It Started with a Cherry 

Posted: April 23, 2017 in Short Stories
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Most of us are familiar with the Cherry; a small red, round stone fruit that is sweet and yummy! But ‘cherry’ was also derived from the word which originally denoted a Christian’s love for his fellow man (Latin “caritas” meaning “generous love”, from Latin “carus” meaning “dear”). Cherry was originally a pet form of Charity (love).

It was late 1998. I’d moved from the Tri-Cities, WA to Yakima, WA, having purchased a 6+ acre cherry orchard with an old farm house. The original home was built in the early 1900s and had been added onto and remodeled a time or two since. It was a charming little home; still having much of its original character, but still in need of a lot of repairs. The vegetation around the home was quite overgrown, the ‘garage’ (which was little more than a carport with walls) had a dirt floor and the orchard trees were very large; most being about 50 years old. The property also had a large shed/barn style structure that was leaning severely. I’d been told by the previous owner that the large shed was made of wood that came from a warehouse that was built on the property in 1927. I think the only thing that kept it from collapsing though was the ‘tongue and groove’ siding and the ‘zillion’ nails used when it was originally built.

However, over the course of the next year, the property would be transformed. The house was remodeled, the large shed torn down, the garage cleaned ofarm houseut and made usable, the vegetation around the home cleared, the trees trimmed and the grass/tree rows mowed. All the while, working with an experienced cherry farmer from down the street and a rep from a local fruit packing house, we began to prepare for next harvest season, which came in late June/early July.

As the months rolled on, I experienced my first Spring, with acres of cherry trees in full bloom; giving way to the tiny buds of fruit that would soon produce my first bountiful harvest. As late June came, and harvest was nearly a week out, pickers began to show up at my Cherry Orchard in Bloomdoor almost daily asking for work. Not ever doing anything like this before, I was very thankful for the help and guidance of my friend Ben, who helped me with choosing who to hire, how many workers I’d need and the whole picking to packing house operation. That first year, one of the gentlemen who came to my door asking for work, was a man in his late 50’s named Martin. Martin was tall with a slender build; probably 6’2” and weighing about 180 pounds. I can remember the first time I saw Martin, wondering what kind of life he’d had. He looked like he’d been ‘around the block’ a few times; a rough appearance with leathered skin from lots of time in the sun. Martin lived in a light green, old Ford conversion van that he’d tell me later was his only main possession. He’d been picking fruit for a living for many years. He’d start in about April or May in California and travel northward up the west coast, picking fruit as it ripened.  This particular year, he’d landed in Yakima and at my orchard, hoping to make enough money picking cherries to allow him to spend the rest of the summer and into Fall, camping in the woods of Montana. He had a favorite hot springs he loved to go to each year.

After hiring Martin that year to pick cherries, I agreed to allow him to park his van at the bottom of the orchard during harvest, but deep into the trees so it couldn’t be seen from the road.  He went to work that first day, picking as fast as his aging body would allow. However, he realized, after days of picking as fast as he could, he wasn’t going to makeman picking cherries enough that year to be able to travel to Montana as he originally wanted. Harvest came to an end and Martin asked me if he could stay where he was through winter. Again, I agreed.

As the months rolled along, Martin and I became close friends. After work, almost every day, I’d go check in on him to see how he was fairing. Being that he lived in the van, he was allowed to use the refrigerator/freezer in the garage to store food. I brought him fresh water almost daily and periodically food. Sometimes, I would often spend up to an hour, if not more sitting in a camping chair outside his van. In the midst of our conversations, laughter and bantering back and forth, we began to draw close together. We began to just simply share life together. Martin had been living alone for a very long time and had become accustomed to being a ‘hermit’ and recluse, but seemed to like my company. He ended up staying through winter that year and into the next spring and harvest. Again, trying to make enough to move onto Montana. But, again, he was ‘stranded’ in Yakima.

By this time, we’d become pretty close. At times during our conversations, we get on the subject of God, Jesus, Faith and Salvation. He knew I was a Christian, so he’d ask me lots of questions. I did my best to answer them from what the Bible says, but he didn’t always agree. Sometimes, we’d end up ‘arguing’ over it; having to agree to disagree.

Once day, as I was praying and reading my bible on my own, I strongly felt the Lord tell me to stop helping Martin. What?! I felt the Lord tell me that Martin was looking to me to be his ‘savior’ instead of Jesus. As long as I continued to help him, he’d never reach ‘rock bottom’; truly seeing his need for the One who can give Him what he really seeks (whether he realized it or not at the time). I can honestly say that for a couple of days after, I argued with God. “But, God, he has no one else.’ “But God, if I stop helping him, he won’t have fresh water, the ability to keep his food from spoiling and he’ll be all alone.’ “But God, your word says that I’m supposed to help and serve those in need. Why would you ask me to stop doing what your word commands of me. I don’t understand.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that although I had more questions than answers, I needed to step out in faith, trust God and be obedient to what he was asking of me. The dreaded day came when I told Martin that I couldn’t help him anymore, including the use of the frig/freezer in the garage. He was able to stay in the orchard however. He didn’t understand (and at the time, neither did I really). My heart sank and I was close to tears as I walked away. All I could do was pray for my friend.

