Nathanael polished off the piece of fudge and several cookies. He washed them down with some hot chocolate and cleared his throat before continuing his 1933 first-hand recollection of Grandpa’s salvation testimony.
Grandpa worked at that same ranch near Shaniko for a couple more years until he’d saved up enough money and lambs to homestead his own sheep ranch—this place, right here, just after the turn of the century. He married Grandma and Dad was born in the original part of this house. Things continued steadily along until the spring of 1910 when Grandpa took his harvest of heavy wool sacks to Shaniko for shipment to market… Shaniko was still the closest railhead at that time.
Nathanael remembered Grandpa telling him that as he walked along the wooden-plank sidewalk past the hotel, he heard a voice calling his name. He stopped, wheeled around, and saw a man standing at its main entrance calling out his name again. Could it be? He thought. Yes! It was Gustavo… extending a small wooden box in Grandpa’s direction with outstretched arms. But Grandpa didn’t know why.
Gustavo had come back to Shaniko in hopes of meeting up with those whom he had either worked for or with during his time herding sheep, to thank them for helping him along the way and to share his good news. And, in Grandpa’s case, to look him up and give him the box.
The two friends exchanged hearty greetings and firm handshakes. They had a lot of catching up to do since first herding sheep together nearly a decade ago.
Grandpa said he could tell Gustavo had changed a lot since they’d last worked on the ranch and he sensed that Gustavo wanted to talk about something more than just sheep, so Grandpa asked him what or who had changed his life since that time. A beaming Gustavo handed Grandpa the box then pulled a photo of his wife from his wallet and showed it to Grandpa.
Gustavo too, had put the lonely shepherd’s life behind him and moved to Spokane, Washington. There he had met her and together they established an orphanage, recalling his own childhood of wandering from place to place, as if a lost sheep himself. “But all of that changed,” he said, “for Gustavo’s good news turned out to be the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ!”
Grandpa opened the lid to the box and removed the protective wrapping from two separate figures, one of a lamb and the other of a cross, both carved from juniper wood.
Gustavo reached in and removed the hand-written note from the box before Grandpa could set the figures back into it, unfolded the paper note and handed it to Grandpa.
“What did the note say?” Nathanael asked.
Grandpa said it explained that the box and the two figures were a gift to him. It had some Bible verse references listed at the bottom of the note, but he didn’t know that at the time… until Gustavo explained them to him.
Grandpa was too embarrassed to ask Gustavo about them because he didn’t have a Bible of his own, but he wasn’t really interested in them at the time.
Grandpa said because he wasn’t a believer, that he didn’t have Jesus in his heart. And that all he really cared about were those figures, and only because of the incredible skill it took Gustavo to carve them… instead of what they represented.
Grandpa said he talked to Gustavo about the carvings, thanked him, complimented his work, and asked him a few questions about carving knowing that he could teach him a whole lot about it—if nothing more than patience… plus how to find seasoned juniper wood and carve it—sometimes the only thing he had available to carve. He taught Grandpa over the years about selecting wood, studying its grain pattern, drying it, sharpening his tools properly, carving techniques, and most importantly: resisting the urge to get in a big hurry when working with any kind of wood.
“Gustavo sounds like a good friend, Grandpa.” Nathanael observed.
Yes, Grandpa considered him a good teacher, patient mentor and probably his best friend, too. Then Grandpa said in a hushed tone that Gustavo was the one who introduced him to Jesus.
Gustavo explained that at his wife’s urging, they attended Billy Sunday’s revival meeting in Spokane the year before. Gustavo accepted Jesus as his Savior and explained to Grandpa what that meant: admitting that he had sinned against God, turning from that sin to God, believing that Jesus is God’s Son, and placing his complete trust for eternal salvation solely on Jesus, the Lamb of God who took away his sin by paying its penalty in full on his behalf. And, that the Holy Spirit would help him be a disciple if he became a believer in Jesus.
Grandpa learned from Gustavo about the true peace with God that he finally had. Something that had been missing his whole life. Gustavo’s shepherd heart appreciated God’s perfect love, saving grace, and adoption of him—just a lowly shepherd according to this world—orphaned and abandoned by it.
“He was a new creation in Christ.” Grandpa said, barely catching his breath, “I wanted that change in my life, too and for my family including your dad, as well.”
And, with that concluding revelation, Nathanael reminded Annie and Sally of the late hour. The twins thanked him for telling them more about Grandpa and how he became a believer in Christ.
Christmas day came and went much quieter than ever before, almost a surreal experience under the circumstances. Yet despite it all, helped to strengthen the bonds of love held by their grieving family.
Nathanael’s leave was almost over, signaling another long train ride back to his military base later that afternoon. Time for one last visit to Grandpa’s workshop before donning his uniform again.
He told Dad that he was going to spend a little time in the workshop before it was time to go as he walked by the raised engine hood of the family sedan.
“Problem?” he asked.
“No,” dad responded, looking up, “just checking before we drive you back to the depot.”
“Not taking the pickup this time?”
“Your sisters want to come.” Dad said, “Oh, and when you come back from the shop, would you bring me a small flat-head screwdriver?”
Dad called out to Nathanael as he neared the workshop steps asking if he remembered where Grandpa kept the screwdrivers.
“Yes sir, on the wall right above where Grandpa kept his Bible.” Nathanael replied.
“That’s right!” Dad said with a wry smile, “Thanks, no hurry so take your time!”