My folks told me that Rev. J.G. Johnson would be coming to our church in Cokato to speak. Johnson served as the “number one” leader in the Minnesota Baptist Conference. Coming to our rural Minnesota church to visit and to preach on a Sunday would be a major event. Mom and Dad, who served as pastor of the church, were eagerly looking forward to the visit of this Executive Director (or whatever his title was at the time) to First Baptist Church in Cokato, Minnesota.
As a kid and son of a pastor (probably in the fourth or fifth grade at the time of this visit) I had already been around lots of ministers, missionaries and distinguished leaders. I saw that they were committed to their work and passionate about making a difference.
I also saw that these leaders were consumed with telling their story and talking about themselves. Although not deliberate, I noticed they had little or no interest in getting to know a kid sitting around a dinner table or attending a service or an event. For me, these visits by the majority of these prominent people were times to be endured rather than to be enjoyed.
On the Sunday J.G. Johnson came to Cokato I once again was at home fighting my ongoing battle with asthma. I looked out the window of the parsonage and saw people coming to church but there was no way I could leave the house. It was ok with me that my folks had left me home alone while they served in their roles at church as well as facilitating the visit of this dignitary. Church attenders enjoyed a pot luck dinner at the church after the service. I knew for certain I would never meet this particular honored guest. Why would he be interested in me – a sick kid at home struggling with asthma?
Shortly after the service ended, however, my Mother came home. And she brought a special guest – Reverend J. G. Johnson himself, the head of the Minnesota Baptist Conference. He said he wanted to see me!!!
“Rickie, I heard that you are a wonderful checkers player. Let’s play some checkers together.” I could not believe what I heard.
As we played checkers, we got to know each other and all of a sudden I had a real friend – someone I would admire up until the day he breathed his last earthly breath.
Reverend J. G. Johnson – going out of his way to take the time to play checkers with me on that particular Sunday afternoon – affected me for the rest of my life. In that brief encounter over a game of checkers, he modeled for me servant leadership in action. By the way, I have no idea who won at checkers.