As Unknown Yet Well Known
First in a series of articles of believers of a former day who left a mark for God.
His name was Don Antonio. He was a plumber. Also, he was a great shepherd of God’s people and his life was devoted to serving and caring for God’s flock. In the world, he commanded the respect of all who knew him and among the people of God he was loved and treated with deference. I admired the reputation God gave him. He set a pattern many tried to copy, and one particular incident in his life has had a permanent effect on me.
A dark, shortish man with a ready smile, he lived in a nice home on an unpaved street but did not own a car. He knew his Book, more to encourage others than to hold discourses on the aorist tense, but was unknown outside his own country of Venezuela. He had a testimony few have ever had. His reputation as a shepherd was legendary, and he tended the flock before, during, and after meetings.
It was his exercise to encourage all to be at meetings, an exercise he backed up with visitation and example, as the sick well knew. His burden in Bible readings was to feed the sheep, and his contributions tended to be very practical as he tried to affect (and correct) lifestyles. After a weeknight gathering he would talk politely to all and sundry, and all the while his eyes would be scanning the hall, checking the behavior of the young in Christ and keeping his finger on the pulse of the assembly. Often he would take the young believers across the street to a corner store for a soft drink or the like.
He was liked by children too. Once, at a conference, I watched him hold a crowd of children spellbound (I was one of them) with serious theatrics pertaining to the Word of God. Although he got down to a child’s level he never demeaned himself by pretending to be one. He was always an adult and we respected and loved him as such.
He may have been highly respected and loved, but it took a lifetime for him to be regarded like that, for a reputation does not come overnight. His standing among the people of God was due to the grace of God working in him, for he swam counter to the flow of society around him. There was much about him to imitate, but, as a young boy knowing him and hearing the stories my parents told, I developed a yearning for (even coveted?) a reputation like his in the business world. Were he still with us today, he would be surprised to know what an impact his example had on a small boy who was not even saved when we lived in the same city.
Don Antonio operated his own plumbing business in a land where graft was a way of life. He stood out like a shining light on a dark ocean, for the testimony of his life in the world matched his teaching in the assembly. Of all the stories I heard about him, one stands out.
Actually, this is two stories of testimony in one. The Roman Catholic bishop of our city (nearing half a million at the time) asked Don Antonio to do a job at his own house. This was surprising, given that about 8 well known plumbers were in the bishop’s congregation. The reason he gave, as I recall (and you will forgive me for not quoting verbatim – it is too long ago for me to remember word for word) was that, “You are the only plumber in the city I can trust.” That alone impressed me, and still does.
However, all did not go well on the job and, because of the vagaries of the market place, Don Antonio stood to lose his shirt on the deal. This came out in a discussion with the bishop when the two men were reviewing the progress of the business. Don Antonio mentioned he was losing money on the contract, but that he was going to finish the job for the amount of their agreement. The reaction of the bishop was startling. He reached for the contract and, in front of the brother’s face, tore it up saying words to the effect, “Don Antonio, I know you are an honest man. Finish the job and, whatever it costs, send me the bill. I will pay it.”
All my life I have longed for this respect that Don Antonio earned. I wanted others to see these same qualities in me. I knew he was the way he was because he belonged to Christ. I longed for the character and reputation he had. As I got older, however, I discovered he was not alone in this behavior. In fact, there are thousands of such Don Antonios all over the world, setting an example for those who follow, and not all of them say much about it: small actions, every day of the week, showing the character of Christ to the world first and putting the pursuit of mammon, even for daily needs, second.
I learned that the cumulative effect of such actions explains why the Lord’s people are indeed the salt of the earth, checking society’s sin-caused decay, and acting as a preservative to fellow believers. Maybe these actions are known to only a few (if any) but the Lord knows and He is still sitting over against the treasury – watching. He Who sees in secret will reward openly in a coming day, and then we will know who the Don Antonios of this world are – men and women, the aristocracy of heaven, who paid a price for the privileges we enjoy today, and set a standard for us to imitate.