. . . "I know where you can find Gunboat Jack!"
In excitement, J.T.’s eyes widened so much that his eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline. "WHERE?"
"He sits in a big old leather rocking chair on a street in downtown Bangalore! He keeps a big Bible in his lap. Everybody who stops to talk to him gets to hear a Bible verse and his testimony. He’s there every day except in the monsoons."
J.T. heaved a great sigh. "This, I’ve got to see."
"Me, too," I said.
We loaded ourselves into our jeep, followed directions, and there he was. Gunboat Jack! Fifteen years after J.T. had met him on the train. Now he was big, old and grizzled, creases from a hard life lined his face. His once black curly hair glistened white. His back hunched under not-very-clean clothes. A large and well-used Bible lay open in his lap.
We climbed out of the car and stood beside him—he had not seen us approach. J.T. leaned down close to his ear and said, "Mighty tough opponent you got there, Brothah!"
Something must have clicked in Gunboat’s mind. He jerked around in his chair, peered up at J.T. and his black face shown. "YOU! You’re that red-headed American I said that to on a train one day."
They grabbed each others’ hands then hugged shoulders. I don’t know which man was the most elated. J.T. asked, "What happened after that train ride, Gunboat? How’d you end up sitting here on the sidewalk?"
"I ended up here because this is where I can talk about Jesus the best. I got a room nearby, but everyday when I can, I come here. Lots of people pass by and talk to me. I tell ’em about Jesus, my great Manager." He pulled a dingy handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his eyes. His hands shook. "But that didn’t happen for quite a while."
J.T. and I perched on a big wooden box sitting beside Gunboat’s chair. I assumed it was where his visitors always sat.
"After I met you, Brothah, I got so I couldn’t get any good fights, and the devil had me on the ropes. One day I was lying on a bed in a hovel and I suddenly remembered what you said, ‘Make Jesus your Manager!’ I had no money and no food. The New Testament you gave me was ’bout the only thing I had left. So I sat up on that dirty bed and started to read it. Then I prayed, 'Lord Jesus, I ain’t got nothin’ left, but I’m askin’ you to help me. Forgive me and come in and be my Manager. Help me to fight the devil, ’cause he has me out for the count all the time.' Then I felt warm all over and went to sleep. When I woke up I was happy. I went out and told my story to some man and he bought me a plate of curry and chapatties. Sometimes I got work, but I always told people about Jesus.
"I been doin’ that sittin’ in this chair for a long time now. I don’t walk good any more. But I praise God all the time and people pray and make God their Manager."
When he finished, I said, "Next Thursday is Thanksgiving day. We have invited all the Americans we know around here for dinner at our house, and we are going to celebrate Christmas, too. We can’t get together on Christmas. Now, I am also inviting you since you are American. Would you come? I’ve even got turkey. We will have Christmas right along with our Thanksgiving."
Tears rolled down through the furrows in his face. "Misses J.T., I shore would like to come and eat American Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner again ’fore I die and leave my big chair all empty. Thank you."
Thanksgiving day, J.T. brought Gunboat Jack in the jeep to our house. He had cleaned himself up and graciously met all the other Americans crowded there. J.T. introduced him by saying, "Folks, I’d like you to hear Gunboat Jack’s story. It will make your heart sing."
Gunboat insisted on standing and leaned against a chair. "Friends, I was born in America, but when I was young and winning boxing bouts, I decided to come to India. Because I was Black, it was hard to get fights in U.S.A., and thought it might be easier in India. When Mista J.T. was a boy here in Baldwin’s, I was getting my name in the papers because I was winning fights. Course, I didn’t know him then. All the years he went back home to get his schooling, I won lots of fights. But in the ring of life, the devil had me licked. I got to drinking, had too many women, and good times. At least I thought they were good times. But my fighting got poorly, and I lost my manager.
"In 1943 I was traveling to Madras, and got into the same compartment that Mista J.T. was in. Just the two of us. I know God put me in that compartment—I could’ve been in any other place in the train. Well, Mista J.T.’s got red hair and spunk. We got to talking, and he could see I was a lost and desperate soul. He told me I needed to make Jesus my Manager and read God’s Rule Book and follow it. Before we got to Madras, he gave me a New Testament. I put it in my bag and didn’t pay attention to it." Gunboat tugged a clean handkerchief from his coat pocket, blew his nose and wiped his eyes. Then he looked over the room full of faces, his own face stern.. "Any of you ever been altogether down and out? No money, no food, no hope? Lying on a filthy bed and wanting to die?
"I was there. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Read my Rule Book!’
"I’m so glad I didn’t lose it. I sat on that stinky bed and read a long time. Then I prayed and told God I had nothing at all–which He already knew about. Then I asked Him to forgive me for my meanness and to come in and be my Manager. He filled my heart with peace.
"Managers tell you what to do. And my new Manager told me to read some Scripture and tell my story to anybody who’d listen, I got me a big old wooden box and sat on the sidewalk and started minding God. I talked to everybody. Some listened—some didn’t. One day a man come along and said, ‘Gunboat, I been watching you. You’re getting old and you need a good chair. I’m gonna bring you one tomorrow.’
"Next day he brought me that big expensive chair I been sitting in for several years now. He told the policemen to let me alone and don’t make me leave because I was good for Bangalore. I don’t know who he is, and didn’t ask, but policemen listen to him. Every night some boys help me move my chair into my room, and then help me move it out again the next morning. Only a monsoon rain keeps me inside. And that chair’ll be empty only when God takes me home to Heaven.
"Now folks, if you haven’t made Jesus your Manager, this is the time to do it. Thank you for listening to me. Now Lord, . . ."
That’s what happened in India. Our 1958 Thanksgiving and Christmas prayer ascended to Heaven from a sinner-turned-saint. Glory-bound Gunboat Jack.
A happy, old, wizened, American Black Boxer.