What Urban Missionaries Do

This is a story about a boy, a daddy, a family, and a grandfather. It just sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. It all started when Gregory’s daddy died very unexpectedly. We got involved when the family asked us to do a pickup of furniture and household items. When we arrived, we were lead into an apartment to do the pickup. As usual, we took the table and chairs and some household items, most things that were left would go to the landfill. One of the items was a large fish tank. It looked to be in pretty bad shape so I declined it, but Greg said to me, “That works.” “Really,” I replied, “did your dad have fish in it?” Greg nodded yes, and as I was watching his body language I got the message that this fish tank was part and maybe an integral part of this father-son relationship. So I caved and said to Greg, “Ok, we will take it,” and a smile slowly crossed his face. “Bingo,” I thought to myself. So we loaded the tank, the pump, the light, and all of the hoses, and other items which you would need to maintain the tank onto the truck. When we got back to 242 Canterbury street  with the load, I decided to store everything in the shed where we could give everything a real close look to see if it was worth putting into the LittleStore. When it came to the fish tank and all of the accessories, we just put them against the wall until we got a chance to see if everything worked as Greg told us. It stayed there six months buried behind flea market items, recyclable metal, and other large items. Whenever I went into the shed to go find items for the Flea market on Saturdays, I would spot the fish tank just sitting there and I would say to myself, “What am I going to do with this?”  and then I would listen for an answer, but nothing ever came to mind! It wasn’t until the end of August that a vision came to mind. If the damn thing works, why not set it up in the store as a display. “Not bad,” I thought, but immediately my fish tank experiences flooded into my mind. We had a fish tank for the kids when they were younger. It was a money pit! Every fish we put into the tank would die in very short order. We found them on the floor around the tank in the morning and then the tank was diagnosed with the “ick” and need a special “fixer upper”. I finally came up with a solution. Off to the supermarket I went, and bought cans of salmon, sardines, tuna, and any other canned fish I could find.  When I got home I drained the tank and put in all of the cans of the various fishes I had purchased. “This may not work after all,” I thought, but I decided to bring the tank and all of the gear into the LittleStore and take a break from all this fish stuff. Well the tank sat in the entrance in the store for another month. We moved it from one place to another. During this time, I noticed Greg explaining the fish tank to his cousin. “Nice,” I thought, he really is into this fish tank. Then one day I was working the register and the tank was just sitting there looking back at me as if to say, “Well!?” “Hmmm,” I thought, “I need to find someone who know a lot more about fish tanks than I do, but who?” As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait very long. It happened when we had started our Christmas Giving Program name taking. This starts the first Saturday of October. On the second week, one of the volunteers was a couple. It was kind of quiet, so I decided to ask the husband if he would like to do some testing of electrical items we received as donations. He eagerly agreed, so I took him into the warehouse where the items are stored and helped him set up the testing station. It was very apparent the he understood the job and I wasn’t needed. Later that afternoon, I had a chance to speak with him over lunch. I would kid him about coming back to do some more work around the place and he laughingly agreed, but wanted a raise in his pay. It was during this bantering that I asked, “know anyone who knows about fish tanks?” Without missing a beat he replied, “Yes I do, me I have two twenty gallon fish tanks at my house.” I smiled and he started laughing. “Would you be willing to take a look at a donation we received?” I asked. “Why?” he replied. “Well if it works, I am thinking of putting it in the store as a display and if it doesn’t, I will toss it,” I said.  He immediately got up and went over to the tank and started poking around. “I have more pieces,” I volunteered. “Get them, I need to take a look at them,” he replied. So I went into the service closet, and pulled out all of the boxes and bags of fish tank things that came in with the donation, and I put them near the tank for him to take a look. Then everything fell quiet as he looked at each part and examined the tank. “We filled it with water to see if it leaked,” I told him. He just turned and looking at me just smiled and then continued examining all of the pieces. After awhile he straightened up and said, “This is a saltwater tank system. I think it would be too much for you to take care of, but it can be flushed out and used as a freshwater tank and that would be infinitely easier to take care of and a lot less expensive to stock.” “Well that might work,” I thought to myself. “Ok,” I said, “but how do I flush the tank and the systems?” I think he sensed my uneasiness with the whole process and asked, “Why are you doing this?” I thought for a moment and suddenly everything became crystal clear in my mind’s eye. All these past months I have been turning this problem over and over again in my mind looking for a reason to do this. I blurted out, “This is going to be a memorial to Greg’s daddy, who died suddenly!” He just looked at me for a moment and then said, “Let me take everything home with me and I will check it all out.” Then he left for the day. After a few weeks passed, I started to get a bit anxious and almost reached the point of picking up the phone to find out why nothing was happening. I resisted the temptation and decided to wait awhile longer.  