By Ashleigh / Jan 10, 2023
The restaurant was filled with the sound of thunder, and the evening sky was illuminated by lightning. A heavy and sullen atmosphere pervaded the room. They walked into the building drenched.
Their attention was immediately drawn to him. He was shocked by what they said next.
Robert Risdon is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and head coach of the Columbus Lions football team in Georgia. As an adoring husband and father-of-two, family is something Risdon doesn’t take for granted.
Facebook / Robert Risdon
His work schedule is busy and sometimes stressful but coming home to his loving family always makes the long hours and late nights worth it.
As head coach of the Columbus Lions, Fort Benning’s football team, Risdon sometimes needs to travel across the country to scout for players with his co-coach Jason Gibson.
They were on their way back from Mobile, Alabama, where they observed players practicing for the Senior Bowl during the weekend. Now, it was Monday and Risdon was exhausted from the weekend of travel. But he wouldn’t be able to relax just yet.
They were nearly half way through their journey back to Columbus, when they decided to stop at a Taco Bell in Greenville, Alabama. They had left late that day and it was just past dinner time. They were hungry but there was something else that made them pull over.
Not only did they need a bite to eat but they always needed to escape the storm that was steadily building over their heads.
They pulled into Taco Bell right on time. The second Risdon opened the door, a massive crack filled the air before the rain fell heavier and a flash of neon blue lit up the dark evening sky.
Youtube / Jason Gibson
The rain was pelting against the windows as a rumble of thunder seemed to almost threaten to rattle the entire restaurant apart. But the storm would be the least of Risdon’s worries.
The restaurant was busier than expected. Risdon looked around and saw a number of people appearing to simply wait out the storm in the restaurant.
Youtube / Jason Gibson
They ordered food and took their seats at the table in the middle of the restaurant. Risdon usually didn’t like Taco Bell but he was so hungry that he savoured every bite. He was so focused on his food that he almost didn’t notice the two figures that stepped inside.
They were dressed in dark clothes that were drenched inside out by the downpour of rain outside. Pools of water followed their footsteps to the till.
Risdon wondered how long it took for them to walk here. One of them was clutching something tight in his hands. Risdon noticed them looking around the restaurant nervously. They were surveying the place.
From Risdon’s years of training in the army, he knew how to spot suspicious characters quickly. He watched closely as they looked around at all the tables and people.
It was a behavior Risdon knew led to trouble all too well. Immediately, he perked up and focused his attention on the two strangers. Wearing his army uniform, he became a soldier again.
Jumping Into Action
They were two young boys, one looked older than the other. He tried to listen as they leaned over and showed the cashier the item between their hands.
The cashier’s eyebrows knitted before her eyes widened and she shook her head profusely. She said something to them that Risdon couldn’t hear. But whatever she said made the boys act fast.
They quickly turned and began to approach other tables in the same manner. What were they showing them? Everyone they approached had the same reaction. The boys became desperate and began to move faster.
That’s when they spotted Risdon in his uniform.
Risdon expected them to run and hide as the uniform often provoked that reaction in younger boys but what they did surprised him.
Youtube / Jason Gibson
They straightened up their posture and made a bee-line straight for him. Risdon was getting ready to assess the situation that had everyone staring at the boys but then he heard a shout.
Big Brown Eyes
One of the restaurant employees began to shoo the boys away but they were determined. They bypassed the worker and stood in front of Risdon. They were soaking. Risdon looked into eyes that appeared to have captured the entire moon.
Youtube / Jason Gibson
What they said next shocked him.
“Do you want to buy some candy?”, they asked innocently. They discreetly showed him the bag full of baked goods. A big smile flashed across Risdon’s face before it suddenly disappeared again.
He wondered why these boys were selling candy at a restaurant and then remembered he had no cash.
He asked his co-coach, Gibson if he had any and he said he didn’t. He told the boys he had no cash and watched their shoulders slump and their heads bow in disappointment.
“What are you selling these for, boys?”, Risdon asked. “Don’t you like ‘em?”. The boys replied that they were trying to raise money for their church. Then turned to leave before Risdon called them back.
Wet And Hungry
“They looked like they hadn’t eaten a meal in weeks and had been out in the rain selling their stuff for a while,” Risdon recalled.
