During my growing up years, I called him Mr. Greengrass; wrinkles, wispy white hair, deep crow’s claws around penetrating eyes. He was the old man who came by often, and smelled like mothballs. Ironically, Leighton Greengrass lived up to his name, not a single blade of grass out of place in his manicured yard.
One day around his kitchen table, he reminisced how he rescued me out of a folding chair at church.
“There you were,” he said, cupping his hands, chuckling, “your little cheeks pinched between the frame.”
How he got our unbelieving family to church is any one’s guess.
“You were screaming, but I couldn’t stop laughing,” he joked.
When Ginnette and I joined Cru, we stopped in and gave him our pitch. During the visit, he told us he was going back to school. By this time he was 80 years old. He took correspondence classes from Moody Bible Institute, to be completed in five years. “I better finish on time, “ he joked, “no guarantees at my age.” While standing in his driveway about to leave, he took me by the shoulders and stared into me. His eyes were moist, and he smiled; “Work hard Kevin, Jesus is coming very soon.” The hair on my neck stood to attention, and I do believe to this day, it was the voice of God telling us that no risk was big enough to stop us from taking His message to the lost.
It was five years before we got around to visit Mr. Greengrass again. While we chatted in his musty living room, a faint smell of mothballs scented the darkened room. He told us about graduating from Moody Bible Institute. On the side table was an 81/2 by 11 photo of him walking down the aisle holding up his diploma, grinning like an ape. My son in law attended Moody years later, and tells the story of hearing about Mr. Greengrass.
“You mean to tell me,” I asked, “they mentioned him during your graduation?”
“Yea, he’s like a legend,” he said. Apparently, Mr. Greengrass had left his usual indelible impression. He lived life hard to forget, on point to finish his course, intensely gospel focused.
Mr. Greengrass was a butcher by trade. One day we sat on his front porch, the morning dew like perfectly cut diamonds glistening on the lawn. He tried to explain how cutting meat was similar to how God used the Bible in our lives. I can still hear his gravelly voice.
“Whenever a side of beef came in I would take my sharpest cleaver, and cut it right through the bone,” he explained. He motioned with both arms coming down as if the wicker ottoman was a side of angus.
I shifted slightly back, eyes blinking.
“It was the only way I could tell if the meat was diseased. In the same way God uses His word to divide us, to reveal the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.” Don’t read the Bible,” he urged, “let it rend you!” He was old school, the best school.
As family lore goes, it was getting close to Christmas one year, and my father hadn’t been paid by one of his clients. Mr. Greengrass caught wind, and on Saturday morning gave dad a call. “George, I need a couple hours of your fine mason skills over here,” he said. “The cellar’s leaking again.” My dad headed right over, of course. When the big day came around presents for all five kids were wrapped under the tree. Leighton Greengrass not only shared the gospel, but he lived it out around a lost and broken family; prayed long and hard and believed God would, in His time, bring all of us home.
In my sophomore year at college, those prayers met me when I stepped into a deserted meeting on campus. Just as Mr. Greengrass saved me from that folding chair, using strong gentle hands to free me, God pried my stubborn eyes open that night to bring into them the light of the gospel. He wept when he heard Ginnette and I were going into the ministry. There, standing in his kitchen again after all those years, was the answer to his intercession.
After I received Christ, my brother George visited, and came to faith as well. He travelled to California right afterward, and led my father to Christ. “God saved my marriage,” my dad would later tell me.. “I couldn’t love your mom anymore, and I thought it was over.” My sister and brother followed suit. God still has to answer one of Leighton’s boldest, and most heartfelt prayers, that my mom would trust Christ. I figure, with his track record, it’ only a matter of time.
Very soon after our last visit, we got word that Leighton had suddenly passed, in his old farmhouse in Flanders, New Jersey. Mr. Greengrass, a quiet, stubborn, imperfect and gregarious man, with a penchant for keeping grass alive in all seasons. I can’t smell mothballs without thinking about him. Neither can I put a folding chair away without imagining he rescuing me, my little hiney sticking out.
What a most fitting metaphor for the story of his life.