A story told by Tom Housholder, pastor/evangelist in the former American Lutheran Church. The story took place in the 1950’s in Housholder’s first congregation. I heard him tell this story when I was on internship in Sisseton, South Dakota in 1979.
Elmer lived the life of a hermit in a remote cabin in a valley in the mountains of Idaho. Elmer had no friends, and no one knew anything about him. His cabin was far from any main road, so people knew of him only because of his occasional trips into town to buy a few things. Elmer did not go to church anywhere and never talked to anyone about anything.
One day Elmer parked his old truck in front of the Lutheran church and went in to talk to Pastor Tom. The pastor was surprised to see Elmer, and invited him to come into his office. Elmer introduced himself and said, “Pastor, I would like to be baptized. Would you do that for me?”
Without hesitating, Pastor Tom said, “Sure, Elmer. But can I ask you what made you decided you wanted to be baptized?”
“Well, pastor,” Elmer said, “it was my wife that got me thinking.”
“Your wife!” said a surprised Pastor Tom. “I didn’t know you had a wife.”
“I don’t anymore,” Elmer said looking down. “She’s been dead for about sixty years.”
The pastor shook his head and said, “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“It’s a long story,” Elmer replied, and then went on to tell the pastor the story of his life, a story no one in town had ever heard.
Elmer was originally from Minnesota. He got married, and he and his wife moved to North Dakota where they homesteaded a farm. There, they had a child, and with tears in his eyes Elmer talked about how happy the three of them were.
One afternoon in their second winter on the farm, Elmer’s wife and baby were visiting at a neighbor’s house. Early in the evening it started to snow, so Elmer’s wife and child left for home. On their way, the gentle snow suddenly turned into a blizzard, with the intense prairie winds blowing the heavy snow so hard that the mother could not see where she was going. They lost their way, and both froze to death that night in the rapidly falling temperature.
Elmer was devastated by the tragedy. He could not get over it. In the long and lonely nights that followed, he came to a decision. He would never love anyone like that again. In fact, for the rest of his life he would not even try to get to know anyone. He did not want to leave himself open to being hurt like that ever again.
The next Spring Elmer packed up a few belongings and headed farther west. He bought a small place in this mountain valley, built a cabin on it, and stayed there. And he kept that promise he made to himself, and never got to know a single person.
One of the few things Elmer brought along from his home in North Dakota was his wife’s Bible. It was important to her, and he had fond memories of her reading it every day. Elmer said he was never interested in religion. His wife would occasionally bring it up to him, but he paid no attention, and she never forced it.
Many thousands of times over the last sixty years, Elmer would sit in his rocking chair and hold that Bible in his hands, thinking of his wife and how happy they were together. He never opened the Bible. He still was not interested in what it had to say. Elmer just held that Bible because it reminded him of his wife.
“Well,” Elmer said as he neared the end of his story, “I have arthritis in my hands now and I have been dropping things. Last night when I reached over to pick up the Bible, it slipped out of my hands. It fell open on the floor, and inside I could see a small piece of paper. I put on my glasses to take a closer look, and I saw it was my wife’s handwriting. It was a prayer. It said, ‘Lord, get a hold of Elmer—he doesn’t know you yet.’ That isn’t much, but it was enough to make me want to do something about it.”
Over the next few weeks Pastor Tom met with Elmer to help him ‘get to know the Lord.’ When baptism day came, everyone in the small congregation gathered around the font to serve as his sponsors. When the baptism was complete, Elmer, who had never again wanted to get close to anyone, looked up and said to everyone, “Hi, family.”
I Corinthians 7:13-14a…15b-16 — If a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband… God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
James 5:16b — The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.