The Rhythm of The Heart

vibraphoneAl Astle is in his nineties now, but in his day he was a terrific percussionist, and even now he can produce rhythms and sounds from a vibraphone that will astound a sophisticated audience. 

He is a member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, and recently volunteered to help out in our Community Missions program.  When I go down there on Wednesday mornings I ususally find him sitting behind a table with Ralph Anderson, checking and storing the belongings of our homeless neighbors while they get showers.

Al pulled me aside after dinner on Wednesday night and even before he spoke I could tell he was troubled.  He asked me if I had seen the expectant mother at Community Missions, the young woman who looks to be about halfway through her pregnancy, and who sits there with the rest of the homeless waiting her turn in the showers.  I said I had.  Al wondered if she were receiving adequate prenatal care and I said that I didn’t know but we could ask.  I assured him that medical services are available to people like this woman; it would only be a matter of making sure that she gets them.  And then he asked me if I had seen that young woman who comes in with her five-year-old daughter.  I told him I had.  He shook his head and swallowed hard.  A master of expressing his deepest emotions without saying a word, his face told me everything: his heart was breaking for these young women, and for their children.

I don’t know if Al has always felt for the homeless in this way, but that’s what can happen when you take a heart that has been touched by the love of God and put it in the presence of human suffering: it breaks.  And if it’s a heart that has truly been touched by the love of God it does more than that: it acts. 

I was impressed when Al Astle volunteered for Community Missions in his nineties, a time when he might have said, “Let the young people do it.”  I was even more impressed on Wednesday night, when I saw that he is letting his heart be broken by the needs of the world, and for some of the people Jesus loves most, the ones he called “the least of these, my brothers and sisters” (Matt. 25:40).

You go, Al.  I’m proud to be your pastor.

5 thoughts on “The Rhythm of The Heart

  1. I believe Al’s life is dedicated to serving. Even into his nineties, Al volunteers at a local hospital–and has been honored for his years of service. After a recent health problem that knocked him off his feet for months, one would think Al would slow down some. A giving heart can never slow down!

  2. This is for you Al:

    “….If man from the powers given him should fail to do good, and from his mind should fail to believe in the Lord, what would he be but a wilderness and a desert, or altogether like dry ground, which does not receive the rain, but throws it off, or like sandy plain where there are sheep without pasture? And he would be like a dried-up fountain, or like stagnant water therein, its course being obstructed; or like an abode where there is neither harvast nor water, where, unless he quickly fled from the place and sought a habitable abode elsewhere, he would perish with hunger and thirst.”
    God is pround of you!
    Sorry about the run on sentences, this passage is taken from a book written in 1750.

  3. Al Astle found Jesus when he was in his 40s. I’ve known him for 68 years, so I knew him before and after. I can attest to the difference Jesus has made in his life. It seems like as each year goes by, he has found another way to grow closer to our Lord.
    Keep going, Dad. I am proud to be your son.

  4. My thanks to Pastor Somerville for honoring my grandfather with such kind words… not that they are undeserved, for we Astle descendants are very proud of our patriarch. He is a fine example to us, and he sets the bar very high with his loving, praying, and serving heart. My family, and many others to be sure, are blessed to have a man like “Papa” praying for us everyday — yet another way that he serves.

  5. I would like to meet Al Astle on my next visit to F.B.C. of Richmond. I suspect there are many people in the congregation reaching out to help those in need. It is a special tribute to those senior citizens who see need and try and fill it. There is wisdom in Al Astle`s years:) Steve

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