Thursday, August 10, 2006
Seeds of Faith--Part 1
A true story, written by my mother, Ruth Childers Seamands. She and my dad, J.T. Seamands, were missionaries to India for 20 years.
Soot, smoke, and cinders floated down on the heads of passengers as they boarded the Madras Express. The long, roaring engine hissed and puffed as if to say, "Time’s wasting. Let’s go!"
J.T. climbed into the second-class coach and heaved his luggage up into the top bunk. The train shuddered and jerked, wheels began to slowly turn, and one other passenger practically fell into the coach beside J.T. A muscular black man. He pulled a towel out of his shoulder bag, wiped his hair, his face, and flipped the towel around his legs. "Didn’t think I’d ever make this train. The poor old horse pulling my carriage was half dead on his feet." He plopped into his seat and heaved a great sigh.
"I just got in, too. I came in a jutka which swayed all over the road." J.T. opened his bag, took out a water bottle and offered his traveling companion a drink. Everybody carries their own water and tin cups on trains in India. The man held his cup while J.T. filled it, and they both drank.
Settling down, they watched Bangalore pass by their windows. J.T. looked at him. "Do I know you? Seems like I’ve seen you before. We don’t often see American black men in India. You ARE American, aren’t you??
"I shore am, and proud of it, too. You’re a red-headed American?"
"Yes, I am. My name is J.T. Seamands. What’s your name?"
"My name is Gunboat Jack and I’m a fighter. A boxer. I’m a middle-weight, but I fight good."
"Oh yes! Now I know. I’ve heard about all your bouts and your wins for a long time." J.T. reached over and shook hands with him. So happy to meet you, Gunboat Jack."
"Mistah J.T. , what are you doin’ out here in India?"
J.T. grinned. "Oh, I’m a fighter, too!"
Gunboat looked skinny J.T. up and down. "Well, now, it don’t seem to me like you’re much of a fighter. Who do you fight?"
"I’ll tell you, Gunboat. I’m a missionary and I fight the devil."
Gunboat considered that answer for a time, then nodded. "Mighty tough opponent you got there, Brothah."
J.T. laughed, his deep bass voice filling the small compartment. "Yes, he’s tough all right. But God is on my side and I’m on His side, so we give the devil a run for his money."
Bangalore was left behind and now glimpses of villages with low mud huts, bullock carts, and sometimes tea stalls flashed by. Smoke floated out from inside the houses. J.T. knew village people well, and at this time of day the smoke was from charcoal fires on the floor with women baking chappaties (bread) on flat tin pans. The savor of chappaties made J.T.’s stomach growl. He loved them. "Gunboat Jack, how’re you doing these days? You haven’t been fighting much lately, have you?" J.T. studied the heavy profile as Gunboat stared out the window.
"Naaaw—I been slowin’ down."
" I know you win bouts in the ring, but how’re you doing in the ring of life" Are you winning there, too?"
Gunboat’s jaw clinched and his lips moved, but he was quiet for a while . "I’ll tell you, Mista J.T., I’m not doin’ too well in the ring of life. I get knocked out a lot. Oh, I know my trouble—I like three things too much. I like drinkin,’ I like women, and I like music. I go fightin’ and win, and get paid good money. Then I want to play, and ’fore long my money’s gone and I’m sleepin’ it off in a place I don’t know. Then for a while I can’t get a fight and need money. Sometimes I don’t eat."
He peered at J.T. with tears in his eyes. "You’re a preacher?"
"Maybe you’re fightin’ the devil and winnin’ but I’m not. The devil kicks me around all the time and I don’t know what to do."
J.T. prayed a swift prayer in his heart. Lord, help me to say the right thing right now. Then it came. "Gunboat Jack, you got a manager?"
"I did have a good manager, but he got mad at me and left. I don’t blame him none, either."
J.T. took another gulp of water. "What you have to do if you ever want to win in this battle of life, IS: you have to make God your Manager! You have to follow His rules. You used to follow your manager’s rules and you won fights. Now, you ought to read God’s Rule Book, the Bible. I have an extra New Testament I want to give you. Read it, pray and ask God to be your Manager." He put the Book into two mighty hands. "We’re nearly to Madras. I promise I will pray for you, Gunboat Jack, and I hope we meet again sometime."
Gunboat stuffed the New Testament into his bag, they parted at the Madras station, and each went his way.
Fifteen years later, J.T. was preaching in our church in Bangalore one Sunday morning. His sermon that day was to encourage the congregation to witness for Christ in ordinary conversation. And the best way to do it was to talk about things that the other person was interested in and understood.
As an illustration, J.T. told about his meeting with Gunboat Jack long ago. He said, "When I was a boy in Baldwin School here in Bangalore, I took boxing lessons. And I used to read about Gunboat Jack in the newspaper. Then I went to America for college and seminary and came back to India in 1941. I had not heard anything about Gunboat for many years. One day in 1943, We happened to ride in the same compartment on a train to Madras. I had always wanted to meet him, and that day when I did meet him, I realized he needed God in his life. The Lord helped me to remember the lingo of boxing that day—about the ring, the knockouts, the manager. I never saw Gunboat Jack again but I have often prayed for him and wished I could know how he is getting along."
After the service, I was standing with J.T. at the door, when one of our parishioners on his way out, said, "I know where you can find Gunboat Jack!"
Read Part 2