The story reads like a miracle. Maybe it is.
The year was 1967. I was 12 years old. I played on a varsity football team as a 7th grader because our school was so small that grades 7 to 12 were considered high school.
Let me say it clearer. I was on the team, but I really didn’t play much that year.
His Name Is Joe Hendrickson
He was our coach. He loved the guys on the team. In fact, he loved us so much that he couldn’t help but share the gospel with us. I was one of those guys who heard the gospel from Coach Joe. It was almost a modern day version of Acts 4:20.
It was the first time I can recall hearing and understanding the gospel. I made a commitment to Christ in less than 24 hours after hearing from Coach Joe.
His impact on my life was eternal. But I never told him.
I never thanked him.
About 15 years later, I began to look for Coach Joe. I had no success. As I began to write books, I would mention him in the acknowledgements, hoping that someone would connect us.
Nothing happened for decades. Until now.
I found Coach Joe.
Several people who know Coach Joe read about him in a Bible study I wrote. He thought there had to be a mistake. Certainly he was not the guy who led Thom Rainer to Christ.
So Coach Joe called the call center of LifeWay. He didn’t want to bother me. He found out that indeed he was the same high school football coach who shared the gospel with me. The LifeWay employee to whom he spoke had the presence to get contact information from him. And that employee sent me an email.
My eyes filled with tears.
I had found Coach Joe 47 years later.
I called Coach Joe today. He is one of the most humble and gracious men I know. He is 78 years old. I am undoubtedly one of countless people he has influenced over the years.
When he said, “hello,” my voice choked. It was really Coach Joe. I must have sounded crazy. I began to express my gratitude to him in such a rapid fire fashion that I wondered if I made any sense.
The conversation lasted for several minutes. We had nearly five decades to bridge. I ended the conversation with a promise to visit him soon in his home of Bay Minette, Alabama. I will keep that promise.
If God has used me in any way during my 59 years on earth, it is, from a human perspective, because one man was courageous and loving enough to share the gospel with me. One man cared. One man made a huge difference.
I will never be able to thank Coach Joe sufficiently. I will, however, share this blog post with him. I will continue to express my heartfelt gratitude to him. I will travel to south Alabama to see him soon.
When I wrote my first solo book in 1993, I noted in the acknowledgements these words: “Some twenty-five years ago in Union Springs, Alabama, a high school football coach named Joe Hendrickson introduced to me to the Savior whose church I write about in this book. I never thanked my coach for the eternal difference he made in my life, and I do not know where he is today. Perhaps somehow these words will find you, coach. Thank you for caring enough about one hungry little kid to tell him about the Bread of Life.”
It’s amazing what God will do with one obedient person.
Thank you, Coach Joe.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you.