The clouds were hanging down like big grey mushrooms, and the wind was picking up from a norther that was blowing in. It was early October, in the year of 1935, near Guthrie, Oklahoma, and what had started as a nice warm day was now getting cold, dark and forbidding to the little blond haired boy making his way through the brush. Papa was laid up again, and the cows had to be in the barn before it got dark. When you are five years old, it’s not easy being the man of the house, but Wayne never hesitated when they told him to go get the cows.
Problem was, it was cold, and his old thin hand-me-down shirt did little to protect him. It was getting dark and scary looking. Feeling all alone, he stopped beside an old tree stump that blocked part of the wind and peered down into the ravine where the cows usually hung out when it was windy. Nothing moved. Please, please be there, he thought. With his heart pounding and teeth chattering, he slowly squatted down by the stump and started crying.
Suddenly, there popped in his mind about a lady he had heard talking about a friend, named Jesus. If he could just find a friend like that he could have help and would not be alone. With a desperation born from terrible need, he said, “I sure do need a friend, and if you are really there, would you be my friend?” Out of the air around him a voice said, “ I’ll be your friend.” Jumping to his feet, little Wayne let out a yell and with a huge smile threw his hands up and said, “Thanks, friend! Can you help me find the cows?” His new friend did not say anything else, but when he turned around, he saw a flash of tan hide, and the old Jersey milk cow poked her head out of the brush.
Over the next ten years, Wayne went regularly to the old stump where he talked to his friend. He was always there, ready to visit and talk about things that boys can’t understand, especially when you’re poor and don’t always have food to eat. On the day he turned 10 years old, Papa came home with a present, all wrapped in a brown paper sack. He tore it open, and there lay a brand new flannel shirt. His very first new shirt, all clean and soft with shiny buttons and no holes. It was the best present he could dream of, and he could hardly wait to tell his friend.
As soon as morning came, he tore off down the meadow and ran up to the talking place by the stump, proudly wearing his new shirt. “Hey friend”, he said, “look at my new shirt.” Once again his friend’s voice rolled around him, and this time seemed to be laughing as he said: “I see it. I gave that shirt to you.” Wayne just stood there by the stump and soaked up the love of his friend. From that day until the day he died, he was never alone again.
We buried Nallen Wayne Chennault yesterday at the age of 84, in the same town he was born in and lived all his life. His legacy of prayer and devotion to his wife, Marilyn, are legendary. The friendship and mentoring that he and Sister Marilyn extended to my Mother sustained her through the dark times, and my extended family will feel the ripple effects for generations.
Jesus really is a friend to those who need one, and if we will just seek Him, we will find Him.