Lessley Ellis

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 9, 2016


Lessley Ellis is my friend. We have close to nothing in common, which makes our relationship even more special.

Lessley is African-American. He is as black as I am white, a darker shade of his color that contrasts greatly with my blindingly white legs. We are brothers in Christ who see both the beauty and ugliness of the world.

Lessley was born in Detroit, the place often referred to when talking about inner-city poverty and crime. I was born in Winchester, Kentucky, a stone’s throw away from where Adolph Rupp coached the all-white University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team.

The first time I met Lessley was on a Saturday morning at our church. We had just concluded our Saturday morning men’s bible study group. There had been a major snow storm just a couple of days before and the sidewalks around the building needed to be cleared. Several of us got snow shovels and started making a path. Suddenly a red Honda Civic hatchback pulled into the parking lot. Lessley hopped out of the car, popped the back and got a snowblower out of it. And then he just started to clear the sidewalk! The smile on his face was warm and sincere, and we thanked him for his help. One of us, probably Ben Dickerson, invited him in for a cup of coffee and then invited him to join us the next Saturday for breakfast and our bible study. I didn’t expect to see him again, but he surprised me and came back.

Ben Dickerson took him under his wing. Lessley could barely read. His education had been limited. He had been judged to be a “special education” case. In his words, “they treated me like I was a dummy!” By the ninth grade he was out of school. Ben Dickerson, a reflection of Jesus, started teaching him how to read. Another man, Roger Mollenkamp, offered him support and advice. When Ben passed away as a result of complications of a heart attack, Lessley grieved deep and long. We leaned on one another during those days, I grieving the loss of my friend as well. Our tears mingled together to form a pool of brotherhood, swimming in the confusion of loss. Grieving together takes people to a new place.

A few years ago a new family showed up in worship one Sunday. They came back the next week and then the next and became part of our congregation. A little later on I found out another piece of the story. The husband was ready to give up on church. They had visited several places and were ready to have their own family worship at home, but they decided to try one more place of worship. They came to a double-door entrance to our building that looks like it might be the front way in and they found the doors locked. The husband was ready to walk away and walk away from the church for good, and then Lessley opened the door and said “Good morning!” He apologized for the doors being locked and invited them in, offered to get them cups of coffee, befriended them, and turned troubled souls into joyful seekers. They came back all because of a smiling greeter who made them feel welcome in the time of their greatest discontent.

He was a “thrower” on the back of a garbage truck for years. That means, he’d empty the cans of people’s trash, hundreds each day! It destroyed his back, and he now receives a limited disability sum each month. His struggle is that he wants to help people, but his disability doesn’t allow him to do some of the work tasks that he always did. Many times the two of us have talked through his depression and discouragement that have pummeled his sense of self-worth.

Lessley has the heart of Jesus. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it. We had lunch together yesterday, along with our friend, Joe Smith. Towards the end of a week where black men were getting killed by white policemen, and white policemen were killed by a black sniper we talked about our screwed up world, and we talked about the hope we have in Christ.

He asked me what we could do, and we brought it down to where we live, what we say, and how each one of us treats others. The interesting thing that occurred to me was that although we sat there in a Mexican restaurant talking about racial tension we didn’t see any difference between the two of us. We didn’t see each other as being from a different race. To me he is Lessley, my friend, and to him I’m Bill, his friend and former pastor.

The three of us ended our lunch with warm embraces of each other. Perhaps the world is screwed up, but that didn’t mean that our friendships needed to be screwed up as well.

Some of the greatest blessings in life are relationships with people that we least expect to be our friends, salt of the earth folk who we’ve come to know in the most unlikely ways.

It’s funny! I’ve been blessed in so many ways by this almost sixty year old six foot three African-American man, all because of the crossing of our paths on a wintery Saturday morning after a snow storm and a bible study.

Like I said at the beginning, Lessley Ellis is my friend.

Explore posts in the same categories: Bible, Christianity, Community, Death, Faith, Freedom, Humor, Jesus, love, Nation, Pastor, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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