“I had not found my purpose. Part of my daily prayer was, ‘Lord, lift me up and let me be a better witness to You and for You, and somehow reach more people.’ ”
Since 1979 that simple yet selfless prayer led to millions of dollars finding its way into the hands of countless needy people during the Christmas season. People on the street, in diners, laundromats, homeless shelters, pawnshops, and fast-food restaurants have received $100 bills anonymously. In Kansas City, Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and communities in California, Florida, and Mississippi; people in need have been blessed by the heart of a ‘saint’ (through his prayer – above) and the hand of His Savior, Jesus.
Who is this ‘Saint?’
For the first 26 years of his ‘secret Santa’ ministry, he was able to keep his identity from being disclosed. Only when he discovered that his identity might be exposed (by a tabloid newspaper) was his name revealed. He hoped his story would inspire others to become God’s hands and heart of love, to the needy.
His name is Larry Stewart. His story begins to unfold in the winter of 1971 at Dixie Diner in Houston, Mississippi. Larry had recently lost his job when his employer went out of business. He was now out of money, homeless, and without a meal for almost two days.
Larry ordered a big breakfast at the Dixie Diner, planning to leave without paying. But before he could leave, the owner, Ted Horn, (both waiter and cook) stood next to Larry and handed him $20. He told Stewart he picked up the money from the floor. Ted Horn told Larry “Son, you must have dropped this.” Stewart says, ‘I said to myself, thank You, Lord.’ ”
Larry paid for his breakfast then left town. He realized later that Ted Horn had given him his own money, knowing Larry was in need. Stewart said, “Right then, I just made a promise. I said, ‘Lord, if You ever put me in a position to help other people, I will do it.’ ”
A Ministry is Born
Larry was married in the early 1970s and had children. His ministry was born in Independence, Mo. just before Christmas in 1979. It began when he gave a carhop at a drive-in $20 after placing his order for a hamburger and a soda. He told her to “Keep the change.” The woman started to cry and told him, “Sir, you have no idea what this means to me.” Larry went to the bank, withdrew money, and began his ministry that night.
He eventually moved to Kansas City and made millions of dollars in cable television and with his own long-distance telephone company. During the 2001 Christmas season, he handed out $25,000 in $100 bills to New Yorkers who were still rocked from the terrorist attacks on the twin towers at the World Trade Center.
Social service agencies, firefighters, and the police sometimes serve as his links to people in need. He has given $1,000 and more, to help people who have lost their homes due to fires.
Larry’s heart of compassion took root as a child growing up in poverty. He was raised by his grandparents in Bruce, Mississippi. Growing up poor and going hungry many times himself, he understood the battle for survival that plagued many of the beneficiaries of his kindness.
Facing hard times once again in 1971 – during the time he entered the Dixie Diner – Ted Horn’s act of compassion was forever sealed in Larry’s heart.
Even though many years had passed since their meeting in the diner, Stewart was able to locate Horn in Tupelo, Miss. in December of 1999. He gave him $10,000 to pay him back, as a display of his gratitude.
In 2006 Larry was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While in the hospital he received a visit from a friend. In response to his friend asking him if he had any regrets, Larry answered, “Yes, I wish I could have helped more people.” Larry had given away 1.3 million dollars during his ministry, but he still wanted to do more.
That night, Larry’s friend took over the ministry.
Kindness Inspires Kindness
After Larry’s name was revealed by the tabloid newspaper, he received hundreds of letters and thousands of e-mails. His generous acts of merciful kindness have inspired many other people from around the world to “help more people” – Larry’s dying wish.