Many words will be written in the coming days in memory of Wayne Smith, who was promoted to Glory yesterday. Wayne was the founding minister of Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky. The church grew far beyond what Wayne envisioned at the beginning.
But this is not a story about that church. It is the story of a man I met in the rain.
Some years ago, our daughter attended The Lexington Christian Academy, which was based at Southland Christian Church. I picked her up after school each day.
One day, as I reached the parking lot, it began to pour rain. Fortunately I was early. So I just sat in the car. What was a simple gentle rain quickly became a storm. All Heaven seemed to open, and everyone there poured buckets of water down on the earth.
It was raining so hard, I could hardly see the church. But as I waited, a short, rather “portly” man emerged from inside the building. He had no raincoat. But he was holding an umbrella.
Slowly, he made his way to the parking lot. He stopped by a car and helped a lady out. He held the umbrella over her and gently placed her hand on his arm. He then slowly returned to the building, getting wet himself, since there was not enough room for both of them to be covered by the umbrella.
He ushered the lady back to the building and then held the door open for her. She went in. However, he didn’t go in. He returned outside into the storm. He seemed to be scanning the parking lot.
Much to my amazement, he then began slowly walking out into the pouring rain again. He went to another car and repeated the same process. He helped a man out of his car, and guided him under the umbrella and together they returned to the building.
I saw him repeat this process several more times, each time becoming more and more soaked himself. I did not know who he was. All I knew was that he was an amazingly kind man, who didn’t mind getting wet, so others could stay dry.
While I was pondering the wonder of the scene that had unfolded before me, I saw him again coming out to the parking lot. But this time, he was coming toward me. I wondered if he was going to a car behind me. However, he stopped next to my car!
Over the roar of the wind, he yelled, “Wanna go inside?”
I felt a bit guilty because I did not need to go inside. My usual routine was to wait and our daughter came out to the car. So I told him no thank you. He took a moment to wipe the rain off his glasses, and then started back. But as he went, he called back, “If you change your mind, I’ll be over there.”
He sloshed his way back to near the building and continued his watch of the parking lot. As quickly as the storm had come up, it was over. He folded up his umbrella and went inside.
It was only later that I found out that the man in the rain was The Reverend Wayne Smith, the pastor of the church. I was to see him many other times over the years, often at ordinary places, such as Waffle House or Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Once I heard someone come up to him and call him “Reverend Smith.” He laughed, the kind of laugh that seemed to originate in heaven, a laugh soaked in Joy.
He extended his hand to that person and said, “I’m not Reverend. I’m Wayne. Why don’t you sit down and have a cup of coffee.”
When he had open heart surgery later, the surgeons might have thought it a privilege to get a glimpse of that magnificent heart. But many others had already seen it. He had the kind of heart that expanded beyond the confines of a human body.
Jesus comes to us in many ways. He sees us through all our storms and seeks us out. He puts our hands around His Arm and guides us to shelter. He invites us in. And if we say no the first time, He tells us where He will be if we change our minds.
He introduces Himself without titles or pretense. He invites us to stay and dine with HIm.
I am sure all the Saints of God rejoiced when Wayne arrived in Heaven. And I imagine him sitting down and immediately starting a story about his adventures on earth.
As I often do, when it rains, I will think of Wayne. I think the best way to remember him will be to look for those in a life storm and go to them with an umbrella.