Kindness Can Make a Big Difference

Mike Stroud

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
Proverbs 19:17

Losing my daddy to cancer in 1989 was difficult. One of the saddest days of my entire life came three months before he took his last breath, however. It was the day my parents moved away from the homeplace and farm where they had lived forty years and where my sister and I grew up.

Daddy didn’t want mother alone on the farm after he was gone, so they sold most of the land and bought a house near my sister in Lebanon. He passed away three months later.

The day of the move had its own funeral-like quality. A big yellow Ryder moving van sat in the front yard like a hearse. Neighbors from their close-knit community filed in to say their good-byes that morning. Mama and daddy stood in their now empty living room, greeting those who came by. The line stretched out the front door. It felt like a wake, but my dad was still living and present.

Into the middle of all this walked a poor man I’d known all my life. He came bringing a single orange on a styrofoam plate. I felt like Jesus had walked into the room.

There’s a back story to what I witnessed that day, one that shows the lasting impact kindness can have on people. And it illustrates a point relative to disciple making.

Poverty, alcoholism, and mental illness are common in even the smallest communities. The place I’m from was no exception. Although it’s changed over the years, I often tell people I grew up in “Mayberry.” We even had our own “Otis” who regularly got drunk and wandered the one little street all hours of the night and day. He yelled, said crazy stuff, and caused a good bit of aggravation. Most realized he was harmless, but a lot of people didn’t know how to deal with this guy. I remember the complaints.

My parents knew the man well and felt sympathy for his condition. They showed kindness and often welcomed him in when he came to their front porch. On more than one occasion he showed up asking to borrow a dollar – just one. They always gave it and he always wanted to pay it back.

This is the man who showed up with the orange the day my parents moved. I watched with a lump in my throat as he quietly filed through the line bringing his gift. The simple kindness of two ordinary people had impacted this man’s life.

That scene left a deep impression, one that I’ve recalled dozens of times over the years. Reflecting on this convinces me that kindness and other fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) are a crucial but often “underemphasized” part of disciple making.

Nobody is saying that “just being nice” will produce disciples. There is an important underlying principle here not to miss, however. Godly behavior and character are necessary precursors to the things we say and teach. They serve to validate our witness – “fruit” that should spill from our lives as we interact with people. These attributes go a long way in preaching the gospel before we say much. They’re often door-openers.

It’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of evangelism and doctrine and then neglect the “weightier” matter of acting in genuine love for the right reasons. It’s not a new problem. Jesus confronted the Pharisees for the same thing during his earthly ministry, particularly so in Matthew 23.

Jesus said the world will recognize us as his disciples by the love we have for one another. (John 13:35) Loving kindness makes us the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.”

I wish I had more to tell about the man bringing the orange on that styrofoam plate. I don’t know how his story ended, only that his last days were spent in a men’s home in Wilson County. I do know that my sweet, ordinary, unassuming parents planted seeds for the Kingdom by ministering to him and many other disadvantaged people in their little community.

Recognize the value God places on every human being. Role up your sleeves and jump into the glorious messy fray and make disciples. Let your light shine. Get out of the salt shaker. Intentionally “grease the skids” with loving kindness and get ready for God to use you for influencing people for His Kingdom!