James L Castellano has spent his entire adult life living, developing and teaching leadership techniques. He uses a unique blend of biblical truths and worldly principles, called VALID leadership, to reach his audience. Born in New York City, James moved to Fort Worth, TX in 1979 to serve in the United States Air Force. James and his wife, Rosemary, just celebrated their 10th anniversary. They currently reside in Tyler, TX. They have six children ranging from 17 to 29 years old, and as a family recognize Jesus Christ as our lord and savior. James is a frequent contributor to several periodicals including The Enrichment Journal and The Voice of Grace and Truth. His new blog can be read at www.proverbialintake.com
“Another move,” I said just before the 737 hit full throttle, making its climb away from the dreadful Texas heat. “I hope we’re answering our call.”
Three hours later, the uneventful flight relocated my wife, Rosa, and me to Philadelphia. We secured our rental to start the trek to our new home—the Extended Stay hotel.
We passed through what seemed like millions of acres of corn. A never ending “maze of maize” as Rosa confirmed. We paid careful attention to the homes in the area as we drove in. We’d need one soon.
Nothing of any significance stood out until we hit a sharp curve in the road. Driving too fast, I had to slam on the brakes and turn sharply to the left, avoiding the ditches running parallel to the road.
We looked out the windshield. There in front of us rested an old, abandoned building resembling a church from decades ago. I turned off the engine and walked around to open Rosa’s door.
“Do you think it’s an old church of some sort?” I asked as we gazed at the structure.
“Either that or a hotel. It’s way too big to be a house.”
We approached the stone building, admiring the grayish hues still vibrant after years of neglect. The windows not boarded up by warped plywood were shattered, presumably by misguided youths over the years.
The shingled roof had damaged areas where the rafters were broken, but overall it still appeared to be in good enough shape to keep the interior dry. On one of the wooded double entry doors a sign read, WARNING KEEP OUT. The other door stood wide open—and by the looks of it had been for a long time.
I looked at Rosa and she nodded. We took a few steps inside and saw what resembled a glorious church in its heyday but had been reduced to a ransacked building strewn with trash.
“Can you imagine what it’d been like sitting on those pews listening to the preacher?” Rosa asked.
“I can hear the pipe organ keeping the choir on key while they poured their hearts out with old-time hymns. I bet the acoustics are great in here.”
We continued to walk through the wreckage into each room. I shook my head, What a shame. The pastor’s office intrigued me the most.
“Sweetie, check this out!” I showed her an old decaying Bible lying on the desk, still open to Proverbs. “A man after my own heart.”
“Look.” She pointed at the bookshelf. “There must be hundreds of books.”
“Wow, we should find out who owns this place to see if we can have some of these.”
We finished our tour of the derelict building. I agreed to drive safer for the rest of our journey.
By Monday my excitement tapered. I looked out over the uninspiring cornfields stretching for miles. The first day of any new job always brings anxiety and joy. Joy at starting a new chapter in life, anxiety from starting a new chapter in life.
Within a couple of weeks we found an apartment and settled in to our new community, forgetting all about the decrepit structure. We visited many churches, eventually agreeing on First Family Worship, a growing church that preached the Word and spirit of Jesus Christ.
Within a few weeks the pastor announced the purchase of a building to house the growing congregation. He asked those interested in helping with the revitalization process to stay after service. After service we went to the room hosting the meeting, the walls covered with old, recent, and future photos of the newly purchased building.
I nudged Rosa. “Isn’t that the old building we saw on our way here?”
“Sure is! How awesome is that?”
We signed up for the following Saturday workday.
Being an early bird, we arrived first on the scene. Shortly after, the pastor drove up, followed by several trucks carrying roll-off Dumpsters.
“Good morning, Pastor,” I said. “I’d like to help clean the office in the back with all the books in it.”
“How did you know about that?”
“Rosa and I stumbled across this place when I nearly crashed rounding that corner.” I pointed to the sharp curve bordering the property. “We went in, looked around, and saw the office with an open Bible and all the books. I’d like to look through them if I may.”
