The last time I saw Larry and Jean Elliott they were in Cary, surrounded by little girls. Jean was showing the children photographs, and Larry was telling them about each of the people they had befriended in Honduras.
The girls, part of a Baptist missions group, were used to hearing stories about the work of foreign missionaries. But this was different. Larry and Jean were real-life missionaries with larger-than-life personalities. The girls hung on to their every word.
I did, too.
I had known Larry and Jean for years. We attended the same church when they were in the States. I had heard them speak about their nearly 26 years among the Honduran people, and many friends had traveled to Central America to work on projects with them.
But seeing them interact with the children was a treat. They simply glowed. Jean whispered to me that they loved talking about missions with children best. Larry’s trademark hearty laugh was in abundant supply as he joyfully fielded questions from curious little girls.
It was maybe a year later that I got a phone call that would knock me off my feet. The caller said Larry and Jean had died in Iraq. Because I had only known them to serve in Honduras, I didn’t believe it at first. Surely this was a horrible mistake.
But it wasn’t. The Elliotts had packed up all that they could take in a few bags and gone to Mosul, Iraq, on a humanitarian mission. They were to work on a water-purification project for the Iraqi people. They surely knew the dangers, but they were following God’s call, their hearts bigger than any fear. Shortly after arriving, Larry and Jean were killed by a spray of bullets in a drive-by shooting by insurgents armed with AK-47 assault weapons. They died instantly and they died together, doing everything they could to serve God and their fellow man.
And 10 years after Larry and Jean were killed, the world is a better place because they were in it.
The work of a foreign missionary can seem exotic to those of us living our lives in the relative security of suburbia. We know about the difficult conditions and yet don’t always dwell on the dangers. But I don’t think most of us have to leave everything we know and travel to a far-off part of the world to make an impact. Our state, our town, our neighborhood are all mission fields. It is the seeds we plant and the little things we do that people will remember and talk about for longer than we could imagine.
A couple of weeks ago, Kevin and Pandy were in a comic book store off Hillsborough Street in Raleigh when the skies opened. I wasn’t sure where they were, but our designated meeting spot turned out to be about a block away. No one likes walking in blinding rain, but power wheelchairs and all their moving parts are not meant to take a soaking. And Pandy, contrary to her Labrador lineage, is not a fan of water.
Eventually, the two made their way to the van, accompanied by a woman holding an umbrella over them. She saw them inside the van and then hurried off, by then dripping wet herself. Kevin said she was working in the comic book store and closed up the shop to help shield him from the elements.
An act of kindness that won’t soon be forgotten.
For every stranger who parks illegally in a handicapped spot and makes my day more difficult, there is always another who stops to open a door or ride an elevator with my son. You might not remember the time you moved seats without my asking so I could sit next to my son’s wheelchair in the theater. But I do.
The thing about showing kindness to others is that it’s best when we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It’s not anything special because it’s just how we treat one another.
Larry and Jean would not want anyone to be angry with the men who killed them on that March day a decade ago. They would want us to pray for them. And they would want for them what they wanted for all of us: that we each know that we are loved.