Just before Christmas a couple of years ago, my cousin Len entered the senior care facility of his small Kentucky town. While an older person being admitted to an assisted living center is not normally alarming, the circumstances that led to Len’s admittance were very concerning.
You see, Len was a lifelong bachelor who had retired from IBM. He was an intelligent person who had done well for himself. However, one morning, Len’s neighbors awoke to the sound of gunshots. The police were called. When the police arrived, they found him sitting on his front porch with a pistol beside him. Upon further investigation, they discovered Len had fired several shots through the walls of his home before walking outside to sit on the front steps. In short, he was depressed, lonely and suicidal.
So, the day after Christmas, my father and I drove to Len’s senior care facility. When we arrived, he was genuinely happy to have company. We made small talk about the good old days until it finally came time to turn the conversation towards something more urgent.
Rather abruptly, I said, “Len, the reason we came to see you is that we’re worried. We know you’ve been lonely and depressed, but you need to know that God loves you and is always with you.” With that segue, I ventured right into a simple presentation of the gospel using “The Romans Road to Salvation.” When I finished, I asked Len if he would like to receive Jesus as his Savior and he immediately responded with a “Yes, I’d like to do that.” And after we prayed, we celebrated the spiritual birthday of Len Wilson. He had been born into the family of God.
The next day, I returned to the assisted living center and presented Len with a Bible and gave him certain passages he should read that would encourage him. I wished him well, assured him of my prayers and drove from Kentucky to Alabama rejoicing in the good news of Len’s salvation. In fact, the next Sunday morning, I announced to my congregation that lost people were eager to accept the Gospel if we would just share it more willingly.
But within months, Len took his own life. He jumped from the window of his fourth story apartment to the concrete sidewalk below.
Yes, Len had been born again, but he was left as a spiritual orphan just moments after his new birth. He was a child of God, but he didn’t have a church family or Christian friends to visit him in his loneliness or to pray for him in his battle with depression.
I’m not saying that if Len had been in church, he wouldn’t have taken his life. I understand there are many heartbreaking reasons that lead to the taking of one’s life. However, I do wonder if the outcome would have been different if, following Len’s spiritual birth, he had been enfolded into a church family that would visit, pray and watch over him with the love of Jesus.
Now, when I think of my cousin Len, I’m reminded that evangelism isn’t enough. It’s a start, but it also takes visiting with one another, praying for one another and looking out for one another.
An orphaned child of God is left to fall into great danger. Therefore, it takes the family of God to raise a healthy child of God. So, please, don’t uncouple evangelism from discipleship within a loving church family.
State Missionary Daniel Wilson is director of evangelism.