We’ve known Dick Kueser for almost 25 years-ever since he and Sandy showed up at our church with their two kids who were close to the age of our daughters. Dick had an opinion on everything and usually I agreed with him, though whenever I didn’t I still had too much respect for him to make it an issue.
Dick was a truck driver. He drove big 18–wheelers across the US by himself. He looked every bit like a truck driver, too. He was a huge man: both tall and wide. He was a challenge to hug because there was simply so much of him. But I’ve seen him help a little old lady up the church steps with a gentleness that was dramatic; that someone so strong could be so gentle. He had a heart as big as all outdoors. He had a generosity to match and fire in his eyes if you dared to questioned him for giving a homeless man cash.
My favorite story of him is the time he was driving his truck in northern Louisiana in the roughest part of the state in the deepest part of the night when he spotted a young woman standing outside her car. Knowing how dangerous that road was at that time of night and probably thinking about his own daughter who was that age, he stopped to see what was wrong. The girl told him her car had broken down but that if she could just get to a phone she could call her father to come get her and fix the car.
On the drive to the gas station, Dick kept up a friendly monologue but noticed how afraid she seemed to be. She had been reluctant to accept the ride but at 2 a.m. she didn’t have much choice. Dick knew he was probably the exact picture of the men her parents had warned her against, especially in the middle of the night on dark roads. He said that she hugged the door handle all the way and said very little when he tried to talk to her. At the gas station, she got out and started walking inside but stopped and her shoulders slumped. She turned around to tell him she didn’t have any change for the phone. Dick pulled out the contents of his pocket and held it out for her to take a quarter for the phone. She went inside and called her dad, then came to tell Dick that her father would meet them at the car left on the roadside. One the way back to the car, Dick said, she was a totally different person. She was relaxed and talkative, full of details of her life and questions about his daughter.
When they got to the car and the father arrived, Dick prepared to go on his way but, first, he said, he couldn’t leave without asking what had changed. Why had she been so tense at first then comfortable on the way back?
She told him that when he held the contents of his pocket to offer her a quarter, she saw that he carried a pocket cross and at that moment she knew she would be safe with him.
We’ve given these crosses out for years now at our church. Every person who joins gets one. But the interesting thing in this story is that Dick Kueser wasn’t an eloquent man. In fact, he used to have a stutter that he overcame over the years. He was not a person to preach the gospel with words. But, by stopping to help, by simply holding out his hand with quarters for the telephone and a single pocket cross, he had preached a sermon. A sermon without words.
That story reminds me of the first time I went to Guatemala on a mission trip. I was asked to lead the morning devotion so I took Dick’s story and a bunch of the pocket crosses with me. One of my big concerns in going to Guatemala was that I don’t speak Spanish. I worried about how I could communicate without knowing the language. After I told Dick’s pocket cross story and passed the crosses out, we sang one of my favorite songs, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”
We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand…
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
And this is what people are doing in places like Mississippi and Louisiana where they are coming to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Many times folks come here full of idealistic energy thinking they are going to rebuild a house in one week and that just doesn’t happen. Then very gradually it sinks in that building the house is only one part of why we’re here. We’re here to just Be Here.
We’re here to witness with our own eyes just how bad the destruction was; how much people lost and how much need Katrina created. We’re here to listen and to cry and to laugh and to sing and to hug. We’re here to join friends in worship of the one God we share.
There are a lot of things Katrina left in her wake that we can’t fix. But, just by the simple act of our presence, we stand with the people of the Gulf Coast and say, “We care.”
We’re here to preach a sermon without words.