Thursday, May 5, the National Day of Prayer, I drove across town to attend the noon gathering near the Kenner, Louisiana, City Hall. The lovely little park sports a pavilion large enough for a hundred people and we fairly filled it up. The temperature hovered in the low 70s, the humidity was low, and a breeze stirred the lovely trees just beyond the memorial flag display. I could have stayed a week.
An interfaith women’s group has been assigned responsibility for the annual prayer observance, and they did an excellent job. Only two or three of us knew that the little white-haired lady on the second row, Josie Lanzetta, actually started these prayer observances nearly 15 years ago. She took it upon herself to call the mayor’s office and ask if we could use the park and the pavilion for the prayer service. Sometimes a dozen of us would meet, and once or twice a school-bus load of children. In time, the idea caught on and now others have taken the leadership. Miss Josie is so kind and unassuming, she simply shows up as a participant and would never in a hundred years tell that she originated these observances in Kenner.
Even though the program exceeded the noon hour, each speaker/pray-er was outstanding and brought a special contribution to the proceedings. These included the mayor, a judge, several ministers, a medical doctor, a local television personality, and a deacon from the Hispanic Apostolate Church. I wanted you to know about this last one, the deacon.
Deacon Luis Campuzano is perhaps sixty years old. He said, “I am from Honduras. Had you told me 20 years ago I would someday be addressing this group of community leaders, I would not have believed it.” Then he told us about his mother.
“My mother moved to the United States in 1962. But I stayed behind in Honduras.” He didn’t say why she came or why he stayed.
“My mother was unable to read or write, even in her native language. So you can imagine how helpless she was in this new country. That’s why I decided to move up here and help her.”
“She was living in New Orleans on Magazine Street. When my mother and some friends met me at the airport, she said, ‘Luis, tonight, I am making for you a wonderful meal like I used to when you were a boy.”
“Across the street from my mother’s apartment was the super market. I went with her to buy the groceries. When we walked in, I knew immediately that everything was going to be different in this country. The employees all saw my mother and said, ‘Good morning, Mama.’ She spoke to each one and they all called her ‘mama.’ We bought our groceries, then we went to the butcher shop. When he saw my mother, the butcher stopped what he was doing and said, ‘Hello, mama.’ He helped us buy three large pieces of meat for supper.”
“My mother prepared the supper the way I remembered. It looked so beautiful and I was so hungry, I could not wait to get at it. Then she said, ‘I will not be eating with you. I have to go somewhere.’ I said, ‘Mama, wherever you go, I am going with you.'”
“What she did next surprised me. My wonderful mother took part of the food she had prepared for our dinner and we walked across the street to the super market. She gave some of it to everyone who worked there. That’s why they all knew her and loved her. I said, ‘Mama, you can’t afford to do this. You barely have enough money to take care of yourself. You shouldn’t be doing this.'”
“She looked at me and said, ‘My son, you know I am a Christian. I go to church every Sunday. I cannot read a word in that Bible, but I know what it says. On every page, the Bible says ‘love.’ And ‘love’ means we must share.”
I would have driven all the way across town just to hear that story of his mother’s faith. I have no idea whether he told it because the following Sunday was Mother’s Day.
On Saturday, Margaret and I drove to Eutaw, Alabama, to bury her Aunt Winona Franklin in a plot beside her husband of 40 years who died some 15 years ago. Winona and Cornelius were always two of my favorite in-law relatives.
Cornelius drove an oil delivery truck in that part of rural Alabama, while Winona worked at Banks & Co. department store in Eutaw. They lived in a little white frame house a few miles out of town, near the community of Clinton, not far from where she grew up. They never had children, so everyone around them adopted them as their own. Never was there a more loving, laughing, positive couple. I met them in the early 1960s when Margaret and I began making plans, and soon liked them so much, I would have gone to see them by myself. Even after Cornelius died, if I were traveling down Interstate 20 below Tuscaloosa, I would try to find time to detour a few miles, just to run by and say hello to Winona. She would stop whatever she was doing and make you feel that your visit was the high point of her day. “Tell me about the children,” she would say. An hour later, I would be back on the road, refreshed.
When Margaret and I moved to the seminary in 1964, we would sometimes receive a note from Aunt Winona to remind us she and Cornelius were praying for us. Invariably, there would be a check enclosed. Sometimes it would be for five dollars, and a time or two for fifty. Always, in the lower left corner of the check would be written “For love.”
At her funeral, I told that story. Everyone nodded their heads, because nothing sums up this lady’s life like those two words: “for love.”
I have a hunch that when she arrived in Heaven, and after she got reacquainted with loved ones long departed, Aunt Winona knelt at the Throne of her Lord. I can see her reaching out and touching the scars in His hand, and I hear Him saying to her, “This was ‘for love.'”
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”