The elderly man made his way to the front of the church building, pushing his walker in front of him. He sat in his usual place. He pulled his Bible from the basket on his walker and settled in as the worship service began with a prayer. He followed along in his head, adding his own bits and pieces here and there, thanking God for all of his blessings. He wasn't a rich man by any means. He had gotten along alright though, blessed with a good job for many years.
He had raised his family. He had sent two kids off to college on scholarships. They were now successful adults and had given him three grandchildren. He had buried his wife of 40 years not so many months in the past and still missed her very much. Her voice still echoed down every hallway of their humble home.
The prayer ended and he opened his eyes and uttered
"Amen" in unison with a number of others scattered around the auditorium. It was then that he noticed the young woman sitting on the same pew as him, but at the other end, near the aisle. He noticed her because she was someone new. A visitor. She had long, black hair and ebony skin. Her eyes were still closed and her hands rested atop a very worn Bible, which in turn sat upon a tattered blanket, carefully folded on her lap.
He watched as her lips uttered a silent amen and her eyes opened. He looked down at the items on her lap and then up again to her face and was surprised to see her lips curled up in a smile below equally smiling eyes that were staring right back at him. She nodded. He nodded, then they both turned their eyes to the front as the song leader informed them of the hymn number he had chosen.
Worship service went as worship service does. As the final prayer ended he felt eyes upon him again and stole a glance in the direction of the young lady. She was indeed looking at him with the same big smile on her face. She gathered her belongings, stood and walked over to his end of the pew and sat sideways facing him, the Bible and blanket against her chest.
"Good morning," he offered back.
She set the blanket and Bible on the pew between them and held out a slender hand.
"I am Noreen. I asked folks in the back on my way in and they said you are Mr. Kenneth Jackson."
He took her hand in a bony grip and gave it a soft shake, nodding his head with a puzzled look on his face.
"That's what my mother called me, among other things. Have we met before?"
"Not actually," she started, looking down at the Bible. "But still, yes in a round about way. I have been looking for you for a few years and finally connected with your son Jerry. On social media. That's where I found him and learned how to find you."
Kenneth felt the look of confusion on his own face.
"I don't understand," he stammered. "Why were you looking for me? Is this in regards to my late wife? Did you know her?"
Noreen shook her head no and replied softly.
"No sir, I never met your wife. I am sorry for your loss. No, I came here to find you and give you something."
Kenneth raised a bushy eyebrow.
"Now I am really confused. What possible reason would you have to look me up young lady? Noreen is it?"
Noreen's laughed softly. She slid the Bible aside, then picked up the blanket.
"Sir, this is why I am here." She held up the blanket, like an offering. "The truth is that this blanket is literally why I am here or anywhere at all. Can I tell you my story?"
Kenneth nodded, intrigued as he was confused.
"Sir, this blanket is more than 20 years old. I take it with me everywhere I go and as you can see, it is getting to be in rough shape. I take it with me everywhere as a reminder. You see, this blanket means many things to me. Represents many things to me. It saved my life a long time ago. When I was a young child I was a refugee in Southern Sudan. I was in a camp with my mother and my sister. My brothers and father were killed in the war there. We had moved from one camp to another and finally stopped near the border to Kenya and were waiting for permission to enter their country. An organization had setup an aid station there and were trying to feed and care for us. There were so many people and just not enough to go around. People were sick. People were dying. The nights were cold and damp and most of us were just sheltering under tarps given to us by the aid organization. After so many cold nights, we had lost a number of people to hypothermia and fever. Then one day a truck showed up. It was filled with blankets, food and other things. My mother, sister and I stood in a very long line. I was 6 years old at the time and my sister was only two. By the time we got to the front of the line, there were few blankets left and they were only handing out one per family at that point. We were given just one blanket, some food and a few other items. I remember the man saying, 'a gift in the name of Jesus', a gift in the name of Jesus.' He just said it over and over as he handed out the supplies."
Noreen handed the tattered blanket to Kenneth. He took it with a puzzled look on his face. Noreen picked up the ragged Bible and continued her story.
"Sir," she said, drawing in a deep breath, "That very night was just so cold and bitterly damp. My mother put the blanket on me and wrapped herself around my sister to keep her warm. When I woke up the next morning it was still dark. My sister was crying. I reached out and felt my mother's arm. It was cold. She had passed in the middle of the night. My sister became very ill and despite the best efforts of the medical staff there, she too passed away less than a week later. From pneumonia. Sir, this blanket saved my life. That night and many nights after that, it kept me warm. Two weeks later, the camp was disbanded. Some went back North. Others had permission to cross into Kenya. I went to Kenya too, but not with the rest, who were going to yet another camp. I was taken by a woman who chose me and two other children to go to her small orphanage in Kenya."
Kenneth's eyes grew wide. A memory was stirring in the back of his mind, but he kept silent and let her continue.
"I took two things with me to the orphanage. This blanket, and this Bible. I couldn't read it right away. The orphanage enrolled me in a local school and it wasn't long before I could read a little. One day I was looking through this Bible and I realized someone had written it”
She opened the Bible and pointed to the inside of the cover.
"Do you remember this? You wrote this many years ago sir.
I have read this and the scripture more times than I can say and those words are why I am here."
Kenneth did remember! He stared at the words written inside the cover of the Bible. They were his words. His handwriting from long past. It said": ''A Gift for you in the name of Jesus. May you find warmth in the blanket and comfort from His Word." Presented by: Kenneth Jackson, Colorado, USA. Proverbs 19:17: Kindness to the poor is a loan to the Lord and He will repay the lender.
"Sir, I read this Bible several times over the years. It came with me when I found a sponsor and came to the U.S. to
go to college. It has truly as you said, been a comfort to me many times. This blanket saved my life. This Bible saved my soul. I am a nurse now. I have decided to go back to Africa.
I will be leaving soon with a mission group from Oklahoma, but I just learned where to find you two weeks ago and didn't want to go until I had a chance to meet you and give you these gifts. As the scripture you wrote down says, the Lord will repay the loan, but I want to give you the same gift you gave me. I hope you will use this blanket to keep you warm at night and know you will find comfort in His Word."
As she handed him the Bible, his tired eyes filled with tears. He remembered it all. The church had learned about the refugees and a number of them had gone to Sudan with suitcases of Bibles. They had purchased the blankets in Kenya. He had bought one Bible and one blanket. He wished desperately now that he had bought at least 3.
They talked for a while longer and then it was time for her to go. She held his frail, old hands in hers and said a prayer for them both, then stood and simply walked away. As Kenneth watched her go, his heart filled with a warmth he had never known. And in that moment, his loan was repaid in full.
This story was based on an email interview. The source claims it to be true.