It is Saturday, and I am once again looking forward to an evening with Pastor Brown at the dialysis center. And I know just what he's going to ask me. After I gown up, fetch myself a stool, and hear all his updates (we missed last week because of the snow), he will turn to me expectantly and say "What've you been doing with my Bible this week?"
After I found him last Easter (if you don't know what I'm talking about, read the post called "Finding Nathaniel" from earlier this year), he told me how he'd come to disappear so thoroughly from the Community Care Center (CCC). His granddaughter had taken the home health care aide certification class, and when she had passed the state test his daughter had brought him home to live with her. His biggest worry when he lived at the CCC was that someone had sold a Bible that he thought a great deal about; he asked me repeatedly to pray that it hadn't been lost or sold.
One week, he was smiling when I came in and he said, "I knew you'd be here today. Get me that bag on my chair."
I brought him the plastic grocery sack hanging from the back of his wheelchair and he said, "Look in there."
Inside was a very battered Bible. The cover was nearly off, pages in the back were dropping out, and it had obviously been stuck together with plain present-wrapping tape a number of times. As I held it he looked on with great eagerness. "Read the inscription!" he commanded and I very gingerly opened the back cover. Here is what was written inside, in faded sepia ink:
"Property of Nathaniel Brown (Military number, Army division). Given him this Mother's day, May 13 1951, Kubayashi, Okinawa, by Chaplain Kraswell." And there were two Scriptures afterward.
"Wow!" I said. "You were a youngster then, weren't you?"
"I surely was. That was when I was a green private in the Korean war. I'd been wounded, you know, but not bad enough to get sent home; only bad enough to hurt and keep me from having any fun at all. So I called the chaplain over and I said 'I'm prayin', Chaplain. How come my prayers ain't bein' answered?' An he look me in the eye an' he said, 'You pray, son, but you don't believe. Tell you what you need to do...you need to take this here book, and read it, and learn Who you prayin' to, and then you pray, believin'."
And then Chaplain Kraswell inscribed the Bible to him, handed it to him, and went about his business.
The young Private Nathaniel Brown read that Bible, off and on, for many years; through the Korean War, and on into his posting in Germany, where it was finally lost when he left it behind. 25 years later, Staff Sergeant Nathaniel Brown finally prayed, believing, and came face to face with the Lord of Glory. And then his old Bible from Chaplain Kraswell took on new meaning to him, and he went searching for it. He started at Fort Lewis here in WA, and they sent him to three other bases, finally ending up at Fort Benning, where he was deployed from during his very first tour of duty. There they promised to see what they could do and hung up the phone, and he thought it was over.
His eyes lit up as he told me, "An' then, three months later, a package come to my door, and there it was! They found it some way and sent it on back to me!"
I was completely awestruck to be holding such a miraculously-restored Bible, and I flipped through it carefully and then returned it to the sack. He told me about reading from that Bible in Germany and preaching from it in the US a half-century later, and how he carried it with him all the time until he came to the nursing home.
That evening I told my family about it, and by next Saturday I had some questions ready for him. But as soon as I began asking him, he said, "Well, why don't you pull it out and see for yourself."
And so I did, and then he said, "Look back there at that inscription again," so I obediently opened the back cover. But this time, next to the sepia ink was something new, lettered carefully in black ink. It said,
Presented to Chaplain Debbe Carson, June 1, 2013, by Elder Nathaniel Brown. Pray Believing.
"This is for you," he said. "I want you to have it...for your work."
He was as thrilled to give it to me as I was to have it, but it was -and is- in a fragile condition. My mother made a quilted cover for it and I carry it with me everywhere, using it in the nursing home, at church, and at co-op. But the cover has now come completely apart, and whenever I take it out pages drift to the floor like leaves in the Fall. Each time, someone looks at me, astonished, and says, "You need to get a new Bible, Chaplain." And every week I tell them no, I don't; because I know that when I show up at the dialysis center on Saturday, Pastor Brown's going to ask me what I and his Bible have been doing that week, and I must unfailingly report.
So from time to time, I'll post updates on what I have been doing with Pastor Brown's Bible, so you can share in the adventure.