Then his wife Karen appeared and said she was to take the tank home with her, so we picked it up and loaded into her van. “We will be back in a week or two with it all cleaned up,” she said. “OK, see you then.” I replied, and off she went. The waiting game started again. As more time passed, I was becoming more agitated because up to this point I haven’t told anybody, especially Gregory, what I was up to and I was afraid he would figure it out on any one of the multiple occasions when he would come to the store. Then one Saturday, Greg and his mom, my daughter Elizabeth, stopped by the store for some reason, and as it happened Jack and Karen arrived with their son to deliver the tank. When they set it on the stand, I couldn’t believe it was the same tank. It was so shiny and clean. “They must have worked hard to get it back to this condition,” I thought, “God bless them.” “We will be back to level it and bring a new pump and some other things you are going to need,” said Jack. All I could muster was a very weak “Thank you” as they left. About three weeks later, Jack and his son arrived with tools in hand and leveled the tank. “We don’t want it to tip over on some kid,”Jack said to me. After they finished, Jack told me they would be back in a couple of weeks to fill it up and make sure the pump and heater were working before any fish could be added into the tank. True to his word, two weeks later Jack and Karen arrived loaded with hoses, and new everything we needed along with some fish food and water treatment stuff. Jack set to work putting in this and that, and finally started filling the tank. “Be still my heart,” I thought to myself, “is this really going to happen?” While Jack and his son were bringing all the accessories for the tank in and setting it up, I turned to Karen and said, “Greg is here with his mother would you like to meet him or would you rather remain anonymous?” Karen smiled and said, “Sure we would love to meet him.”  “Ok,” I said, “Hang on while I get him.” So I picked up the phone and buzzed Kathy who was in the office with Greg and Elizabeth. “Hi,” I said, “Can you bring Greg out front with Elizabeth?” “Sure”, said Kathy, “ What’s up?” “You’ll see,” I replied. “We will be right out,” Kathy said. When Greg, Elizabeth, and Kathy arrived, I introduced them to Jack and Karen, and then I took Gregory over to the fish tank and said to him, “Greg this is your daddy’s fish tank and Jack and Karen are putting it back together so we can have fish here in the LittleStore and it is going to have a sign on it saying, “This fish tank is a memorial to Gregory’s daddy. May he rest in peace.” With that the place was awash in smiles and tears. Jack took Gregory aside and told him that they would be back to fill it with water and after a week or so he would take Greg to buy some fish. A friendship was forged that day. Again the waiting. Three more weeks went by before Jack and Karen showed up with Elizabeth and Gregory and a bag of fish!!! Before any fish could be released from their bag, an extra orange plant had to be inserted into the tank, a gift from Muggles (Kathy) and Gregory brought some of the rocks and figurines that were in the tank when Greg’s dad had it up and running. He had taken them from his father’s apartment when we were cleaning it out and tucked them away in his room so he would have something of his dad’s. He rolled up his sleeve and was just about able to reach the bottom, but he did it although he did get his sleeve all wet. After a few tries and Jack’s couching, things were just where Gregory wanted them and the moment had arrived, Jack took the bag of fish and while it was still closed he placed into the tank. I want the fish to get used to the temperature in the tank. While we were waiting for this we took the photos you see here. When we were done Jack took the bag of fish and opened it, all the fish were wiggling frantically as he poured them into their new home! It is done,” I thought, “it is done!”

It has been over three week since we place the fish into the tank and it is unbelievable the reactions we are seeing with the customers in the store. “It’s great.” “It make the place much nicer.” Even the customer who announced that he was going to get a tiger fish for the tank! I talked him out of it by telling him that the tank did not belong to the store, but was placed here for one of our younger customers. It is fun to watch the children come in and stop in their tracks when they spot the fish tank. Then they slowly approach it all the while making fish faces and moving their lips to mimic the fish. Jack and Karen are stopping by on Saturdays to check on the fish and to do some coaching on how we need to take care of the tank. What a joy!! And so this is what Urban Missionaries do!  

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