Positive attitude permeates bearded buddy’s volunteerism

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 19, 2015

John Hatch, ostrich farmer, prosthetist and my new bearded buddy, served me a cup of Light.
Photo by Warren Harbeck

He approached my café table and spoke my name. I looked up and wondered for a moment if I was looking in a mirror. It was a chap I’d met briefly a couple of years ago at a silent auction. But there was no silence or brevity this time.

John Hatch, ostrich farmer, prosthetist and Bible teacher, pulled up a chair and began serving me a much-needed cup of Light. And for two hours we experienced together beard-bonding at its best.

I’d actually been waiting for a friend of mine from Morley to join me. It turns out that John was to drive her to Cochrane, but when he went to pick her up, she wasn’t able to make it at the last minute. So he decided to join me in her place.

And I’m so glad he did, because, without realizing it, he was an answer to my prayers.

For going on three years now, John, 63, has been doing a lot of volunteer work among the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. He’s been helping out at the food bank and assisting in arts and crafts – he’s a craftsman in making custom knives and leather sheathes. And yes, as you might have guessed, he’s even served as a fully-attired Santa Claus, to the delight of young and old alike.

But his special passion is that of telling stories – and especially Bible stories. In fact, Morley families frequently invite him to their homes to lead their families in Bible studies.

It was clear from the moment he sat down at my table that he had a lot of life experience I could learn from.

Brought up in Roswell, New Mexico, he’d never seen one of those much-ballyhooed UFOs.

Later in life, he raised ostriches for a living, but never saw one of them bury its head in the sand, either. (In fact, he says, that whole thing about ostriches burying their head in the sand when they’re afraid is just a myth, anyhow.)

John is also a prosthetist, he tells me, a trade he learned while working at his Baptist-pastor father’s side. He is skilled at making artificial limbs and other prosthetic devices that meet the needs of so many.

Indeed, it was his skill as a prosthetist, together with a sense of God’s call, that led him in 2012 to do volunteer work in northern Thailand. There, free of charge, he provided war-wounded Burmese refugees new legs and arms – and a sense of hope. Before returning to North America, he teamed up with a Thai group that had developed some very high-tech prosthetics technology and were eager to carry on the work in those very villages where John was working.

It’s that same kind of respect-based vision and positive attitude that seems to permeate his volunteer presence at Morley now. And his enthusiasm is infectious.

As we sipped from our cups, we remembered Jesus’ teaching about worshipping God “in Spirit/spirit and in truth” as reflected in lifestyles of love and service.

It’s not first of all about organizations and denominations, he said, but simply about responding to the call of God in the needs of the very people right in front of us.

And sometimes, those very people are used by God to respond to the needs deep inside us, too.

About this I couldn’t agree more. John’s unexpected presence at my table was an answer to my prayer as I was waking up that very morning.

You see, I’d been feeling a bit forlorn – sort of like the barely glowing embers of my soul desperately needed fanning – and I prayed in the words of that classic hymn: “Breathe on me, Breath of God.”

And within hours, along comes John, sits down at my table, and like a fan in the hands of God, begins rekindling the embers of my soul. (About this metaphor, see my column for Feb.15, 2012 on Caleb Booth’s charcoal drawing of a discarded branch reduced to fading embers in a campfire.)

Or, to use another metaphor, John served me a cup of Light when life seemed especially dark. (That was very much in the spirit of my column for Jan. 29, 2015, which referred to a Cochrane fellow’s (Eric Bourchier’s) desire for “a cup of Light” at the coffee shop because he had just lost his job and was feeling rather gloomy.)

So, John, without any agenda on your part that day, you were, for me, an agent of hope and healing – an answer to my prayers. You were my cup of Light and a fan for the barely glowing embers of my soul. Thank you.


© 2015 Warren Harbeck

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