I have been so privileged to have mentors in my life. One was a gentle giant. His name was Robert L. Wood, and he was my 6th grade Sunday school teacher. I had perfect attendance that year. Bob was a great teacher mostly by personal example. He was devout and kind—but he always challened us by asking, “ What does the man, Jesus mean for you in your life?” Our curriculum was the worst—a pink book called Theirs is the Kingdom. It’s focus was church history, totally boring. And yet it was Bob’s personal witness that inspired us in spite of the curriculum. He would ask, “What do you think Jesus calling us to do?” And in his saying that he was always joyous and enthusiastic.
After the class was over for the year, Bob would see me in church and talk about how he felt the man, Jesus was calling our church. Times were tough back then as civil rights was in full swing and Vietnam’s rumble was beginning. I remember so well Bob’s being motivated by the phrase, “If you give a man a fish he eats for a day, if you teach him how to fish he eats for a lifetime” That phrase became the philosophy for two emerging, faith-based missions, Heifer Project and Habitat for Humanity. Bob chose to work for Habitat for Humanity in those early days.
Throughout the years to come I would bump into Bob at association meetings of the conference and other special events. He was pleased when I entered seminary. As a student I continued to marvel at Bob’s ability to rejoice and be grateful in the midst of adversity. He was always on the cutting edge. Bob came to my ordination and although he died soon after, I will never forget his optimism, his gratitude, and his service.
The last Time I saw him, Bob asked me one last time where I felt the man Jesus was calling me in ministry—not in an accusatory way, only with deep interest. Then he would add—“You know, I believe God is calling me to deal with people in prisons. Not many do that –and Jesus tells us to minister to the prisoners—and I‘m going to do it”.
Bob was a humble busness man who worked in NYC where he commuted every day from Westport, CT. He found the solution to life’s problems in service. If you ever read No More Shacks by Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, you will see that it is dedicated to Robert L. Wood, my Sunday school teacher, always grateful to respond to the call of the man, Jesus.