Tommy is a retired air force pilot in our church. Tommy used to fly the Vice President of the United States, the Secretary of State, members of Congress, and foreign dignitaries all over the world. Tommy is usually one of the first people to volunteer at church when a need arises. The pilot who is ready for a mission comes out in Tommy. He is used to carrying out orders and getting the job done. Tommy has flown important people all over the world, but I think that his most meaningful mission was when he flew Clifford.
Clifford had an accident when he was younger and it left him mentally and physically handicapped. He is a fixture around here with his walking stick, keys, and phone hanging from a cord around his neck. Clifford is hard to understand when he speaks. One has to often ask Clifford to repeat himself a few times just to get what he is saying. He moves slowly and walks with a limp. Clifford will always grab you at church to ask for prayer, or to volunteer to do something. Many times I honestly have to just nod my head and say “OK, Clifford, that’s good.” I know Clifford cannot do most of the things he would like to do. After all, he is handicapped.
In September of 2011, Hurricane Irene hit the North Carolina coast, and our church was called into action with a disaster relief team. The North Carolina Baptist Men do an amazing job when natural disasters occur in our region and beyond. When hurricanes, tornados, floods, etc., happen, these men jump in their trucks and go help. They have very difficult work to do, like cutting down trees, mudding out flooded homes, clearing piles of debris, and helping people who have lost everything. They do not get paid. The days are long, and the work is physically and emotionally draining. This mission with Hurricane Irene was not for the faint of heart. No one would have ever expected Clifford to go. But when Clifford heard about the hurricane coming to North Carolina, he wanted to go help. The normal reaction would be to brush him aside and tell him no. But Tommy and a few others prayed about it. They asked the question: “If God is calling Clifford to help, why shouldn’t we let him go?” After getting a doctor’s clearance, Clifford was cleared for takeoff. With Tommy as the pilot and Cliff as his wingman, they left with a small group to spend a week on the coast of North Carolina. This community had been devastated by the hurricane.
Clifford was the surprise of the trip. Many had their doubts about how much he could do. But no one worked harder than Clifford. He was the inspiration for everyone. All the other volunteers and leaders could not help but be blown away by Clifford’s desire to help others. When the volunteers got tired, Clifford’s tireless work ethic re-energized them. If Clifford could do this draining work, so could they! Many times Tommy tried to get Clifford to take a break, but there he was, slow and steady, determined to make a difference. The difference was not just in the relief work that was done. It was in the witness that Clifford had to hundreds of people who were inspired by his heart for those in need.
I think we all need that kind of inspiration. Thanks, Clifford, for inspiring me. And thank you, Tommy, for investing in Clifford.
Invest in the few, change the world.