Neighbor BobBy Clark Haken - December 2010
The empty house next-door will soon be gone—demolished and hauled away. All its contents have been removed and taken to the dump. Now it stands waiting. . . waiting for the rumble of heavy equipment, waiting for the first sounds of snapping wood and breaking glass. It will soon be forgotten.
My neighbor was a large, quiet man with long graying hair and a big, unforgettable, gray beard; he lived in the house next-door. Bob didn’t talk much; he had a tracheotomy. Often he’d communicate with a nod, chuckle or a lift of his chin. He lived alone with his two dogs. A brother and sister showed up occasionally. He had friends who stopped by sometimes but he didn’t always come to the door. He was mostly alone.
Bob and I shared his big back-yard garden. Multiple health issues made it hard for him to stay ahead of the weeds, so I kept the garden weeded. In return he let me use part of it. We planted tomatoes, peppers and onions. Some years he’d have a few cucumbers. He’d look at me and say, “Best tomato patch in town.” I concurred. He canned his vegetables; I made salsa with mine. We shared his garden for 13 years.
On a hot July evening last summer I was mowing alongside his garden and next to his house when a friend of Bob’s drove up asking if I’d seen my neighbor. I shook my head. Sometimes I didn’t see Bob for days at a time. The friend immediately went in. I stopped mowing. Bob was dead. . . he had been for 3 days.
We never talked about Jesus—never talked about faith. Never seemed to work out. I’ll not judge what was in Bob’s heart, but little in his life indicated a relationship with Jesus. I had 13 years of opportunity to share my faith with Bob. I didn’t. Oh yes, he’d see me leave for church in my Sunday clothes, knew I’d lend a hand if he needed something. I tried to be a good neighbor. I intended to share my faith with Bob. . . someday. Now it’s too late for conversation. I’m haunted by that. . . and haunted by the old, run-down house next-door that reminds me of missed opportunity.
We are surrounded with opportunity—absolutely surrounded by the very mission-field Jesus calls us to work in. Opportunity waits in the check-out line, the office, the grain elevator and perhaps right out our back door.
Bob’s house was all he had. It’ll be gone soon; shouldn’t take more than 1 day to remove all traces of it. Before long folks will forget a house once stood on the lot and forget a man named Bob once lived there. I won’t forget. I’ll remember Bob, his empty house, and the missed opportunities right out my back door.
ATLAS Board Members
- John Van Diepen - President
- Deb Kosters - Secretary
- Gary Hielkema
- Steve Swensen
- Brad Jensen
- Peg Van Kley
- Kathleen Osterman
955 2nd Avenue
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