“I can’t even count the number of times I was cold, wet and hungry in the Army. To sit in warmth and eat some tacos is a big victory for them.”
Can you boys finish off 10 tacos?” Robert asked. The two boys stopped and turned around with a huge smile on their face. They nodded proudly.
Youtube / Jason Gibson
Robert got up off of his chair and brought them to the till. He told the boys that they could have anything on the menu for free. Their faces lit up. But before they agreed, they surprised Risdon further.
They rang their grandfather and asked Risdon to speak with him as proof that they weren’t using the church’s money to pay for their food. Risdon’s heart broke at their quiet obedience even though they had been walking in the rain and skipping dinner to help the church.
Risdon helped them order five tacos each, while Gibson captured the whole heartwarming encounter on video.
“They both ate their first taco in under a minute,” Gibson said. “I’ve never seen anyone devour food that quickly before.” The two men were also blown away by how respectful the two boys were.
“Everything was ‘yes sir, no sir,'” Gibson said. “Whoever is raising them is doing a great job.” But this is what one of the boys had to say to Risdon.
The youngest brother, BJ who was 9-years-old, recognized Risdon’s uniform and told him how much he wanted to be a soldier just like him when he was older.
“He was saluting me with his left hand while holding a taco in his right, which is the proper hand to use,” Risdon said. “So I made him put down the taco and taught him the proper way to salute, which will come in handy if he grows up to be a soldier.”
A Father’s Love
After the video of his encounter went viral, Risdon explained what was running through his mind.
“My kids were running through my mind the whole time,” he said. “The thought of my kids in their situation broke my heart, so it made me react and want to help the boys out, and the least I could do was buy them some tacos.”
Doing The Right Thing
The man thought twice before he spoke. “I didn’t have things easy when I was going up,” Risdon said. We didn’t have money all the time, and I know what it is like to struggle. He continued. My parents were also very staunch Christians. I grew up going to church every Sunday.
My sweet mama was very sincere and would bake for the church bake sale. The Pastor at the time was very pleased with our service. He would often thank us in front of the whole congregation.
A Religious Soldier
Risdon looked sad as he spoke. His mind was a million miles away as he said. He held a serviette and wrung it nervously through his fingers. Onlookers could see that it was difficult for him to share this side of himself.
He was known as a rugged army soldier. Most of his colleagues didn’t know about his religious childhood. He felt that they would make fun of him if they knew how emotional he was.
A Different Time
The people in the restaurant were now intrigued. All eyes were on the man and two young boys; they were listening to his story. Risdon laughed as he saw this. “Well, I never expected it to become storytime at Tacobell when I just wanted a quick bite to eat,” he said.
A few of the people laughed nervously. They wanted more. It was almost as though Risdon and the boys had become the customer’s entertainment. Would they get to hear the finale from their Army Tacobell Entertainer? He was a man of service, and the boys looked up to him.
A Kind Man
Risdon looked at the crowd and took a deep breath in. “Okay! You got me. Let’s sit down,” he said with a smile and put his arms around the young BJ. They sat at a family booth together. Some customers sat around them in open booths; others stood close by.
While the boys continued to eat their tacos, he began speaking. The aspiring boys watched him with big eyes. They were so in awe of Risdon.
An Old Friend
The tired soldier looked at the boys and the customers, “I remember some of your faces from my childhood days,” he said. A voice answered, “Yep, I remember you, Risdon; we went to the same church in the 80s.”
Risdon turned to find the voice. He saw a sturdy, smiley-faced man holding a soda in his hand. Risdon paused for a moment as he tried to recall the familiar face, and then they said, “Joshua!” in unison.
“I can’t believe you’re back in town, buddy! Joshua said. What’s it been? Twenty years he said?” Risdon got up to embrace his old friend. He explained how difficult things had been for him when he returned to the USA after the war. Joshua said, “I visited your folks several times after you left. Just making sure things were fine for them.”
Risdon appreciated his friends’ help and tried to discover more about what had happened to his parents after he left.
Joshua continued to share his side of the story. “Your parents did run into some issues and had to move house; it was about the that your dad got sick” Risdons face turned pale. He still wasn’t ready to hear this, but he was curious now.
