In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Jody and I lived on Love Road (Ren-ai Lu) and shared the same backyard with fellow missionaries Tena and Richard Morris, whose house faced Revival Road (Fuxing Lu). In our shared backyard there was a mango tree.
Unfortunately we seldom enjoyed the sweet, juicy, yellow-orange ripe mangoes. Neighborhood kids out in the alley would use bamboo polls and knock the green mangos off, scurry over our wall, pick up the loot and disappear. They never waited for the fruit to ripen. One day Richard came over and with a big smile, said he had solved the problem of the little raiders of our mango tree. Richard always smiled. Not a plastic grin, but a warm smile that God gives to certain people.
Richard was from Tennessee and as honest and free of guile as any person I ever met. His wife Tena was also. They had not been in Taiwan a month when a man came to their door and said he was from the dry cleaners and would be glad to have their business. Tena, must have thought she was still in Tennessee, so she gathered up two of Richard’s best and newest suits, and gave them to the man. Naturally that was the last ever seen of those suits.
So I asked him, “How have you solved the little rascals from getting our mangoes. “Simple,” he said, “I caught one of the little fellows in the yard with a sack of mangoes. I got him before he could get over the wall. I sat him down and gave him a good lecture about how it was wrong to steal. Richard was good in the Taiwanese language and years later produced a useful hymnal in that dialect.
“What happened after your lecture?” I asked. Good-hearted, trusting Richard said, “After being sure he understood me, I gave him four or five of the green mangoes and walked him out our front gate.” The little fellow assured Richard he would tell his friends and they would be better for it. Sometimes I think it is better to be naive like Richard. What does being cynical and distrustful of our fellowman do other than giving us ulcers?
The crime wave continued unabated, but the boys were more careful with their visits. We knew if they ate the little green mangoes they would get sick. I don’t think Richard told them that. I told him he should have told them to eat up and they might be too sick to try it again.
It was nearly 20 years later, after we had moved to Hong Kong, that Tena and Richard visited us over the Christmas holidays. Richard had been seeing doctors about his listless feeling. He still had his smile, but there was something different. His faith or his trust in human-kind had not changed. He still saw the best in everybody. The following spring we learned Richard had ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS causes nerve cells to degenerate. The voluntary muscles weaken and become immobile. ALS leaves the senses unimpaired and the intellect is often unaffected.
Years later, Tena told us Richard lay down for a nap and went peacefully to a better world. A world in which I am sure he feels at home — with his Lord. Richard knew Rudyard Kipling was right when he said: “I always prefer to believe the best of everybody — it saves so much trouble.”
Britt Towery is a former missionary, freelance writer and published author. He welcomes reader feedback at email@example.com.