Back in 1958 when I was a young marine stationed on the island of Okinawa, I became closely associated with a man I deeply admired. His name was Bob Newkirk.
I didn’t know what it was exactly that first drew me to Bob. More than anything else, I guess, there was something refreshingly unpretentious about him. He was devoted to the things of the Lord, no question, but it was never on parade, never for the purpose of public display. And I loved that.
I never got the idea that Bob was interested in making big impressions on me or other people. He was what he was, plain and simple—far from perfect, but authentic. Real.
I remember dropping by his home late one rainy afternoon to pay an unexpected visit. His wife met me at the door and informed me that he was not home. She added, “You’ve probably noticed lately that he has been under some stress. I think he may be down at his office. I’m not really sure. But he told me he just wanted to get alone.”
I decided to try Bob’s office, a little spot down in Naha. I caught the three-wheel jitney that took me from the village where the Newkirks lived down to the capital city of the island. It was still raining lightly, so I stepped around and over the puddles as I made my way down a street, across an alley, then another alley until I came upon his unassuming, modest office.
Before I arrived, however, I could hear singing in the distance . . . “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” It was Bob’s voice! I’d know it anywhere.
I stood outside in the rain for a few moments, listening, as my friend continued singing the simple hymn. Then, I confess, I peeked in the window and saw a candle on a table, my friend on his knees, and not another soul around. He was spending time with the Lord . . . all alone.
As I stood outside, the soft-falling rain dripping off my nose and ears, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude. Bob never knew I came by that evening, but without his knowing it, I got a glimpse of authentic Christianity that night. Not piety on parade . . . not spiritual showtime, but a man “in the shelter of the Most High.”
In the back streets of Naha I learned more about simple faith than I would later learn in four years of seminary.
When it comes to faith, there is no substitute for the real thing.