“I knew he was sick, Josh, but he was stubborn. My mama went sick herself, worrying about taking him to the doctor.” He said. “Yeah, Risdon, my dad, the doctor, tried to help save your dad.
An Old Connection
Risdon had heard a similar story from his mother. They had tried to get extra medical care for his father, but he didn’t want to waste money on his health. So his old friend Joshua Brown Senior offered to give him some treatment free of charge until he decided to see another specialist.
That was Joshua’s father all this time. Who would have thought he would still be alive today and still be a practicing doctor in the area?
Putting It All Together
The crowd was cheering at the reunion of the long-lost friends. It was such a loving moment. The spirit and pride of the residents of Georgia seemed to pick up. It seemed to give them hope. The boys who had been quietly eating and listening wiped their hands and looked at Risdon.
They said, “That was a lovely story, and it reminds us a lot about our parents.” Risdon looked at both of them and said, “You two sweet boys are doing God’s work. Your parents have raised you with a lot of respect and values ” The boys beamed back at him.
BJ and his brother looked at each other and smiled, then nodded in unison. They looked like they were up to something. BJ, the little one, turned to Risdon and said. “We would like you to meet somebody they said.” “Who?” Risdon asked. “You will see they said,” and walked away.
They proceeded to make a phone call outside. Risdon wondered what these little boys were doing.
Some New Information
The boys returned to the table with Risdon and Joshua. They asked the boys if they wanted anything else to eat. They said they were fine. They sat and spoke about the church. BJ started to talk, “You know, Sir, what you did for us was kind. It was a very long day, and we didn’t even have lunch when we got caught in the thundershowers”. “We appreciate you were getting us a meal here,” the big one said.
Risdon smiled and said it was his pleasure to help. Another customer walked in as he thanked the boys for their excellent manners. It was still pouring outside, and he was also soaked to the bone. He looked directly at Risdon’s table and opened his eyes wide with shock.
A Familiar Face
As the tall man walked toward his booth, he took his raincoat off to reveal an old wrinkled face and bright eyes. The boys noticed everyone turn to look and jumped up in joy, “Benji! They shouted in happiness.
The older man smiled and hugged the boys tightly. “I’m glad you boys are ok he said, next time, let me know which route you are taking, ok?” BJ nodded innocently and pointed towards Risdon. “Hello, old boy,” he said, extending his hand to his Risdons. Risdon just stared at the hand as though he had seen a ghost.
Making The Connection
Risdon choked down his tears. He couldn’t believe who was standing in front of him. The altar boy had been helping the pastor at the church when he was a young lad. “Benjamin!, he said and grabbed the man’s hand.
Benji reached forward and tightly hugged his old friend. Customers were clapping and cheering; some were still recording the precious moment between old friends.
Who Would Have Thought
As the friends hugged, Risdon’s childhood flashed before his eyes. Benjamin had been there for many church meetings, bake sales, and fundraisers. He looked up to him and taught him how to read the bible. What a coincidence that he was the grandfather of the two boys he had just met and fed.
This was fate. When he needed a spiritual awakening, his trusted friend was sent back into his life.
The New Church
Old Benjamin sat down next to his grandsons. He was now the church’s new pastor and was finding it challenging to keep the services going with no funding. His grandsons wanted to help him, so they decided to sell candy to raise funds for a new roof.
Risdon saw this as his opportunity to help and immediately asked what they needed. Benjamin thanked him and told him to bring his family to the church when he could. This rekindled an old friendship that started the fire of possibility for this community. Risdon felt at home after many years and immediately sent a message to his wife. They had a road trip to prepare.
A Different Mindset
Risdon traveled back home, and his wife was happy to receive him. He told her the good news about his past connection. The family discussed their moving options, which worked out better financially.
They packed up their house and headed for Risdon’s old neighborhood. There was a big surprise ahead for them.
When they arrived in the town, they were exhausted and tired. Risdon managed to rent an old three-bedroom house near the church. It needed a bit of work to be done, but the supplies in town were cheap, and he was quite a handyman, so he didn’t mind the fixer-upper.
He wasn’t afraid of hard work, and this was for his family.
The family was excited to be a part of the church congregation. They talked about all the plans they had to grow the congregation and bring more people into the church.
