Together in unity

Published 10:12 am Friday, April 13, 2018

by Charles Qualls

Somewhere in Reading, Pennsylvania, there is a fast-food restaurant. On the surface, I hear that there is nothing different about this particular one from the 5,000 others of its brand across America. Except that this one is run by a young businessman named Mr. Chaudry, who used to be a busboy at a large hotel in Chicago. 

Eventually, he became an assistant waiter and delivered food to celebrities. He worked his way through college, and was employed by a large company on Wall Street for a short while. One day, he talked the owner of this restaurant franchise into selling out to him. His business slowly got on its feet. Soon, he did a PTSA fundraiser and he agreed to give the school 25 percent of anything they sold that day. Mr. Chaudry presented the school with a $450 check. 

Embarrassed by the publicity he got, because it seemed too much attention for no more than he felt he did, he pondered what more he could do to give back to his community. 

People began to hang out at his restaurant. Some of them have their lunch there daily, now. He calls each of them by name. He walks from table to table, visiting with them. Serving them. You never know these days what will be next — fundraisers for soccer teams, Children’s Miracle Network, little league teams or a special event for the widow of a deputy sheriff killed in the line of duty.

Locals talk of how lucky they are to have this Pakistani immigrant, who still occasionally struggles with the language, as a citizen in their town.

In 2012, Walmart reportedly tried to do away with their Greeter positions. But, shoppers in Maumelle, Arkansas, staged somewhat of a protest. That’s because they wanted to demand their Greeter be restored to the door. Mr. Willie, an 80-year-old retired asphalt contractor, was a fixture there. The campaign went viral on social media, and Mr. Willie became a minor celebrity. It seems that he made people feel welcomed, and he spoke to everyone who entered or exited the store. Willie Perkins was brought back to the store. Eventually all Walmarts had their Greeters restored.

His importance and positive attitude on the job isn’t just recognized in Maumelle. Corporate Walmart officials call Willie a “Walmart institution” — and reportedly asked him to make an appearance at the 2017 Walmart Shareholders Meeting in Fayetteville to rouse the crowd and help introduce the company’s president and CEO Doug McMillon.

After nearly 10 years on the job, most Walmart shoppers in Maumelle know who Mr. Willie is, and if they don’t know him he makes sure they eventually do. Most of those shoppers say they don’t know what they would do without Willie Perkins.

If a Pakistani immigrant running a fast-food place gets it, and if Walmart seems to get it, shouldn’t churches and communities also revisit from time to time what it is to live and work and worship together in fellowship and unity?

Psalm 133 spans only three verses. This brief psalm appears to be a poem, or at least a fragment of one.

It begins by affirming, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” The writer of this Psalm seems to connect a little like Mr. Willie does with customers. Especially when he writes about how good it is for us to live together bound by what we share in common.

Oh, we have plenty that could divide us. I guess you’ll be listening for me to acknowledge that, or anything else I say just won’t seem real. Our church members really aren’t all alike. Nor are our community members. No need pretending they are. 

So, the healthy thing to do is to press on. To gather around what we agree we can do. To find unity in what we share in common. To exchange hope with each other in what we do believe in. My prayer for our church, for our city and for our region is that these next days will be rich ones.   

Powerful things can happen when we look up from our smartphones and our obsessions. Surprises can happen when we tune back in from our biases and our conquests, or from our diversity and our divisions, to see where God is leading us.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135