“Go ahead. Let me know if you find anything interesting.”
As I walked off he called, “Hold on, I’ll go with you.”
Walking through the doors, I sensed something had changed. My suspicions were confirmed when we reached the office. The Bible and most of the books were gone.
“Looks like someone beat me to it,” I said.
“Probably the groundskeeper.”
I grinned. “Groundskeeper? Remind me never to hire him for my property.”
We sorted through the remaining books and decided none were worth keeping. I went outside and grabbed a cart to start the cleanup process. While I wheeled the cart over the broken concrete sidewalk to the front door, Rosa came running over. “What did you find?”
“Nothing. Most of them are gone, including the Bible. There’s nothing left worth keeping. What are you doing?”
“Pulling weeds and trimming shrubs.”
I maneuvered the cart to the office and parked it below the bookshelf. One by one I picked each book off the shelf, browsed through it, and dropped it into the cart.
I almost missed the last book, a gray binder on the top shelf, camouflaged with years’ worth of dust. I stretched my arm, barely grasping it with my fingertips, and pulled it toward me. Dust rained on me. Something solid slid from underneath the book and dropped into the bottom of the cart. Digging through the books, I spotted a key and shoved it in my pocket.
I pushed the cart full of books to the Dumpster, quickly emptied it, and hurried to find Rosa.
“Rosa!” I waved her over. “Check this out.” I showed her the key.
“What does it open?”
“Don’t know, but we’re about to find out.” I grabbed her hand and led her back into the office. The disturbed layers of dust floated through the air, making it hard to breathe and see. We looked throughout the office for anything featuring a lock. Those we found were either open or the key didn’t fit.
“What book had the key under it?”
“I don’t know. I threw it in the Dumpster. Why?”
“Maybe the book will tell us what the key opens.”
“I’ll go get the book.” I ran out of the office. By the time I got outside, the truck hauling away the full Dumpster started pulling away. I put my legs in overdrive trying to catch it before it got too far away.
“Hold on!” I yelled, hoping the driver would hear me and stop. He pulled out onto the road while I continued chasing him, my arms flailing trying to catch his attention. He slowed the truck to navigate the sharp curve, giving me the chance to run beside and stop him.
Out of breath, I called out, “Pull over! I have to get something out of the Dumpster.”
“I’m not supposed to let anyone in while I’m hooked up.”
“I’ll just be a second.” Before he could answer, I climbed the ladder on the side and jumped in.
He poked his head out the window. “Hey! You can’t do that!”
I ignored him and dug through the books, weeds, trash, and whatever else had been tossed in here. I spotted the book under some nasty, unidentifiable stuff. Holding my nose with one hand, I cautiously reached my other hand into the mess and pulled out the book.
“Thanks!” I yelled to the driver as I scooted down the ladder and back to the church.
Wiping the dust from the cover, I noted that the hardbound notebook was filled with writings dating back to the early 1950s. I sat on a rock and started reading the entries.
“I see you found it.” Rosa stood before me, hands on her hips.
“It’s a journal of some sort. Did you find any more locks?”
“Come on.” She pointed with her head. “I think I found it.”
We walked back into the dust bowl and made our way through the piles of refuse past the office and into a storeroom.
“There.” She pointed to an old rusted safe. “See if it fits.”
The keyhole, like the rest of the building, had accumulated years of dust and rust, making it difficult to insert the key, but I could tell the key would fit.
I ran to the supply truck, grabbed a can of WD-40 and a hammer, then returned. I doused the lock with the lubricant and banged it with the hammer, hoping to free the slave cylinders. I tried the key again. It went in but still didn’t turn. I sprayed more oil and tapped it again with the hammer. This time it worked. We turned the key, then the handle, and opened the safe.
Inside sat another notebook. I gently retrieved the black-and-white hardcover notebook from its hiding place. We opened the book.
The title caught my attention and changed our life forever: The Secret for Success by King Solomon.