Words of Wilson

Quintin Stieff’s father left when he was three leaving his mom to raise seven kids. Two high school teachers took an interest in him. One was his neighbor and math teacher, Bill Mellencamp. Bill and his wife Sharlene showered Quintin’s family with casseroles and clothing and found him summer jobs.

He knew they were “Jesus freaks” so he was guarded about discussions of faith. But their sincerity and compassion bred trust.

As Quintin was walking down the street, baseball mitt in hand, Bill yelled, “Want to play catch?” Of course he did. They exchanged pitches and conversation. About school. Jobs. Current events. And, in time, faith. “Bill was a bit of a sage,” smiles Quintin. “He would dispense little nuggets of wisdom. I had no idea half the world would find out about those nuggets.”

How? Well, his drama teacher also took an interest in Quintin. He was another Christian, a friend of Bill’s, David McFadzean. Smitten by Bill’s homespun wisdom and kindness, David moved to Hollywood to create, produce, write, and direct “Home Improvement,” starring Tim Allen and his next-door neighbor Wilson W. Wilson. He’s the guy who peeks over the picket fence and offers Tim wise counsel and sometimes quotes Scripture.

“The inspiration for Wilson was my neighbor, Bill,” Quintin laughs. “I actually had the real-life Wilson as my neighbor.” It gets better.

As Quintin and his wise old neighbor’s friendship grew, they laughed together and talked of the Bible, Jesus, grace, and forgiveness. “I thought I needed to be good enough for God to love me,” says Quintin. “Wise old Wilson told me otherwise. ‘God already loves you,’ he said. ‘So much that he gave his Son to die in your place.’ I don’t remember Bill giving me a Gospel presentation. Bill and Sharlene just killed me with kindness. Their love broke down fences I built around my heart, and slowly, I came to trust in Jesus.”

Quintin’s family and friends were shocked. But he’s never looked back. When he isn’t burping his new grandbaby or speaking to pastors in East Asia, he leads a large church in Iowa that’s known for loving Jesus and the community. It all happened because his neighbor loved him.

When Quintin spoke at Bill’s funeral, he told the mourners that no one person had changed him more than the wise and witty “Wilson” who simply asked him to play catch when he was sixteen.

We may think, I’m too small for God to use. But can you throw a ball? Bake a casserole? Make someone laugh?

“It’s really not that complicated,” says Quintin, “Just love your neighbor as yourself.”

Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again, is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life.

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