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2 Lessons from the Life of an Unlikely Friend

The recent death of a good friend, Omer Ritchie, saddened everyone in our little church.
Omer provided a powerful demonstration of how Christians can love one another in spite of theological differences.

Reflecting on this unique relationship exposes some truths that can help all of us get along better.

First, we all serve the same savior.

We met when we were attending Charlie Johnson’s Bible study in the apartment complex where Charlie and Omer lived.

My wife, Sharon, and I attended because we loved Charlie. Omer attended because he loved the Bible.

I was amazed to discover that Omer, and his twin brother, Homer, were the pastoral successors to J. Frank Norris at First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas.

Having studied a little Baptist history, I knew that Norris was a firebrand preacher who had a reputation for being an extreme fundamentalist.

It was quite natural to assume that Omer would be of a similar theological persuasion.

That is what made it fascinating for Omer to be so faithful to Charlie’s Bible study.

No one has ever mistaken Charlie for a fundamentalist, and most in Southern Baptist circles would have a hard time even putting him in the conservative camp. But Omer came every Thursday morning.

When the Bible study began to take shape and move toward becoming a church, Omer kept coming.

Whether we met in a church fellowship hall, a local restaurant, someone’s living room or in the park, Omer was there whenever possible.

He loved our little group of believers, especially the young adults. And they loved him.

We celebrate communion every time we meet and we had some great times sharing that meal together.

It was not unusual for Omer to break off a piece of bread and preach a short sermon about Jesus’ sacrifice.

One of my fondest memories was a Sunday evening as we passed the bread around the room for communion.

Omer took the loaf, broke off a piece and turned to hand it to my son, Matthew, with the words, “This is the body of Christ broken for you.”

Matthew does not look like someone who would be in Omer’s circle of influence. His long hair and beard are accented by his tattoo-covered arms.

It was an amazing sight to see this juxtaposition of people who belong to the body of Christ.

I shed a tear as I watched a few minutes later as the juice moved around the room in the opposite direction and heard Matthew say to Omer, “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” He loved Matthew and Matthew loved him.

Second, loving Jesus trumps most differences.

Omer could barely hear what was going on, but it never kept him from experiencing the presence of God’s spirit in our midst.

On more than one occasion, when Omer was asked a question that he did not hear well enough to understand, he would simply lead out in prayer. It was great!

Almost every Sunday, Omer would have a word to share about the passage of Scripture, even if it didn’t apply to the subject we were discussing at the time.

But it was always appropriate because it came from his heart filtered through decades of scholarship.

He carried a five-pound Scofield Bible in a plastic bag, which made it easier for him to handle while he used his walker.

Every page of the Bible was filled with writing—notes he had accumulated over the years. He could open it up and preach a three-point sermon on any passage of Scripture.

Omer and Charlie were quite a pair. I’m sure friends of both of them are shocked to learn of their relationship.

However, the reason their relationship worked is quite simple: They both loved Jesus and they both loved people.

The last time I saw Omer was at a Mexican restaurant, where our little group met on a Sunday evening.

It was hot outside and it took a lot of effort for Omer to walk the necessary distance.

I’m not sure he heard any of the conversation around the table. He did say the prayer before we ate, and we were all glad he came.

Psalm 116:15 reads: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his godly ones.”

If the psalmist is correct, God saw something precious early Wednesday morning when Omer crossed over to a much better place.

However, there will be an empty place with our little group that will be very hard to fill.

Terry Austin is one of the pastors at Bread Fellowship Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also the principal partner of Austin Brothers Publishing. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Intermission, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @wterrya.