Sunday, September 7, 2008

No Cigs or Enquirer Here: A Man of Integrity

Saturday was an interesting day. I haven’t lived in a small community for some time and this Saturday I got to enjoy some of the benefits of a small town. I had been sick as of recent but after a little nudging from my wife she encouraged me to get up out of bed and go to the small festival in the town we live.

The Clearwater Fall Festival was fun; there was food booths, amusement park rides, local talent both singing and dancing, and then a mud volleyball tournament. After an Indian Fried Taco, taking in some of the mud volleyball tournament, my wife and I decided to go to the local bull riding. Unfortunately, either our times were off, or the bull riding had been rained out from the previous night, and that day’s rain. While that was a letdown, we decided to go ahead and visit our local grocery store and pick up some ice cream to take home and enjoy.

Mize’s is a small grocery store I love. The prices are compatible, even better often times than some of the big chains and/or local Wal-Mart, and it is small enough that you can get good service, and always find a friend to talk to. Other than not carrying a large enough supply of diet soft drinks, I can find about anything I want at this small town grocery store. It was while checking out, with the now $30 of groceries we ended up purchasing after we went in to buy ice cream only, that I noticed and was reminded of a past experience, some 25 or so years earlier of working at a grocery store as a stock and carry out boy.

I had just moved to Hillsboro Kansas, another small community north of Wichita some 40 miles or so. I had grown up in a large city, was now away from my wife and new daughter whom I had left back in Tennessee. I had felt God calling me back to college, and the reality was, I needed to go immediately. I drove to Kansas in a Volkswagen station wagon, and didn’t have a job, a house to stay in, nor was I enrolled in school. I write about this quite a bit in my book The Keystone Kid and the full story is there and available for free and for the asking. I was reminded on this weekend though, while at Mize’s of a man I had gained respect for some years ago at a little grocery store in Hillsboro named at the time, Paul and Rays Thriftway.

Paul and Ray were two friends who had started up one of two grocery stores in Hillsboro. They are noted for their world famous Hillsboro sausage but I will never forget Paul, and especially Ray. Ray stands close to 5 feet tall, but is one of the biggest men I have ever known. He has a firm hand shake, a smile on his face, and a desire to love and help people like few I have ever met.

Hillsboro is known for a few things, one is its Mennonite Brethren heritage, it is known by many as the Mecca of the Mennonite Brethren people, but it is also known for Tabor College. It is a small community of some 2,500 or so people and a wonderful town. Ray Franz is a man in this community, along with his wife Aldina, who has had a tremendous impact on this community and they are two people whom have spoken volumes to me by the way they live in regards to the concept of integrity.

Tabor College, while a small private school, is a school that has made an appeal to reach out to, and educate all kinds of kids, from all walks of life. It is not an inexpensive school, in fact, for many like me; it could be considered quite expensive. Ray Franz however has likely done more to assist young men and women attend Tabor College than many will ever realize.

Ray took me in to a job at Paul and Ray’s right off the bat. Very few questions were asked by him, and he saw this as another opportunity to help a young man, and possibly his family out. Ray saw to it that I got enrolled in school, he helped me set up interviews for my wife who was still back in Tennessee but would miraculously move out in less than two weeks, he did so much to help out this young man named Mike Furches.

Most employers would never go out of their way to help a new employee in the way Ray did for me. I realized after some years while working there, I wasn’t the only one Ray had went out of his way to do this with. He did it in an unspoken, yet loving way for many students who would go through Hillsboro on their journey which included Tabor College. He went out of his way to show love, and was a tool God used to help in so many ways, whether it be flexible hours related to work, or a large Christmas bonus that would allow me to provide Christmas for my family. There was the times we got groceries for free because we couldn’t afford them, this man showed and lived the concept of love.

This last weekend, as I stood in line at Mize’s I realized something else Ray did though. As I stood in line, I noticed the trash journalism rags like The National Enquirer, The Star, and so many others that present horrendous journalism, often times at the expense of others in order to simply sell magazines. Then I also noticed the cigarette racks filled with Tobacco, sold to virtually anyone of age who wanted them, yet without concern as to the damage they may be doing to one’s health. I thought of Ray, because Ray Franz was a man that lived out his convictions.

Ray is a man who lives his Christian principles. He did something, made a sacrifice that had an impact on his income. For the time I knew Ray, for the time I worked at Paul and Ray’s, Ray did something that has stuck with me all of these years later. He refused to sell alcohol because of the potential harm he felt alcohol may do to someone with an alcohol problem. He also lived out his convictions regarding the sale of tobacco products and the sale of trashy magazines and newspapers; he refused to sale them. Ray would simply state, he couldn’t imagine Jesus supporting those things, so he didn’t know how he could. I have to say, the conviction of his beliefs has always come to mind for me. Ray Franz is an example of living your convictions. One may not agree with the totality of those convictions, but he made them, lived them at a sacrifice to himself. I don’t care who you are, one can appreciate that.

Now I don’t know why suddenly the convictions of this man would come to my mind these 25 or so years later while checking out of a little grocery store some 50 or so miles to the Southwest of Hillsboro, but they did, and on occasion still do. I guess it is because I am reminded of integrity and conviction of belief. I am reminded at how lacking I am at times, and yet, how God has given me examples of how I can do better. God used the example of another human, one who gave my family and I love, love when he didn’t have to, and love in a way that was beyond just words. I have no excuse!

Some years later now, much of what Ray has done has gone unnoticed in the community he lives in, yet it shouldn’t have. He has single handedly provided opportunity for young men and women to obtain an education when few others would or couldn’t. He has hired students when he didn’t have jobs or money available to hire them. He provided gifts to assist those students when he didn’t have to. He provided meals, love, friendship and a real example of what it means to follow and live as Jesus has instructed. I said for years, and still do; Tabor College needs to recognize this man and his wife for the contributions they have made to Tabor College in a real and tangible way. He had an impact on my life, and hopefully, my life has had an impact on thousands of others. If however, it has only had an impact on a few others, then Ray Franz is largely responsible for that as he was a tool God used to mold and establish my faith, and my conviction of practicing my faith.

You know, Ray Franz is still alive, still lives in Hillsboro Kansas with his house on the edge of the Tabor College Athletic fields. It is likely you will see him at a home football game, or in the back yard watching the soccer team play and it is also likely, that you will see and hear from others whose life was touched by this man. I am not one for awards and that type of thing as meaning that much. I’m not one for many of those things because far too often, the real life changers go unnoticed, unknown, and unrecognized. Ray falls into that category, at least until now, at least for this moment. Ray Franz and Aldina are two people I love, and will treasure the time we have together in eternity. May we all realize that when we give a hand of love to those around us, we leave an impact that can last a life time, I know, because I know Ray Franz.

Ray is on the first row, on the far right.

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