By Allen Hagaman
I was thinking back, the other day, remembering my grandfather on my mother’s side. He was quite a colorful character, one easy to remember. His name was Henry Watson, and everyone called him Milo, but to me he was always Grandpa.
I met him for the first time in the summer of 1966 when our family came out West from New Jersey to visit relatives in Arizona and New Mexico. I was ten years old.
At our first meal, I was sitting next to him. We had just started to eat, and I had my first mouthful of food when he slammed his fist on the table, rattling every dish.
He looked at me very seriously and said with a very loud voice, “You better look out!!...”
In that instant, everyone looking on with surprise while I was in horror (what had I done wrong?) he finished his statement: “…that will go straight to your stomach!!”
And then he laughed as if he had just told the funniest story. I will never forget that moment, going from total surprise, to horror, to laughter, in less than two seconds.
A couple of interesting things about my grandfather: everything he owned seemed ancient and had a name. He had a parakeet named Pete who was 25 at the time of our first visit to New Mexico. Pete lived to be 31 years old. There was his pet horse, Bluebird, who was in his late twenties that summer. Bluebird lived to be 32 years old.
Then there was his old pickup, Bounce Brothers, that he purchased on December 31, 1949. He still owned and used that truck until his death in 1985. He drove the same truck for over 30 years.
He also had numerous names bestowed upon him by his friends: He was “Skyrocket” because he had a temper. He was “Rivet Head” when he was going bald, but still had a small quarter-sized patch of hair left in the front, and “Skillet Head” when the last little patch finally fell out.
I am not sure where “Milo” came from.
He also bestowed names on many. My mother’s name was “Paddle Foot.” My daughter Joel, when she was born, was “Snookums’” until she hit her terrible two’s, and then he changed it to “Busy Bee.”
I don’t remember if I had a name or not, but when he greeted me, he would always put his arms around me and act like he was just about to give me a kiss, then he would then jump back and say, “Darn! I almost kissed you, I thought you was a girl!” This was because of my long hair. That was my grandfather.
This last Thanksgiving a co-worker named Gabe showed me a picture of a 45-pound turkey he had raised for the holidays.
“What is the turkey’s name?” I asked, and he responded, “You don’t give a name to something you are going to butcher for dinner.”
It made sense. Names represent relationship, endearment, and memories.
In 1992, while pastoring in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I went to preach my first revival in a foreign country for Marty Carnegie in Kingston, Jamaica. During those meetings, for some reason, I worked hard at learning the names of everyone in the Kingston church, which was about 100, at the time. I had about a 95% success rate.
Years later in 1994, when I took over as pastor of the same church, a number of people made reference to “the Pastor from foreign, who knew my name.”
When asked to take over the church in Kingston, Jamaica, the questions that arose were not: Will my family be safe in such a place? How will my daughter get an education? Will we be accepted well by the congregation?
The decision was much easier than might be expected, due to the common ground of the Gospel and the reality of knowing almost everyone on a first-name basis.
The only question I remember asking was, “How soon are we talking about?” The reply was, “Tomorrow if possible.” I was in Kingston three days later.
The transition went exceptionally well, our five years there were the best five years of our lives, and many of the relationships we built then still last until this day. I still pray for people in Jamaica that I have not seen for over 16 years, because I know them, and I know them by name. This is the heart of what I am trying to convey through this article.
The same is so true of relationships. A relationship that will last a lifetime begins with the first step; with knowing someone by name.
This is the challenge of the hour in our churches: a thousand faces, but no names. The journey begins with the first name, then the second, and then the third…. and so on.
We may not succeed in building a relationship with everyone in the church, but it is like the old saying: “Always shoot for the moon; you may not hit it, but at least you won’t come up with a fist full of mud.”
While ushering for the early Sunday morning service last week, I saw a woman come in who I knew only by face. The service had already started, and she was standing in the back of the church. I asked her if I could help find her a seat and she replied, “I am looking for my daughter.” I could not help her because I did not know who her daughter was.
After the service, I saw the woman with her daughter and grandchildren. I knew them all by face, but I did not know them. Though I had seen all of them many times, I did not know their names, nor did I know they were all related.
After more than two decades of coming to Tucson for Bible conference, and another decade of attending church here, my wife Rose and I still do not personally know everyone here at The Door, so our personal challenge for the last number of years has been to get to know more people on a first-name basis. To achieve this goal, our effort has been fourfold:
1) We attended a different House-to-House home Bible study each semester. This was a great tool to start the process of getting to know others for the first time, and also for getting to know others in greater depth. Now we have House-to-House meetings in our own home each week, where we are continuing the process. (Friday nights at 2865 W. Irvington Rd. When meetings are in session, please drop in and let’s start the process!)
2) We go on invasion teams to other places instead of taking vacations. (Nothing against vacations, this is a personal choice.) We have been to the Ukraine and New York City so far, with groups from the home church. Out of each of these, we have found new friends and made memories together. There is nothing like going halfway ’round the world to labor for an extended period of time in a different culture to build lifelong friendships and memories.
3) We have fellowships in our home, inviting people over for lunch or dinner and conversation. It can be one person, a couple, a family, or as many as we can accommodate. We are currently working on the outside of our house to make it available for medium to large fellowships. Any size fellowship is a great tool for our purpose.
4) We invite others out for dinner. Here we specifically target people we do not know. Our plan is, every month or so, to invite four other people out for dinner. (My wife’s idea was no more than six total for the purpose of good interaction with everyone involved). This has worked very well for us.
As we come down the home stretch to Christ’s return and we see Christianity under increasing attack, I believe there is great wisdom in building strong, meaningful and lasting relationships that will stand the test of time. God is seeking to build a Prevailing Church through relationships with Himself and with others.
Can a church be any stronger than the relationships that hold it together?
Start your journey today…. take the first step…. shoot for the moon…. turn those faces into names…. and those names into friends.
My name is Allen.