“O Lord, who lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.” — William Shakespeare
The Rock River is a murky tributary located about two miles from Dixon, Illinois. During one seven-year period, one local lifeguard was credited with saving seventy-seven people from their demise in this treacherous stream. The name of that aquatic hero was Ronald Reagan. William Degregorio wrote about these rescues, “During the summers of 1926-1933 he was a lifeguard at Lowell Park on the Rock River. He rescued 77 people in all, very few of whom ever bothered to thank him.”/1
Barney Barnhart was a retired real estate agent who had moved to Memphis, Tennessee. I first met this elderly gentleman in 1982. He had been invited by a fellow realtor to attend our worship assembly, and that is where he learned about the Gospel. On July 24th of that year, he was united with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:3-7).
One Saturday morning while we were having a men’s breakfast, Barney came into the kitchen to help me cook. During the conversation he mentioned that he almost drowned when he was younger. I asked what happened. He said that he was swimming in the Rock River, and the current became too strong. “That’s when that Dutch Reagan kid jumped in and saved my life.” I asked, “Do you mean Ronald Reagan?”, and he replied, “yes that was him, Dutch Reagan.” At that point I asked him several questions. He told me how grateful he was to Reagan for saving his life, and that they had become good friends. “The last time I talked to Reagan, he was working on the radio in Davenport, Iowa.”
This story reminds me of another story (Luke 17:11-19). When Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem, he met ten men who had been isolated from their village because they had contracted leprosy. There was no cure for their horrible disease, and when they saw Jesus, they knew he could save them. They called out for rescue, and Jesus responded by telling them to go show themselves to the priest./2 While doing so, the disease completely disappeared, yet only one bothered to return to thank him.
Accepting a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, Elie Wiesel said, “No one is capable of gratitude as one who has escaped the kingdom of night.” I am thankful that Ronald Reagan saved Barney Barnhart. I am thankful that Toy Hicks invited him to church, and I am so thankful that in God’s own time, Barney escaped the kingdom of night.
There’s a sinner in the water! Christian, are you up for the task?
“Soon will the season of rescue be o’er,
soon will they drift to eternity’s shore;
Haste then, my brother, no time for delay,
But throw out the Life-Line and save them today.” –Edward S. Ufford
1/ William A. Degregorio, The Complete Book Of U.S. Presidents (New York: Barricade Books, 1993), 636.
2/ Only the priest could certify that one had been cured of leprosy.
The rescue of Barney Barnhart