Hal Donaldson remembers the day well: It was August of 1969, and he was 12 years old. His parents were off to a business meeting, and Donaldson and his three siblings were home with a babysitter.
But his parents never made it to that meeting. On the way there, their car was hit by a drunk driver.
A policeman came to the house, and neighbors crowded around as the officer told Donaldson and his siblings the news: Their father had been killed, and their mother, severely injured.
The officer looked at the crowd of neighbors and asked whether anyone could take care of the four children in for the night.
Then, Bill and Louvada Davis spoke up. They could take care of the children. And they did – not just that night, but for months afterward.
The Davises didn't have much space – they lived in a single-wide trailer, and taking in the Donaldson children meant 10 people would be crammed inside. But what they did have was kindness, and it changed Donaldson's life.
Now, he works to extend kindness to others – he's the CEO of a Springfield-based humanitarian aid organization called Convoy of Hope.
The story of the Davis family's kindness was one of many stories he told at the Governor's Prayer Breakfast on Thursday (Jan. 9) in Jefferson City as the featured speaker.
The prayer breakfast tradition goes back more than 50 years, and for some, it's a way to mark the start of the legislative session.
Governor Jay Nixon, who is part of First United Methodist Church in Jefferson City, said prayer has been particularly powerful for him during his time as governor.
"We have so many people that lean over and whisper in our ear, 'Governor, we are praying for you,'" he said. "I just want to tell you in this job, that power of prayer and that power of faith gives you a searing strength to cut through what are many frustrations and move forward."
He spoke about the importance of finding common ground – a sense of harmony.
"It is vital that all of us act in a spirit of fellowship that does not question each other's sincerity in wanting to do what is right," he said. "Our prayers can give us the understanding to navigate through these seas ahead, and the tolerance for those whose opinions we do not share."
He also spoke about the importance of putting faith into action by looking "outward to serve others, rather than inward to serve ourselves."
"It does us no good," said Nixon, "if we ignore our faith, ignore our values, don't use our ears, only use our mouths, and talk and spout our side."
Donaldson called for "a renewed commitment to civility and kindness," echoing some of Nixon's sentiments.
"If we will collectively dedicate oursevles to a lifestyle of kindness and compassion, 2014 can be a defining moment for our state and our nation," Donaldson said. "And in turn, many of the problems that we face, those problems will begin to fade. Because friend, a year of kindness and compassion can absolutely change everything."
It was kindness that changed everything after his parents' car accident. His mother, with her severe injuries, injuries, was unable to work for several months.
His father hadn't had a lot of insurance, and the drunk driver who caused the deadly collision didn't have insurance. Eventually, the family had to go on government assistance and food stamps.
"I quickly learned what it was like to go to school with holes in your shoes," he said.
But neighbors helped with groceries, week after week.
"Every can of soup, every box of cereal – it gave us hope that tomorrow can be better than today," he said.
He shared three principals he learned from the Davis family about loving one's neighbor:
- Loving your neighbor requires moving beyond pity to action. "They taught us that pity has no power," he said. "Tears won't provide a home." Showing love often requires tangible action.
- Loving your neighbor requires cooperating around a common vision. He recalled living in the Davis family's trailer with nine other people – they had to take turns sleeping on the floor. There weren't enough place settings, so they had to take turns eating. But they all shared a vision to make it work.
- Loving your neighbor and giving hope is not expensive – but neither is it free. It requires "choosing a life of generosity," so others can have opportunities.
And Donaldson repeated, again, "A year of kindness and compassion can change everything."