By John Maust
“I have a dollar bill that I’m going to give to one of you,” Mr. Sechrist told us kids, suddenly alert, at summer vacation Bible School.
This was nearly 60 years ago, a time when five cents could get you a soft drink at the local soda fountain, a pack of baseball cards, or candy at the movie theater, a time when a dollar meant something to a bunch of sweaty kids attending Bible school in little Nappanee, Indiana.
We wanted that dollar, badly. But who would be the lucky one to receive it?
Dick Sechrist, a retired mail carrier, had an astounding knowledge of Scripture. When our pastor sometimes began Sunday evening services with a few Bible quiz questions for the congregation, we rolled our eyes knowing that Dick would be first with all the right answers. Yet even with all that knowledge, he knew how to teach the Bible in ways that kids could understand.
“Who really wants this dollar?” Mr. Sechrist asked us. Arms waved wildly like trees in a tornado.
“Me! Me! Me!” all voices said.
“But who do you think I should give it to?” Mr. Sechrist said. It looked like the greenest, crispest dollar we had ever seen.
“Me! Me! Me!” everyone cried again.
Mr. Sechrist didn’t say anything for a moment, which seemed like hours. He looked around the room, a smile at the corners of his mouth.
“Larry!” our teacher said. “Please come up here.”
Larry vaulted from his desk and approached Mr. Sechrist, who handed him the dollar bill just like that, no questions asked.
How was this possible? What did Larry do to deserve this? Surely, one of us deserved it more. Larry beamed and held the bill high running back to his seat. You can imagine the looks that he got, and none of them were friendly.
It took awhile for Mr. Sechrist to restore our attention. But when he did, he proceeded to explain that the dollar for Larry was simply a gift, no strings attached and for no merit of Larry’s.
In the same way, salvation in Christ was a gift, he said. We couldn’t earn it, just as we couldn’t earn that dollar now scrunched in Larry’s pocket. It was all grace, nothing that we deserved.
Then Mr. Sechrist read to us a passage from the Bible, most likely in the King James: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
He let us ponder that for awhile, and then explained that we could pray with him to invite Jesus into our hearts at any time. I don’t recall that anyone did at that moment, but Mr. Sechrist’s illustration certainly stuck in our minds—in my case, for the past six decades.
Are we as global Christian communicators making effective use of illustrations to bring spiritual truth to life in the minds and hearts of our readers? Are we finding just the right metaphor, simile, story or parable that with God’s help will move someone a step closer from darkness to light?
I thank God for Mr. Sechrist’s teaching and for graphically introducing me to this amazing and liberating truth: eternal life in Christ is entirely a gift from God, not the result of anything we could ever possibly do to earn it.
John D. Maust became president of MAI in 1998 after more than 20 years’ experience as an editor and journalist. He worked 10 years as editor of the award-winning Latin America Evangelist magazine, published by Latin America Mission. He also spent four years in Peru as a missionary journalist. And he was assistant news editor of Christianity Today magazine and editor of a small-town Indiana weekly newspaper.