It was about two weeks later on a Saturday – I hadn’t seen Martin the whole time and often wondered how he was doing. I was in the yard pulling weeks when I heard his voice behind me.

Brian – Hi.’

He startled me a bit, as I wasn’t expecting to see him. We’d bantered back and forth for a few minutes, when he asked me if I was going to church the next day. A bit surprised at his question, I quickly responded ‘Yes. Would you like to come with me?’

church serviceMartin came to church with me the very next day. Honestly, I’m not sure what happened in Martin over the previous weeks since I’d seen him, but God was surely up to something. For a ‘homeless’ man, who prefers living in seclusion, to ask to go to a large church, was a miracle in itself. What was to happen over the next couple of hours still brings tears to my eyes.

As we got to church, Martin was understandably a bit overwhelmed and wanted to sit toward the back. We participated in the worship/music time and sat listening through the message. I don’t remember exactly what the sermon was about, but I remember Martin sat quietly looking, watching and listening. At the end of service, the pastor asked everyone to close their eyes and he presented an ‘altar call’, giving folks the opportunity to make a decision to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Pastor then asked for those who’d raised their hands and prayed the prayer with him, to make a step of faith and step out of their seats and come forward to meet him at the front. It was then that Martin turned to me and said, “Brian, will you go with me?”

For a brief moment, I was speechless; shocked actually. Did Martin just raise his hand and pray to accept Jesus?! Honestly, for as much as I’d been praying for this day, Martin was a man that seemed quite ‘stuck’ in his ways. I did go down front with him, where after a few words of encouragement from the pastor, we went into a side room where Martin had an opportunity to talk with one of the altar workers. Martin explained that at the time pastor asked those who wanted to receive Jesus to raise their hands, it was as though someone reached down and grabbed his hand and lifted it. He said that although it seemed a bit odd, he actually needed that ‘help’ to do what he wanted to do in the first place, which was to step out in faith and accept Jesus as his Savior. He followed up by saying that he still had lots of questions and things he didn’t understand, but he felt deep inside that this was a decision he needed to make today.

For the next week or two after, our after work conversations took a significant turn toward the Bible, his decision to accept Jesus and the ‘now what do I do?” One of those steps was to be baptized, which he did a couple weeks later. However, it wasn’t long after, that Martin began having extreme difficulty with his breathing. He’d been struggling a bit before, but it had been getting progressively worse. One day, it got so bad that he took himself into the hospital. It was there than they found he had advanced lung cancer. Because of his less than desirable living conditions, he stayed in the hospital for areading bible in hospital month, which included having surgery to remove part of his left cancerous lung. When I came to visit him, he’d ask me to read the bible to him. It was the times I would read the Psalms to him that I’d often see him tear up.

Martin was released some weeks later and was able to get into his own small apartment through state assistance. But his health continued to rapidly decline and within about six months of Martin accepting Christ, he passed away early one morning. Although I’d physically lost my friend here on this earth, my joy that Martin’s was Heaven-bound far outweighed my sadness.

He did have a son and daughter that I met that were with him the last few days before he passed. They had not been particularly close to their father, but his passing still was heart-wrenching for them. I did get the opportunity to share with them the hope their Father received through Jesus, less than a year prior. It did seem hard for them to understand, particularly for Martin’s son; as the dad he’d known for so many years was certainly not ‘God-fearing’. But, that is the beauty of God’s grace through faith in Christ, I explained. As I left them, my prayer was that God would soften their hearts and use their dad’s story to reach them.

It was sometime later, while walking through the cherry orchard that I’d spent so much time in with Martin, that I allowed my self to grieve. As the reality of him being gone man walkingtruly settled within me, I began to cry. I remembered how we met, the long talks, the opportunities to help him and how hard it was to walk away. It was a tremendous privilege to know this man and especially walk alongside him in his last days on this earth. However, the biggest reward for me was being used by God to bring this man to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I’d realize months after as I mulled over Martin’s story, that when God asked me to stop helping him as he lived at the bottom of my orchard, it wasn’t because Martin wasn’t in need or worthy of help. It was because God cares more about the condition of our heart and our eternity than making sure we are comfortable. God knew that Martin already had cancer in his body and his time was short. God knew that the opportunities for Martin to see his ultimate need of a savior in Christ was very limited and that Martin had to quickly reach a place where he needed to make a choice… eternal life in Christ or eternal death through separation from Him. I am thankful that when he hit ‘rock bottom’, Martin chose life.

I find it ironic, yet so like God, that this whole story happened within the backdrop of a cherry orchard. The word ‘cherry’ is derived from the Latin word ‘caritas‘, when means ‘generous love.’ I love it when God’s ‘generous love’ shows up in such an impactful and hearrt cherrylife-changing way, as it did in Martin’s life. Truly, as 2 Peter 3:9 states ‘… he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.‘ God will go to extreme lengths to help us see our need for Him with the hope that His kindness and goodness will bring us to a place of repentance and a decision to believe and place our faith in his ‘generous love’ (Romans 2:4).

Martin you are greatly missed, but I’m confident that I’ll see you again someday.

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