To some, Bernard might look like a waiter on board the Mississippi Queen. As I talked to him, I realize he is a missionary, strategically placed by God, on board the Mississippi Queen to help the staff with spiritual matters.
I met Bernard when he was trying to do me a favor. I’m lactose intolerant so I can’t have a regular cheese omelet. I let him know a feta cheese omelet would delight me. It took some work but he arranged it. I was in a deep theological discussion with table companions about the 7 spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8. I couldn’t remember all of them and he offered his help.
If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. NIV
“Are you a Christian?” I asked. Breakfast was over and the crowd had died down. Bernard had a little time so he told me his story.
Bernard works 4 weeks and then has 2 weeks off to return to New Orleans and spend time with his wife and 3 children. “Sometimes I have to work 6 weeks straight. That is hard but I enjoy the work.” Bernard’s wife is expecting their 4th child.
“Is this life hard on your family?” I asked.
“It is but it is also good for us. We’re closer when I get home and I can spend all my time with them. I talk to my kids every day but they do miss their daddy.”
“What church do you go to when you are in New Orleans?” I asked.
“Missionary Baptist Church. I’ve attended there all my life.”
“When were you baptized?” I asked.
“When I was 22 years old, God came to me in a dream. I actually began speaking in tongues in my sleep. I woke up and was frightened. I asked God to let me know if it was really Him. I went back to sleep and it happened again. I knew God was real and the next Sunday, I asked to be baptized. I’ve been a Christian ever since.”
“What do you do for church on this boat?” I questioned. “Don’t you miss it?”
“I used to lead worship services on Sunday. The staff on this boat needs me. Some are in a lot of pain. They call me the preacher. I tell them about God. Now I have to work on Sunday so I go to the back of the boat and read my Bible and pray. I have about 400 tapes of Christian preachers. When I go home, I get more tapes and listen to them on board. They help me to stay close to God. They also help me to deal with things on this boat. Sometimes when someone has a problem, the tapes tell me exactly how to help.”
At dinner, our server came up to me. “Bernard tells me you are a Christian.” I smiled and nodded. “He helps all of us. We call him our preacher man. He helped me buy a Bible. Now, I read it every night. When I’m upset, I use the concordance in the back to look up a topic and read about it. Last night, I read about jealously. Tonight I am going to read about faith because I’m worried about something.”
Bernard is using his spiritual gift of service to delight the passengers on board the Mississippi Queen. He also understands his commission from Jesus to go out into the word and make disciples. Jesus is keeping His promise to be with him, day after day, as Bernard has to be separated from his family.
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age." (from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.),