Heads of State

Martin Henderson was a man of great stature in the city; successful in business, active in community affairs, a pillar in his church who served faithfully as a deacon for many years. He was highly respected and known for his character and cheerful disposition. He was to those who knew him commonly referred to as a “Swell Guy”.
    So it came as no surprise when a visiting prophet who had been invited to speak at a local Christian businessmen’s breakfast, stopped in the middle of his oration, pointed his finger at Martin who was sitting in the front, and declared that he would minister for the Lord across the country. He would reach people associated with great authority and fame; heads of state, movie stars, corporate executives. He would speak the word of God and bring these leaders to salvation!
    It was quite a moment for Martin and he left the meeting walking on air. He always sensed that he had a special work to do and to have it confirmed in such a public manner was overwhelming evidence of the Lord’s favor.
    He quickly became exalted in the church community and he was asked to speak at several meetings. Soon a select gathering of fellow businessmen and church leaders were helping Martin plan the fulfillment of his mighty calling in the Lord. It was quickly determined that in order to reach those “Heads of State” Martin must embark on a campaign for public office. The Lord obviously intended to use Martin’s gift for speaking, his sincerity and natural leadership for a career in politics. It was quite apparent to everyone that the Lord intended to quickly exalt Martin to a highly respected office that would put him in contact with those successful people God intended him to reach. It was quite an exciting proposition and Martin’s bandwagon was overflowing with friends and supporters eager to share in Martin’s outreach.
    Several weeks into the campaign during a parade in his honor, Martin slipped on one of the flowers that had been strewn in his path by some zealous well wishers and he landed in the hospital with a nasty back injury. It was an obvious attack by the devil on this good man and prayers were made on his behalf at every church service in the city. Although his recovery was slow, it did not hamper Martin’s campaign or his spirits. Video cameras were summoned to his bedside where Martin continued his bid for public office courageously from his room in the hospital.
    It looked as though the injury was actually going to work in his favor, when his business suddenly began to take a nose-dive. His company manufactured computer chips for the automotive industry and a batch of them had to be recalled. People were being locked in their automobiles because the modules that operated their automatic doors and windows were malfunctioning. On the day Martin was released from the hospital he was handed a summons. A woman in Peoria, Illinois who had been trapped in her car in her own garage for forty-eight traumatic hours was suing him. It was about that same time his manager disappeared with over half of the company’s cash assets. This left Martin with barely enough to live on, let alone continue his campaign and pay his legal fees.
    “Why, Lord?” he cried out one day. “Why is this happening? I thought you wanted me to be successful and reach heads of state, movie stars and corporate leaders.”
    And from somewhere he thought he heard a Still Small Voice say, “Trust Me.”
    So that’s what Martin decided to do, even though his friends had come to the conclusion that the only reason Martin was having such a hard time must be because he was in some secret sin. Despite his protests to the contrary, his supporters gradually began to bail off Martin’s bandwagon as his prospects for success continued to grow dimmer and dimmer. After all, in their eyes poverty was a sign that somehow Martin had lost the Lord’s favor and to continue to associate with him could mean possible contamination as if poverty was a contagious disease. One by one Martin’s friends added him to the list of the spiritually quarantined.
    In order to avoid bankruptcy Martin was forced to abandon his campaign for public office and he quickly began to sell off his remaining assets. When it was all over, and his creditors, like locusts, had finally been satisfied, all Martin had left of any value was his stamp collection, one thousand dollars in traveler’s checks and his motorhome. With everything he owned packed within and on top of the twenty-four foot bus, Martin turned to look one last time at the tawny horizon of the town he loved, then he floor boarded the engine and his home-on-wheels lurched forward and headed for the freeway.
    And Martin refrained from asking the Lord one more time, “Why? Why is this happening to me?” Because he knew what his answer would be.
    “Trust Me.”
    Martin crossed the state line at midnight. His bus wandered aimlessly down the highway, oblivious to the changing scenery. Days passed and the tall, leafy oak trees were soon replaced by cactus; alien sentinels frozen in thorny salutes.
    Martin pulled into the parking lot in front of a cafeteria. The mountains in the distance were brown and void of trees. The landscape wasn’t like anything he was used to and it made him feel like he was on another planet.
    He got out of the motorhome and headed for the cafeteria. There was an old bag lady near the door. She was struggling to rearrange her overloaded shopping cart. He watched her for a moment then he gently offered to help.
