When I talk with my children, who are now all living away from home, I often sign off with this statement: “Make it home before dark.”

Of course, I don’t literally mean to come in before the streetlights come on. It’s a figure of speech. First, it’s an affectionate statement reminding them that there is a place they can come to receive unconditional love and acceptance. If they ever feel like they’re too far out on a limb, my wife, Karen, and I will always be there for them. Second, it’s a loving reminder for them to draw strength and direction from the values they were taught at home. Third, it is a reminder that they have come from somewhere and they are going somewhere.

I don’t say, “Make it home before dark” in an arrogant, controlling sense. We do not tell our adult children what they should do with their lives. We want them to be, and to do, what God wants. Nonetheless, we want them to be good stewards of what has been invested in them and to cherish the security that has been passed down to them from generation to generation in my family: “No matter where you are, you are never far from home.”

Setting the direction of a family

Peter, my great-grandfather, was a slave. According to oral tradition, he migrated with the family that owned him from a Louisiana plantation to what is now Catawba County, North Carolina.

He died when my dad was still a young boy, but Pop said that he could recall Peter rocking back and forth, singing and praying on the front porch of the old homestead in Conover, North Carolina. Although he didn’t have much of this world’s goods, he was evidently a very generous man. Peter had acquired some land, and he gave the land for what is now Thomas Chapel AME Zion Church, which is across the street from the old homestead to this very day.

There were two things about Peter that have forged the direction of our family for these generations. One is that Peter had a heart for God. He loved the Lord Jesus with all of his heart. Peter’s singing and praying on the front porch were complemented by the passages of Scripture he had committed to memory because he had his family members read those passages to him over and over again.

The other thing Peter had was a tenacious commitment to his family. Peter had three children. Two of them moved to other states, but my grandfather, Milton, remained in Conover to carry on the family tradition. Milton trusted Christ at an early age. He was a Sunday school superintendent and a friend of many, many preachers who “rode the circuit” to come and preach in Conover. Milton married my grandmother and together they had 14 children. My dad, Crawford, was the youngest of the boys.

I never met my grandfather. He died in 1947 before I was born, but my father, aunts, and uncles used to sit back and tell stories about him when they were together. From all accounts, Milton was a man of impeccable character and great integrity. I heard time and time again that my father was so very much like him in terms of his perspective, character, and direction in life.

The core of life

The Word of God and prayer were clear priorities in the Loritts household of Conover as my father grew up. It was simply assumed that one’s relationship with God would be the core of his life. The Loritts family assumed that family members would reverence God, live by the Word of God, obey it, and be in church.

My father married my mother in 1940, and they settled in Newark, New Jersey, to raise their family. Pop vowed that two things he would always have for his family were, first, a warm house and, second, plenty of food. Well, we were never cold and we never went without food. Pop made sure we were well provided for.

Part of his motivation for a full pantry came from another value with which he had grown up: to help other people. Pop was continually helping neighbors, bringing them by the house for what they needed. My dad wasn’t really outspoken in terms of his commitment to Jesus Christ. His was more of a quiet commitment that showed itself in the way he treated people. That’s the kind of environment in which we grew up.

Just like his father and his grandfather did, Pop expected his family to be in church with him every Sunday morning. The rule in the house was that if we didn’t go to church on Sunday morning, we didn’t go outside the rest of the day either. We gave God the first day of the week.

When we grew older and became more involved with various high school activities, we didn’t always have the opportunity to sit down and eat together. But as younger kids, we did things as a family. It was a value of Pop’s. He didn’t get it from seminars or books or those kinds of things. He got it from his father. And where did his father get it from? Well, he got it from his father, Peter, who was a slave who had faith in Christ Jesus, a love for his family, and a desire to reach out and touch generations to come.

Standing on Peter’s shoulders

I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t think about my great-grandfather, Peter. I never met him. We can’t even find his grave when we visit the old cemetery behind the church in Conover. Yet I sometimes believe that I stand on his shoulders. The blessings that I’ve received in ministry, the opportunities, the recognition … I believe all these things are due to that man’s prayers setting the prayers of many others in motion.

As I’d go out as a child to play with my friends, one of my parents would remind me, “Make sure that you make it home before dark.” And now that is part of the legacy I pass on to my children. It is an honor to offer a heritage that they want to “come home” to in the midst of darkness.

Adapted by permission from Never Walk Away, © 1997 by Crawford Loritts, Jr., Moody Press.