It began with a knock at the door and a cup of cold water.
“I crushed the ice,’’ he said.
One afternoon last spring, David Duncan was sitting at home. He wasn’t throwing a pity party, but he was trying to turn the proverbial lemons into lemonade.
“Lord, what can I do?” he prayed. “I have zero budget, and I’m losing my eyesight. I have so many hurdles to jump.’’
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A 61-year-old man isn’t exactly a candidate to run the hurdles anyway, especially a retired minister with a pair of prosthetic legs.
A man once told David he was the most “unhandicapped” handicapped person he had ever met. David is like that old Timex commercial. He has taken a licking but kept on ticking.
After having 18 surgeries on his feet, he lost both legs to diabetes. The first was amputated below the knee in 2002, the other a year later. In 1996, he was at death’s door until he received a pancreas and a kidney in a double organ transplant.
His vision has been failing over the past several years. He had surgery on both eyes, and glaucoma robbed him of his sight in his right eye. His left eye is like staring out of a dark tunnel.
David has spent almost 50 years in the ministry, starting as a teenager in his three traffic-light hometown of Pickens, South Carolina. He has served churches in almost every capacity -- from a janitor to a youth director to a choir director to a children’s minister to a senior pastor.
His heart has been devoted to children, and that has been the focus of his ministry in Macon. His wife, Shirley, grew up in the Hepzibah Children’s Home in Macon. The Duncans moved here in 1989 when Shirley accepted a job at Hepzibah. She served as director of church relations and public relations until Hepzibah closed its doors one year ago this week.
David and Shirley adopted their three daughters – Jamie, Aimee and Halley – when David was working at a church in Wilmington, North Carolina. Their mother was murdered by their father.
David devoted himself to children’s ministry after his double transplant in 1996. The organs came from a 12-year-old girl who died after being hit by a car. She was an honor student, took ballet and was an only child.
It was early spring when David heard that knock on the door. It was an 8-year-old boy named Jaden. He lived three houses down at Lake Wildwood, but David did not know him.
He asked for drink of water.
He came back the next day. And the next. He became a regular at the Duncan’s doorstep. He began bringing over some of his friends. They rode their bikes and stopped by to visit.
David began stocking the refrigerator in his garage with orange, berry and grape sodas, Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew. “Jesus turned water into wine. We turned it into soft drinks,’’ David said, laughing.
David and Shirley soon realized many of the neighborhood children weren’t just thirsty. They were hungry.
“We wanted to feed them, and hot dogs came to mind,’’ David said. “Hot dogs were easy. Every kid likes a hot dog. I posted on Facebook and asked if anyone had a vintage hot dog stand with an umbrella they weren’t using. I was going to serve hot dogs out in the driveway and maybe show a movie. Without my knowledge, a friend had started a GoFundMe and showed up one day with a hot dog stand.’’
The first weekly meeting of “The Hot Dog Club’’ was in May. By the middle of summer, it was too hot, and the meetings were moved inside.
Before long, local businesses and restaurants heard about the “Hot Dog Club” and began donating food and other items. Meals were sponsored by Chick-fil-A, Jeneane’s, Zaxby’s and Kroger. David also acquired a cotton candy machine.
Frankly, no pun intended, things soon took an interesting twist. The Hot Dog Club stopped serving hot dogs.
“We haven’t had hot dogs since last summer,’’ Shirley said.
Now, many of the children’s needs are being met in other ways. People send monetary gifts, clothes, school supplies and personal items. Some folks simply drop off items at the door. Volunteers and family members help with the meetings. At Christmas, each child was asked to fill out a “needs’’ list. No toys, just necessities. David also had them bring their report cards and rewarded them with $5 for every “A.”
As many as 20 children, ages 4-15, come to the Friday night meetings. Because of his poor vision, David said, “Sometimes I don’t see them. But I hear them.’’
Every week, he delivers life lessons and powerful spiritual messages to the children. It’s food for the soul.
“God told me to love them without limit,’’ he said. “This is our own neighborhood challenge, a way of reaching out. What is happening here is rare. It has nothing to do with us. We spend time with them. We love them like grandchildren.’’
He laughed again. “I told Shirley, “Do you think they don’t know that we’re white? And old?’’
Looking in their eyes, Shirley sees a reflection of herself. She was born in North Carolina, an American Indian from the Lumbee Tribe. She recalls how a woman encouraged her to attend church and how it changed her life.
“I used to go by this elderly lady’s house all the time,’’ she said. “One day she stopped me and said, ‘Young ‘un, you need to come in and sit down.’ ’’
The woman went into the house.
She brought her a glass of cold water.
Said Shirley: “I can still hear the ice cubes.’’
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.