A Life With Purpose | Sojourners

A Life With Purpose

A tribute to James Stokes

The room was bathed in soft light as spirituals quietly played in the background. More than 100 people came to see the one many called "a good friend" and to say their last goodbyes. It was the first wake we'd ever had at the Sojourners Neighborhood Center. The next morning the funeral was held here too. It was the appropriate place—the place where James Starks had come almost every day for many years. It was where he had become part of a family and found a home.

About 10 years ago, James was sitting out on the stoop one Sunday morning when someone invited him to come to worship with Sojourners Community. After a few more weeks of invitations, he came—and he stayed. Before long, James became involved in the food program and soon was one of its most tireless workers. Many stories were told at James' funeral. We cried and we laughed and decided that James would have been glad for both. Mostly we were very grateful, even in our sadness, for the life of one who had touched each of ours.

On most days, James would go out to pick up food wherever we could get it. Someone said, "Whenever you saw the van, you saw James." Another co-worker told of a pickup at the food bank one winter day in an absolute blizzard that dissuaded everyone but James. He made it all the way there and back and didn't stop until the van came to an abrupt halt in a snowbank in the center's driveway. The next day 300 families had food to take home.

But James' favorite thing was to take the food back out to people who most needed it. He was known to make up to 13 deliveries in a single day, mostly to senior citizens who could no longer get out. He brought more than food, he brought his famous smile and the comfort of good company. He so loved to visit people and stay to talk that one co-worker testified at his funeral, "I had to go with him just to make sure he didn't stay all day!" When there wasn't food to pick up or deliver, James would do whatever else needed to be done around the center. He was the ultimate volunteer.

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Sojourners Magazine June 1992
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