The move had a great impact on their well-being, and they were happy that they chose to move. It was an opportunity for them to start afresh.
Over the week, Risdon and Benjamin met up regularly. Benjamin took him on a tour of the old church and showed him all the areas that needed maintenance. Risdon took it upon himself to head up the maintenance team.
That Sunday at church, they made an announcement that they would be starting new renovations on the church.
They would be fixing the old gutters outside, giving the exterior and interior new coats of paint, and just doing general cleaning around the property. The youth were most encouraged to get involved.
Most of the teenage boys were tasked to clean the outside. They cleaned the windows and made the outside area shine as though it was brand new.
It was a great experience for the youth. Benjamin’s sons headed the youth group that was responsible for cleaning up. They were lively teenagers who managed to turn the chores into fun.
It wasn’t like work at all for them. They made up songs and dances while they did the cleanup. All done in the name of service.
One of the church congregation members suggested that they made a video to help promote the church. The boys agreed and made a cool dance for people to follow on Tiktok. Their dance became viral, and many people were copying their moves.
It was a simple dance where they kept their hands in a prayer pose to honor God. This encouraged the youth to attend Sunday school and Church meetings.
Although the kids were a bit shy at first, the response they received for their video helped them to get the confidence to keep making more videos. They managed to collect a lot of donations online and encourage many new members to join the church.
Their youthful ways of prying got many other Christian people active and upbeat in the name f God. Nobody said that paying has to be boring.
A Bigger Church
The church congregation was growing, and it felt as though it was stronger than ever before. Risdon, Benjamin, and his boys had done a great thing. They brought the community together and showed people that religion and spirituality are love shared across boundaries.
Benjamin used this as an opportunity to preach about unity. He spoke a lot about us all being brothers and sisters of the same mission and that we should help each other in times of need.
One Sunday, he had something special planned for his old friend. Risdon and his family arrived a little bit earlier for the Sunday program than they usually did. Risdon would help set up the mass and ensure that all the seats were clean and the songbooks were in place.
Everything was ready, and the church members arrived promptly at 8 AM.
Benjamin usually stood at the front of the main door to welcome all the members. He smiled and greeted all the familiar faces as they entered the church. Risdon and his family took their place in second row and waited for the church to fill up.
When Benjamin arrived at the Podium, he started with the Daily prayer. Everybody repeated the words in unison. There was a calming feeling in the air. Risdon was looking forward to today’s sermon; he was getting used to the regular meetings and was fully involved in the church like he used to be as a child.
The piano player followed the daily prayer with the usual Sunday hymns. The church had a lovely aura of peace and calm. Pastor Benjamin ushered everyone to sit down he smiled down at his congregation.
He began to speak, “My dear brothers and sisters, today I would like to talk about what it is to be a family.” The members looked up at him with intent.
Message Of Peace
Risdon was also encapsulated and wanted to hear more words of wisdom from the pastor. “To be able to help others freely and without judgment is a special gift from God, it is not often that we find people like this, and when we do, we should cherish them he said. Risdon looked at him intently; he was such a powerful speaker.
“I am lucky to know people like this, and they are actually sitting right here today,” Benjamin continued. “Risdon looked surprised, and he wondered whom Benjamin was talking about.
This is not something we usually do, but under the circumstances, I think that it is necessary; I would like to call this wonderful family up, please.” He looked at Risdon. The humble man looked at the pastor in confusion. “Mr. Risdon and family, will you please come up to the stage?”
Risdon was shocked. They were the wonderful family he was talking about. He was feeling hot, and his lovely wife blushed beside him; she nudged him. Risdon cleared his throat and stood up, acknowledging the pastor.
A Strong Bond
He held his wife’s hand, and together they walked up to the podium and stood in front of the church. “Risdon, we would like to thank you and your family for all your hard work and dedication in renovating the church; we are so grateful.” Benjamin beamed. Risdon was speechless. He started to tear up and hugged his old friend tightly. The whole congregation started clapping and cheering for them.
This was the best welcome they ever could have received. He thanked the pastor and the congregation and told them how happy he was to be back in his special place. One small good deed done in kindness gave him back a life he so desperately missed. After so many years of feeling lost and confused, he finally felt like he was home.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.