Neighbor Bob

By 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
Sibley, Iowa
(712) 754-4311
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