The morning light reflected off the late-season snow, forcing an unwelcome brightness into the kitchen windows. Jim Mansfield was up, but barely, arguing with his wife Sue. The night before had been typical of their Saturdays, the two of them drinking too much, letting time slip away. They grumbled their way to the couch, pointed their remote at the TV, and slowly grew silent.
Dr. Charles Stanley was on the screen—they’d clicked past him many times before, but on this occasion, they stayed on the channel, watching. Jim saw a man in a suit but felt as if he was hearing directly from God. When the program was over, they talked together about the unfamiliar convictions they were feeling. Then Jim said, “I think we should go to church.”
It wasn’t the first time they’d tried to get serious about God, or clean up their lives. Years earlier, they’d made a go of it while winning custody of Jim’s youngest daughters, but without transformation. This time they kept going, finding both a church to embrace them and a saving faith in Christ.
“I think of Dr. Stanley when I think about my walk,” Jim says now. “He’s an example of walking the walk, not just talking it.” Jim is an iron worker, a union man, who’s been in building and overpass construction for more than 40 years. “I think there’s a big ministry out there for a man like me, out in the industry.” He knows how the days and weeks away from home contribute to a sense of isolation, how easy it is to lose your family—and yourself—in a bar night after night. And he’s made no secret of his faith these past five years.
Jim keeps a handful of used Bibles in his car—he picks them up wherever he can—to give away when he has the opportunity. Listening to the men, he watches for an opening, ready to share the hope he has within.
While some of the men have chided, “Here comes God,” Jim isn’t fazed. “Disciples don’t sit on their hands,” he says. When one of the men confesses that he doesn’t want to be with his wife anymore, Jim tells him to cling to her, that there’s still hope. Jim sees himself in these guys—he knows their failures, has lived with their pain. But when he hears a young man say, “My mother has always prayed I would meet someone like you,” he sees God redeeming the time.
Photograph by Gary Dowd