Doug Nichols is a friend of mine through the Internet. He is the Founder and Director of Action International Ministries and in that role he travels all over the world promoting missions and evangelism. He emails me often and from all parts of the world with words of encouragement. He closes almost every email by saying, “Let me encourage you with this” and then shares a Scripture passage. I love it.
It was a long time ago, in the summer of 1966, that Doug was working for Operation Mobilization and was stationed in London during their big annual conference. He was assigned to the clean-up crew. One night at around 12:30 AM he was sweeping the steps at the conference center when an older gentleman approached him and asked if this was where the conference was being held. Doug said that it was, but that just about everyone had already gone to bed. This man was dressed very simply and had just a small bag with him. He said that he was attending the conference. Doug replied he would try to find him a place to sleep and led him to a room where about 50 people were bunked down on the floor. The older gentleman had nothing to sleep on, so Doug laid down some padding and a blanket and offered a towel for a pillow. The man said that would be just fine and that he appreciated it very much.
Doug asked the man if he had been able to eat dinner. It turns out that he hadn’t eaten since he had been travelling all day. Doug took him to the dining room but it was locked. He soon jimmied the lock and found some cornflakes and milk and bread and jam. As the man ate, the two began to talk. The man said that he and his wife had been working in Switzerland for several years, where he had a small ministry that served hippies and travellers. He spoke about his work and spoke about some of the people he had seen turn to Christ. When he finished eating, both men turned in for the night.
Doug woke up the next morning only to find out that he was in big trouble. The conference leaders came to him and said, “Don’t you know who it was that you put on the floor last night? That’s Francis Schaeffer! He’s the speaker for this conference! We had a whole room set aside for him!”
Doug had no idea that he was sleeping on the floor next to a celebrity, that he had told a man to sleep on the floor who had a profoundly important ministry. He had no idea that this man had helped shape the Christian church of that day, and really, the church of our day. And Schaeffer never let on. In humility he had accepted his lot and been grateful for it.
That is just a tiny little glimpse into a man’s life. Francis Schaeffer lived for 72 years and this little story consumed less than half of one of the 26,000 days of his life. But it tells you a lot about the man. I think it tells you as much about the man as his public ministry does. A book may proclaim that he is brilliant, but a story like this proclaims that he is humble. A speech in front of thousands may proclaim that he is a great philosopher, but the story tells us that that he is godly. There is so much we can learn about a person from those little otherwise-forgotten moments. It’s not only the great things a person does that make the man, but the small things.
When Doug tells the story he offers an application that has helped him. Not many of us can have the intellect of Francis Schaeffer; not many of us will ever have his abilities or his wisdom. But what we can do is reach out to others and minister to them with godly humility.