I had the honor recently to give the baccalaureate address for the graduating seniors at Crossnore, that remarkable school near Linville for mountain youth who need a place to belong, to be safe, to grow.
Here was my opening line: My dog hates closed doors!
That got their attention, since each of their residence units has its own dog. When I asked which was the best the whole group exploded shouting out their No. 1 dog!
Our dog Buddy can’t stand closed doors. If I get up before Jeanie in the morning he sits outside her door until she gets up and opens it. If I am writing or conferring in my office, Buddy sits waiting until the door opens. Whether out of curiosity or companionship, he is a connecting dog.
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And, I told the graduates, God is a connecting God. He doesn’t like closed doors! “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut,” God says in the Bible. And he uses people to open doors.
“You’re here,” I told them, “because a century ago two doctors, Mary Martin Sloop and her husband, found God’s mission for them was here in the hills at Crossnore. They opened doors of healing, education and faith to mountain families and children.”
I also told them of Wayne Smith, a missionary friend who made an impact on street people, politicians and football stars in Brazil. Smith also persuaded President Jimmy Carter to sponsor the Friendship Force, an exchange program Wayne led that has taken hundreds of Americans to make friends overseas.
Wayne grew up over a pool hall in West Virginia, in a poor and struggling family. He wanted to go to college, but there was none near that he could afford. Then in 1954 he heard that all colleges were desegregated. He applied and was accepted as the first white student at a black school nearby.
Wayne studied and worked hard to support his wife and child. He needed one more required course to graduate, but it met during his working hours. His boss would not give him the time off. When Wayne explained his dilemma his professor said, “I have a section of that course on Saturday mornings.”
That first Saturday Wayne was the only one there! His professor opened a door to help one student – and what a difference that one made.
As I spoke I looked at the faces of those young graduates on the front row, most from difficult backgrounds. “Who has been a door-opener for you?” I asked, and each one called out a name – a teacher, a counselor, a helper, a friend. Be grateful, I said, and remember the words of Jesus:
“Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”
“Do you hear that knocking?” I asked. “Through Jesus God is knocking at the door of your life. There’s a doubled set of doors for you to open. A door to let the Lord in, to be your Savior, companion and guide. And a door to let the Lord lead you out to serve, so that Jesus may see through your eyes, serve through your hands, feel the pain of the world through your heart.”
This is an invitation for all graduates. And for each of us. If a door is open, to go through it with all we have. If a door is closed now, to keep knocking. And if more than one is open, to go through the one we want and trust God to make it right.
His promise holds: Knock, and it will be opened.
Leighton Ford of Charlotte is a Presbyterian minister known internationally as preacher, writer and mentor. The story of Crossnore, and the vision and faith of of its founders, is told in the book “Miracle in the Hills.”