Christmas 1933 was a challenging financial time in the midst of the Great Depression, and it was no different in the city of Canton, Ohio. So it grabbed the attention of many when the local newspaper ran a story reporting that a Mr. B. Virdot was promising to help 75 of the community’s neediest families if they would write a letter describing their plight and mail it to him in care of General Delivery.
As Max Lucado tells the story in his new book God’s Story, Your Story: When His Becomes Yours, the offer prompted letters from families who described desperate circumstances. Yet no one knew of a Mr. B. Virdot, and there was no record of his being a resident of Canton. Yet soon checks began to arrive in the mailboxes of many of those who had written. Most of the checks were modest – typically $5 and all signed “B. Virdot” – but that was a great help in those desperate days.
No one ever learned the identity of the mysterious donor until 2008, when a man came across the tattered black suitcase of his grandfather, which had been stored in his parents’ attic for years. In the suitcase were the letters – all dated in December 1933 – along with 150 cancelled checks signed B. Virdot. It turns out the man who had helped 150 families was actually Samuel Stone; he had created the pseudonym out of the names of his three daughters, Barbara, Virginia and Dorothy.
At age 15, Sam Stone had been a Romanian immigrant with his family, which moved into a poor Pittsburgh neighborhood. His father often hid his shoes so Sam couldn’t attend school, instead forcing he and his siblings to roll cigars in the attic. He worked hard at various jobs, met some modest success, and by the time of the Depression owned a small chain of clothing stores. As Lucado describes him, “He wasn’t affluent, or impoverished, but he was willing to help. Ordinary man. Ordinary place. But a conduit of extraordinary grace.”
This is a time of year when we consider those things and people for which we are thankful. I am thankful for people like Sam Stone – those who faithfully, quietly reach out to help others. They are the ones who help an elderly neighbor, volunteer for the community service project not many want to do, quietly provide a scholarship for a young person whose family has hit hard times, or any of countless other acts of service. The Sam Stones don’t do what they do to gain fame or attract accolades. They often serve out of a spirit motivated by their faith. And they make a difference for all of us.
This Thanksgiving, let’s say a word of thanks to the Sam Stones among us. And may we include ourselves among their number – not to gain anything for ourselves or to earn God’s favor, but as an expression of our own thankfulness for what God has done for us. A thankful heart is one that serves.
Michael Duduit is founding Dean of the College of Christian Studies and the Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University. He also serves as Professor of Christian Ministry. He is the founder and still serves as Executive Editor of Preaching magazine, one of the nation’s premier publications for pastors. His email newsletter, Preaching Now, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences. He is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Joy in Ministry: Messages from Second Corinthians, Preaching with Power: Dynamic Insights from Twenty Top Communicators and Communicate With Power.