Vacation Bible School was just around the corner. And a welcome corner it was, too. The weather always seemed perfect in North Carolina, and I looked forward to seeing my four year-old daughter attend VBS at the little country church where her father had grown up.
My husband’s grave was in the cemetery across the road, a painful reminder that he had died too young and left us behind.
So Jamie and I drove down from New Jersey. Little in life made me happier in those days than being with James’s mother and sisters. VBS came at the perfect time that summer because there were big doings at his sister’s marina, and the place was hopping. It was the marina’s annual shark tournament. Boats were arriving from everywhere, and my brother-in-law was peddling commemorative T-shirts to immortalize the event.
Anxious to be supportive, I got a T-shirt and proudly donned it to advertise the tournament on the first day of VBS. “Well, I guess I’m ready to go. I’ll be back later,” I told my mother-in-law as I prepared to take Jamie to church.
For some reason, Mrs. Bennett looked at me oddly. She was an 82-year-old widow who loved Jesus with all her heart and had walked with the Lord since she was 15. I, on the other hand, was a brand new believer whose enthusiasm was only overshadowed by her ignorance. “Lorna,” my mother-in-law said in a soft southern voice, “do you really think you should wear that shirt to church?”
I briefly contemplated the design: a shark with its mouth open, baring its big, ugly teeth. Unattractive though it was, it didn’t seem too bad.
“Sure. What’s wrong with it?” I asked. And not really waiting for her answer, off I went.
It didn’t dawn on me until much later that it wasn’t the shark my mother-in-law disliked; it was the beer advertisement emblazoned on the front! I cringe to think I ever wore that shirt. But I was a young Christian and needed someone to teach me the principles of the faith.
When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth needed much the same thing. Naomi had already drawn Ruth to Jehovah through her behavior, leading her away from the darkness of the vile Moabite deity Chemosh into the light of God Almighty. But then Naomi did something else for Ruth as well. Amid her own sorrow and despair, she nevertheless guided Ruth and showed her how to live as an Israelite. First, Naomi established Ruth’s reputation as a “virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:11), evidently telling everyone how Ruth had clung to her and forsaken her Moabite family, and possibly all hope for the future, to return with her to Bethlehem. Then Naomi shepherded Ruth through the Hebrew custom that resulted in her marriage to Boaz.
Ruth had no idea about Jewish customs or laws. When she gleaned in Boaz’s field, she had no idea who Boaz was or how his relationship to Naomi might affect their lives. She was a woman of Moab, a country whose name meant“waste” or “nothingness.” And she needed to learn how to live in a country whose name means “prince of God.”
When Ruth told Naomi of Boaz’s kindness, Naomi praised God and wisely counseled Ruth to stay in Boaz’s fields: “It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field” (Ruth 2:22).
Later Naomi told Ruth how to go about requesting that Boaz perform the duty of a near kinsman by marrying her to raise up children to her dead husband, according to the Israelite law of leverite marriage (Ruth 3). Ruth, of course, married Boaz and later became King David’s great-grandmother (4:22) and one of only four women mentioned in the genealogy of Christ (Mt. 1:5).
In many ways, Naomi was to Ruth what the apostle Paul was to Timothy—a parent in the faith.
All new believers need a Naomi, someone older in the Lord who can teach them how to walk by faith, apply the Bible to their daily lives, and reach others with the gospel of salvation that reached them. The apostle Paul wrote that older women should “teach the young . . . that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Ti. 2:3–5).
Perhaps one of the most famous men in the world when it came to discipleship was Dawson Trotman, who founded The Navigators in 1933. Christians, said Trotman, were born to reproduce spiritually. And if they did not, something was wrong.
While working as a truck driver, Trotman taught a born-again sailor named Les Spencer how to live for Christ: “We spent time together. We took care of his problems and taught him not only to hear God’s Word and to read it, but also how to study it.” But Spencer was having trouble finding men on his ship whom he could teach. Wrote Trotman,
I said to him, “Listen, you ask God to give you one. You can’t have two until you have one. Ask God to give you a man after your own heart.
He began to pray. One day he came tome and said, “I think I’ve found him.” Later he brought the young fellow over. Three months from the time that I started to work with him, he had found a man of like heart. . . . He worked with this new babe in Christ and those two fellows began to grow and spiritually reproduce. On that ship 125 men found the Savior before it was sunk at Pearl Harbor.
Today The Navigators spans the globe and is devoted to helping each one reach one and each one teach one.
Everyone is either a Ruth or a Naomi—someone who needs to be taught or someone who needs to teach. Just as I needed someone to teach me, among other things, not to be a walking beer advertisement, every believer needs, as Trotman said, “a spiritual parent to take care of him and give him the spiritual food God has provided for his normal growth.”
“Men, where is your man? Women, where is your woman? Where is your girl? Where is the one whom you led to Christ and who is now going on with Him?”
Are you a Naomi? If you are, where is your Ruth?