    “No thank you, Sir,” she replied cheerfully. “I’ve got a system here. Ain’t got time to train new help.” She chuckled and grinned a toothless grin.
    “Take this,” Martin said as he slipped a five-dollar bill into her hand.
    “Why thank ye, thank ye.” She bowed before him like a dancer at a curtain call. “Looks like I needed it, don’t I?” she said. “Thank you, mister, I mean it. Ain’t too often folks are that kindly.”
    “Jesus loves you,” he said.
    “What’s your name?” she asked.
    “Mine’s Doris. You like refried beans?”
    “Oh.” She was disappointed. “I’m gonna go get me somethin’ to eat. You wanna come eat with me?" she asked hopefully.
    They sat opposite each other in a booth by a window overlooking Matin's motorhome. Martin watched her devour a heaping plate of refried beans that she had smothered in hot sauce. The beans were on special that particular evening. All you could eat.
    Martin chewed his hamburger pensively. Doris didn’t seem very interested in God at that point and he was beginning to doubt his abilities as an evangelist. After all, he had geared himself to reach those on a much different social and economic level. Reaching people like Doris was obviously beyond him.
    “Where you stayin’ tonight?” she asked him.
    “Don’t know.”
    “There’s a campground next door. Nothin’ fancy, but it’s cheap. The owner lets some of us bed down there for free as long as we keep to ourselves.”
    He agreed to allow Doris to show him the campground. He hoisted her into his motorhome and for the next few minutes at least, Doris felt like royalty perched in the lush captain’s chair.
    “I used to own a travel trailer,” she said.
    “You did?”
    “Yep. I had some money once. Here, make a left at this stop sign.”
    He pulled under the gated archway and drove into the trailer park. It was a shambles. Run down campers and raggedy tents were everywhere. He let Doris out at the office where he reluctantly registered for just one night.
    “When you get settled,” Doris told him, “meet me down at the end of the walkway there and I’ll introduce ya to some friends of mine.”
    What am I doing here? Martin thought as he watched her hobble away. He thought that if he had any sense at all he’d pack up and leave. But he didn’t and in a little while he found himself sitting with Doris and her friends around a campfire.
    “This is Tony, and Ben and Wendell,” she said as she pointed to each one of the weathered looking characters. They were all very glad to make Martin’s acquaintance.
    “You just passin’ through or do you intend to stay for awhile?” Ben asked.
    “I’m not sure.” Martin began to tell them his story.
    When he finished Ben said, “Well, don’t feel too bad. You’re not the only one who’s gone from riches to rags here. Take Doris for example. She used to be a movie star.”
    “Is that right, Doris?” Martin asked incredulously.
    “In the fifties. My stage name was Cameron.”
    “Doris Cameron? You’re the Doris Cameron?” Martin was astonished. “I used to have a crush on you.”
    “Everybody did,” she sighed.
    “And Tony here, you used to be in business too, weren’t ya?” Ben asked.
    “Yeah. Would you believe president of Centennial Motors?”
    “And Wendell here,” Ben continued, “you were in politics once weren’t ya?”
    Wendell squared his shoulders and stroked his long, gray beard. “Prime minister of Greenland. Then alcohol got the better of me,” he added pensively, “and I ended up here.”
    Surrounded by the movie star, the corporate leader and the head of state, Martin suddenly realized that he was sitting in the middle of the fulfillment of his prophecy. Doris said something that made the others laugh and Martin joined them heartily even though he hadn’t heard a word she’d said. And his laughter scattered the remnants of his fallen pride like ashes while all of his pompous expectations collided in his mind like circus clowns. He never would have suspected a punch line as skillfully rendered as this.
    He was laughing so hard now, tears were rolling out of his eyes. No one would have ever suspected either, that the Messiah would show up in the form of a lowly carpenter, born in a stable, to deliver mankind with one mighty act of submission. The accuracy of Martin’s own calling was just as perfect and centered in the will of God. And how much like God to confound the wise and humble the proud until their ears were brought low enough so they could hear. Martin realized with sudden joy that what he thought was the end of everything was only the beginning.
    The others had long since stopped laughing and they were looking at Martin with amusement as he continued rocking with mirth.
    “What I said was funny, but not that funny!” Doris chided.
    Martin wiped the tears away from the corners of his eyes and when he finally could speak he said, “I want to share something with all of you.” Then he began to tell his famous audience about Jesus.
    And they listened.

Martin’s audience soon began to grow, and eventually he started a church in an abandoned garage nearby. Members of the local community began helping him prepare meals and provide clothing and shelter for certain members of his congregation as famous people kept coming to him from the highways, the hedges, the alleyways and the streets.

copyright 1999 by H.D. Shively

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