Who would have imagined that digging water wells in India or buying goats in Egypt would capture the attention of 70-year-old J.C. Runion, a West Virginia coal miner?
Unraveling the narrative of a man’s steps through life is a mystery, known only to God. But why had J.C., in the seventh decade of life, responded to Jesus’ call to follow him just a couple of months ago?
We may never know because now the man is gone. But if we carefully follow his steps in the last eight weeks of his life, we will capture a glimpse of grace.
When Global Gateway Network board member Rodger Carter told me J.C.’s story, I experienced a deep sense of God’s love in action. The man’s short sprint from this life to God’s presence reminded me of Jesus’ words in John 13:5: “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.”
J.C. had started attending Sunday worship at the Dorothy Assembly and a men’s midweek Bible study. When he heard about the needs of impoverished people in India and Egypt, his heart reached across the miles and cultures to respond. He began giving $50 gifts here and there to help out.
When he walked through the church doors that last Sunday morning of his life on Earth, he shook Rodger’s hand and said, “I just felt like I needed to be here this morning.”
Rodger told him that God was pleased that he showed up. Within a few hours, J.C. was dead of a heart attack.
Coal mining is all J.C. had known. In fact, it’s all any generation of his family and neighbors know. He raised his family on coal miner’s pay.
As one of the locals put it, “It’s a dangerous business. Coal mining seems to slowly beat you down — if it doesn’t kill you instantly. But it feeds our families and right now, it’s all we’ve got.”
Rodger spoke at J.C.’s memorial service, telling the story of the man’s generous concern about digging wells and buying goats. At the graveside, a woman came up and gave Rodger a $50 bill, saying, “It’s in memory of my uncle — to help buy another goat.”
After the ceremony one of J.C.’s nephews walked into the small country store where Rodger was picking up a few items.
Standing there shirtless, smoking a cigarette, the man said, “I’ve never heard anyone speak in church like you did. You talked about buying goats. I’ve never heard anyone talk about buying goats in church. I liked it. But while I was at church listening to you talk about goats, somebody stole my darn pig!”
J.C. was a generous man, but more than that, in the short time that he followed Jesus he was able to see beyond his own needs to the suffering people in India and Egypt.
And he took action. He stepped out and did something. He made a difference and left a legacy of faith and grace for others to follow.
Rev. Micah Smith is is president and founder of Global Gateway Network (globalgatewaynetwork.org) with offices in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.