I awoke and looked around me. The first person I saw was Benjie Dyal, pastor of New Home Baptist Church. Standing next to Benjie were his wife, Denise, and their daughter, Cali. Sitting at the head of my head next to me was my father. I did not know why I was in Tallahassee Memorial Hospital at that time but I knew I was safe and closed my eyes and went back to sleep. That’s the first memory I have of being in the hospital. I know that I had been out of the coma earlier and that other people had been to see me, but Benjie’s face was the first one I remember seeing.
Benjie Dyal and I had been friends for a few years, probably ever since he became the pastor at New Home Baptist Church. While I attended church in another part of the county, which I still do, Benjie and I remained friends. I would daresay that he was one of the people I considered one of my best friends. We really bonded one year when we murdered the song “Sweet Home Alabama” while singing karaoke at a Relay for Life event at about 2 a.m. in the morning. Benjie looked at me when we finished and said, “Well, I guess I will be looking for another job tomorrow,” but we both knew that the congregation at his church would not fire him for singing a Lynyrd Skynyrd song. I am sure that they looked and saw his love for his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Everyone who knew Benjie could not only see his love for his Lord, but for his wife and his daughter. After church each Sunday night, my father, brother and sister used to see the Dyals at Wendy’s with members of the New Home Baptist congregation, including Kevin and Donna Andrews, Jack and Simmie Pickels, and Stan and Beverly Pickels. Cali always went out of her way to speak to my sister, Abbie, who adored her. We could also tell that Denise and Cali adored Benjie and so did the people of their church.
The last time I saw Benjie was a couple of weeks before he died. He and a few of his friends had helped my family over a rough spot and I stopped and told him “thank you.” That day, he was wearing the same smile he wore almost every time I saw him.
With his homespun country wit, it was sometimes easy for people to mistake Benjie as a hayseed but he was far from it. He was highly intelligent. He had completed seminary in Georgia and had also received a degree from Liberty University. He believed in studying to be better prepared to present the Lord to others.
Benjie was not just a pastor to his congregation, he was a friend. He had taken Marty Lookabill to Tallahassee Memorial on Friday night, Nov. 14, when Marty was suffering with heart problems. Marty told me once that he and Benjie used to have Bible study for hours at a time.
Benjie never met a stranger and he made many friends in his fifty years on Earth. He was one of the many who was there for me and my family when our father died in January.
Benjie also enjoyed coaching the travel softball team that his daughter played on. The Saturday before he passed away, early Monday morning, the team had won their championship game. While they earned the title, Benjie earned something greater when he was ushered into the presence of the Lord.
I did not go to the viewing held for Benjie. At a viewing the previous Friday evening in Live Oak, my sister Abbie broke down and cried when she saw Nellie Flowers, who we called “Granny” Flowers like so many others did. Abbie had a deep love for Granny Flowers and I know she had a deep love for Benjie and his wife and daughter. I did not want to subject her to having to see him lying in that state.
I am grateful for Benjie’s life on Earth and the example that he set for all of us. My prayers go out to all of Benjie’s family, friends and the congregation at New Home Baptist. As we keep our eyes on Jesus, I know that we will see him and so many others we have lost this year again in Heaven. Our home will be much sweeter then than any on this Earth, even in Alabama. RIP, Benjie.