the night. Grandpa was always gentle and apologetic, not wanting to be a burden. When the end finally came, it was a long-awaited, merciful homegoing.

We gathered in Gladstone for the funeral and my dad conducted the service, but that's not what I remember best. I was sitting on one of the front rows with the rest of the family and I saw something remarkable and beautiful just before the funeral began. We heard the shuffling of footsteps in the rear of the chapel. Turning around I watched the back two rows began to fill with men, rough-looking men from the street, men who still remembered and loved "Brother Barnes" after all those years.

Dad read the words that day, never more appropriate. "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

So, I am feeling very blessed on this Thanksgiving, the blessing of "Brother Barnes."


Don Wideman said…
A blessed memory! Another of your riches! Happy Thanksgiving, Drew. Hope all is well with you and yours. We send our love.
Don Wideman

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