My oldest brother Orman died almost two weeks ago at the age of 91. A pastor and missionary to the Philippines, he was an avid student of the gospel of Jesus Christ and, though his mind at the end was clouded by the effects of vascular dementia, he still clung to the need to “go to a meeting,” write a sermon, and to counsel. One of the pictures my sister-in-law, his sweet wife Reggie, has shared with me, is of him in a wheelchair, hunched forward, studying his Bible as if nothing else in life mattered.
Along with his other many, many talents, Orman was a great storyteller. So it seems appropriate now as I remember him to tell a couple of stories about him.
I was a college student that year of 1964 when I was assigned as a summer missionary to go for ten weeks in Washington State helping with vacation Bible schools in small churches. My finals ended the day I was to leave on the train so my brother Orman brought my mother to the University of Georgia, sixty miles from our home, to see me off. I was thrilled that Orman, home on furlough from the Philippines, would take time to do that.
The first sign of trouble on my trip came when I changed trains in Atlanta. A young man who smelled of whisky and tobacco plopped his large frame beside me. I had already chosen a window seat because I love to see out. But now his long legs trapped me. It was a long ways to Chicago. The farther we went and the darker night fell outside, the more nervous I became. The young man was just like the ones about whom my parents had diligently warned me. He talked a steady stream how he would help me all along the way. I thought when he went to sleep I would change seats, but instead he went to sleep slumped on my shoulder as I squeezed harder and harder against the window. What if he followed me when I got to Chicago to change trains? I breathed a prayer against the window and then shoved hard as I could trying to budge the fellow’s dead weight. He only slumped a little harder against me!
The minute the train stopped in Chicago at 3:00 a.m. I made a gigantic effort and was able to scramble over the inert body of that fellow, grab my things from overhead, and plunge down the steps. Then, there I stood in the midst of the biggest crowd I’d ever seen. It was noisy, too, and I couldn’t tell what the announcer was saying. Which way was I supposed to go? Looking over my shoulder, I saw the disgruntled guy starting down the steps. Instinctively, I moved forward into the crowd.
Suddenly a lady appeared right in front of me smiling and saying my name very distinctly: “You are Brenda Knight, aren’t you? I recognize you because your brother Orman told me what you’d be wearing.” In astonishment, I nodded dumbly. She went on to explain as she took some of my belongings that my brother had wakened in the night knowing he must find someone to meet me and get me on the next train. She was one of his former church members and had hastily dressed and come to town.
I knew instantly that God had heard my feeble plea breathed against that dark window and had wakened Orman with instructions he was quick to obey.
The second story is about much more recent happenings. My brother’s first wife died on New Year’s Eve, 2002. Though Orman had thought he could live as a widower all right, it wasn’t many months before I heard him say, as some of us chatted, that he really wished God would send him another wife. He lived in Clarkesville, 300 miles from my home in Cairo, Georgia. Only a few weeks later I was in a sewing circle in Cairo when I heard a recently widowed sister of my friend Sally say almost the exact words Orman had expressed. She wished God would send her another husband.
I remember even now how my heart rate sped up as I realized these two people had many similar interests and that they would never meet each other unless someone (could it be I?) did something about it. I couldn’t shake that feeling of responsibility as the days went by. Was this God’s nudging, or my own romantic giddy idea? I talked to my friend Sally and to another brother of mine, John, and finally very timidly approached first Reggie, then Orman, telling them about each other and asking if they’d like to meet. They both said yes.
Charles and I hosted an intimate dinner party on September 16, 2003 attended by our friends Sally and Wes, who brought Reggie with them, and Orman. The next day Orman and Reggie went on their first date, browsing in Havana, Florida, a little town full of antique shops. Reggie said that sounded like a non-threatening setting for the two of them to get acquainted. They returned to my house that afternoon literally glowing. I couldn’t believe my big brother was asking me for advice, but on Sunday after they’d had their first date on Friday, he asked me if it would be too forward of him to go to Reggie’s church in Albany and worship with her. I said go ahead! From that day on there was no doubt what the rest of the story was going to be.
They got married on February 14, 2004 and had twelve years of marriage, enjoying many happy and fulfilling experiences. They traveled twice to the Philippines to visit Orman’s churches there, twice to Alaska for sheer fun, and absolutely loved teaching Sunday school together, sharing each others’ grandchildren, melding their families, walking the hills, everything!
Every year on my birthday, including September 17, 2015, Orman called me to thank me for introducing him to Reggie. I count it as a huge blessing that God let me be “the little bird” that brought them together.
Both these stories are a testament to Orman’s deep faith and his prayer life. And now, as someone said at his funeral, he’s in heaven meeting some of the many people he brought to know the Lord. But we miss him here!