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KEEPING THE FAITH | Learning to recognize the full worth of a person

A chance meeting with "Old Joe" near Youngstown State University turned out to be a priceless lesson.
The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin

Zechariah 4:10 admonishes us not to despise the day of small things. This remains embedded in a God moment that I failed to fully appreciate.  

As a student at Youngstown State University, I encountered a very non-assuming gentleman at the entrance of the former Wicker Basket Restaurant, which seemed like an upscale eatery to this financially humble (please read that as “poor and struggling”) college student.

This was not the first time I saw this quiet, yet eccentric individual, but it would be the one time I would never forget. Folks around campus often referred to him simply as “Old Joe” although I had no idea of his age.

I suspected old meant “familiar.”

At our chance meeting, he simply sneezed and I responded in quick reflex, “God bless you!” which caught his attention. He thanked me and began to strike up small talk. He talked about God’s goodness, as I nodded my head in agreement. 

Honestly, I really was not fully attending to the discussion. I was actually pondering polite ways to end it. I did not sense he was lonely but simply enjoyed engaging in random chit-chat with anyone willing to listen. 

Meanwhile, I assumed he was mustering up the courage to ask me for money, but he did not. In fact, he did just the opposite. During this brief conversation, he reached into his inner coat pocket and pulled out a postcard and a black marker. It was a reproduction of his artwork and he offered the spiritual interpretation of the creation. He autographed the postcard and presented it to me. I thanked him for the kind gesture but still had to rush to my next class. I jammed the postcard in my textbook using it ultimately as a bookmarker. At the end of the quarter, I sold the book for cash with the postcard left within the pages.   

Old Joe died a few years later and, to my surprise, I discovered people were actually calling him “Tony Joe.” His real name was Anthony Joseph Salvatore, a highly respected and renowned artist. This acclaimed painter had his works prominently displayed in prestigious art galleries such as the Butler Institute of American Art and Smithsonian Museums. That postcard, with his original signature, is highly valued today. At the time, I failed to recognize the worth of the person and his gift to me, yet the lesson learned was priceless!

During the month of October, we recognize Down Syndrome Awareness as a way to celebrate the abilities, rather than disabilities, of people living with Down syndrome. The concepts of diversity and inclusion are not limited to race or gender. Down Syndrome Awareness Month helps to foster inclusion, understanding and increase opportunities for people with Down syndrome.  

Someone once reflected, “A child with disabilities often spends hours being taught how to interact with others, but why don’t we spend time teaching those without disabilities how to interact with them?” 

Our grand-guys, Izzy and TJ, are proof that people with Down syndrome can live full and rich lives. Their infectious smiles and unconditional love toward all represent the best of humanity.

Locally, the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley provides support, resources, education and opportunities to people with Down syndrome throughout the area. The group also sponsors the annual Buddy Walk. DSAV provides activities for children such as swimming lessons, family outings to sporting events and sponsors the iCAN Bike, which is a week-long camp that instructs children with Down syndrome how to ride bikes. The philosophy of the association is simple: people with Down syndrome are really more alike than different. These individuals are capable of doing really anything, it just might take a little bit longer for them to do it. 

October is also Clergy Appreciation Month which honors and celebrates faith leaders who honor the call to serve God and His people. I also bless their companions and families who witness first-hand the sacrifice of time, talent and treasury.

Shepherding presents its challenges even during the best of times. Dealing with multiple needs, juggling the demands and obligations of the ministry is not for the faint of heart. There are hurt people seeking a comforting word and reassurance that God has not forsaken them. Yet these are not normal times. We’re in the thick of a second surge within this pandemic, a contentious political season and increasing tension and strife. 

While they may not openly admit or share, faith leaders are also facing intensified anxiety and heaviness

Hebrews 6:10 reminds us, “For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for Him and how you have shown your love to Him by caring for other believers, as you still do.”

Please don't take your spiritual leader for granted, in fact take time to express your appreciation. These “essential” first responders have been unsung heroes. Many have been modifying, adjusting and adapting to the needs of the congregation in the midst of the current environment while offering hope, prayer and counsel.  

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work.”

A card of appreciation or note of encouragement, a gift card can do wonders. It does not have to be grand or exorbitant. Remember, we should embrace the small things with great appreciation. Take some time to pray and consider how you can bless and encourage your spiritual leader to keep fighting the good fight of faith!

The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin II serves as the lead pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, chaplain for the Youngstown Police Department and local coordinator for the African American Male Wellness Walk of the Mahoning Valley. He resides in Youngstown with Dorothy, his partner in marriage & ministry. They share the love and joy of six children and seven grandchildren.

— All biblical citations are New Living Translation unless noted otherwise