I remember the first time I encountered Ed Stevens. I was asked to teach a Wednesday night class at church on evangelism. Ed was an older gentleman in the back who stood out to me because, with his wiry white hair, cargo shorts, tube socks and old worn out polo shirt, complete with a pocket protector, he looked to me like a shorter, stouter version of Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies.
Some time later I started attending the mid-week prayer service at church, which was very sparsely attended. To be honest, I attended out of convenience since I normally dropped my boys off for the middle school youth group and it seemed like a waste of time and gas to drive 20 minutes home only to leave 15 minutes later for the 20 minute return trip to pick them up. Ed was there out of conviction. He just loved to pray.
Ed was a classic example of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Ed didn’t make any fashion statements and if you didn’t know him, you might make the mistake of thinking he was a guy who was a bit down on his luck.
It turns out that Ed was a rather brilliant guy. He had an engineering degree from Rice University and worked over 50 years for Parker Hannifin (an aerospace company in Irvine). He had many patents credited to his name.
In addition, Ed was extremely knowledgeable biblically, having earned a Masters Degree in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Ed loved music and loved to worship by singing and playing trumpet.
One night, at the end of our prayer meeting, Ed asked me if I would consider teaching a Sunday school class for seniors. Ed had started the class 40 years earlier and had been the primary Bible teacher all those years. He decided that maybe it was time to take a break and he approached me about taking over for him. I wasn’t sure I had the time and of course, seniors were well beyond the target age of Young Adults, which was the audience on which our ministry was focused.
I shared my hesitation with Ed and to address my concerns he proposed that I tag team the teaching duties with another guy who also attended the mid-week prayer time. Ed was so affable that it was hard to say no to him.
Nearly every Sunday at the end of the class, Ed would ask, “who’s going to lunch with me?” As many of the other class members would politely decline for various reasons, I often found myself joining Ed so he wouldn’t have to go to lunch by himself. Ed’s restaurant of choice was almost always The Snooty Fox, a local breakfast joint that was lacking in decor but was always packed because the food was good.
Ed knew all the workers by name and would often greet others who were waiting to be seated with a friendly story, a Bible verse or a corny joke. He always had an arsenal of gospel tracts and booklets on hand that he would hand out to people he had just met.
What stood out most to me about Ed was his positive attitude. He exuded joy. When I first met him, he was wheeling his wife Liza around in a wheel chair. She was in the advanced stages of Alzheimers and by the time I met her she was not able to speak. Ed took care of her for over 14 years and never complained or even hinted that the situation he was in was anything other than a privilege.
Ed talked dotingly about his wife – what a great mother she was and how she had introduced hundreds, if not thousands of kids to Jesus through a Good News Club she had started and kept active for years. Liza passed away shortly after I began teaching in the Living Light Sunday school class.
Over the years, the class dwindled as members passed one by one. Not long before the pandemic, the class Ed had started 45 years earlier finally got so small that they merged with another class of seniors at the church. That class already had a teacher and so my Senior Sunday School teaching duties came to an end.
Recently, I had lunch with my old teaching partner whom I hadn’t connected with since before the pandemic. It was good to see him and catch up. I asked him, “have you heard from Ed?” He told me he hadn’t. A few minutes later he pulled up Ed’s obituary on his phone. Ed was almost 89 years old when he passed away last year after a short bout with Covid.
To me, Ed epitomized the Great Commandment because he truly loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength and mind and he loved people.
As the classic Foreigner rock ballad says, “I want to know what love is….I want you to show me.” Ed Stevens showed us, by his life and his words, what love is.
Please pray that we would be able to know and experience God’s love ourselves and that we would be able to show it to others through our lives and ministry.