A PERSONAL STORY
A number of years ago, while serving on the State Council for the Church of God in California, I drove to Sacramento for a board meeting. I was near empty when I pulled into the office parking lot. The meeting was scheduled to last until supper, but instead, it ran past ten o’clock. I pulled out on the Freeway and headed home looking for gas stations that were still open. I took the connector route from Highway 99 to Interstate 5. I knew, once on I-5, I had few opportunities for fuel. But one all-night station was my goal. Sadly, unaware, I took a route that placed me on the interstate just south of that station. Too late, I realized that I was virtually on fumes. Modesto was still only a few miles east. I turned. Ahead were lights – gas! No, the station was closed.
The bar next door was hopping. I should have been more realistic, walked into that bar, and asked for someone to call AAA. I didn’t. An inebriated soul seemed sober and lucid enough to offer directions. I was the fool. I headed east, took the turn south, turned again at the fork. I was hopeful. But when I crossed a set of railroad tracks and the road suddenly narrowed, a sinking, sick feeling took over. The road turned east. A farm house was to the south, but the carnivorous dogs did not seem an inviting welcoming committee. There were no lights, no signs of activity. It was near midnight now. Suddenly, the pavement ended. I ventured on. What could I do? The gravel road turned north. And then it happened. The car lurched. The dash lights flashed. The engine became quiet. I was out of gas.
For a full five, maybe ten minutes, I sat in the car that I had steered to the middle of the road and prayed. I could hear the cars on the interstate to the west. But there were fences, an orchard and bog between the car and that interstate – who knows what else. I could walk ahead. But I had no knowledge of where the road actually led or if it led anywhere. I could return to the farmhouse, fight off the Dobermans, wake up the farmer, dodge bullets, and if I was still alive ask for help.
Now out of the car, standing under the California sky, I knew I should not stay there all night. That was when I heard the sound of a truck, not far away on the freeway, but closer. Then, I could see the lights of a Semi-Trailer Truck. He was headed my way. He rounded the corner and almost immediately, he must have seen my car in the middle of the road with the emergency lights flashing. He stopped almost fifty yards from me. There was no backing up. I am sure he was calculating his options. Was he being held up? High-jacked? Was I alone? I raised both hands and started walking slowly toward him. He waited and watched. I approached the driver side of the cab, and confessed my foolish mistake. Within minutes, I was on board and headed for the gas-station I had missed earlier.
He was carrying a late load, an unusual thing for him, and he had taken the gravel short-cut, which he said was rarely used. A dump was near, “Bad things happen out here,” he shared. I might have been there all night or days, or – shutter the thought. He was a nice guy. I wondered – an angel? His language soon cleared that up. And that is when I had a wonderful chance to share my faith. Arriving at the all-night gas station, I hopped out and hunted down the manager. He put in a call for his emergency tow truck driver. As I waited, again, I had a wonderful opportunity to share Christ.
Soon my emergency ride was on-site. He was a scraggly looking character. His beard was mere stubble. He had the capacity to hold a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, seemingly attached only to his lower lip, while the most profuse profanity flowed out of the whole. There was a cavalier insensitivity about him, a disorder about his whole person. I put away my gospel seed pouch, concluding that the ground here was too hard.
He pointed to a broken down truck. Since I did not need to be towed, we would take his vehicle. He filled up the spare fuel tank. And then he proceeded to put a bit of gas in his pick-up, while rocking it furiously. “You have to burp it,” he apologetically said, poking his head into the driver’s window. I wondered if I were at all sane, making this trip out into the forsaken area where I had left my car.
“Did you pay?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. But my claim was met with a look of total distrust and skepticism. “Wanna see my receipt?” He said, “Yes!” I dug out the receipt where I had paid for his service and the gasoline we would put into my vehicle. He checked out the receipt. I asked, as he did, if he also wanted to see my ministerial ordination papers. I shouldn’t have displayed such a twisted sense of humor. He looked a bit puzzled.
On the road, his aging vehicle began to spit and sputter so severely that I wondered if we might need to call another road service. He patted the dash, talked to the truck – more eccentric behavior. And then, quite suddenly, he explained his earlier brusqueness. He had responded to some midnight calls, taken the needy person to their vehicle, and returned to the station only to discover that they had not paid for either the service or the gas. Suddenly, I saw an open door. “When others do us wrong, the sting is so apparent isn’t it? That is because there is this line in our hearts that lights up. It was put there by God. All of us know about it, feel it and sense it. I am sorry that happened to you!”
He turned sideways in the pick-up. It was like he had picked up an alien! He knew now, that I had not been kidding about the ministerial ordination. We began to talk about faith and God, in the most sincere way. Standing on the gravel road, putting fuel in my car, under the California sky, we had a moment together. He had lived in Indiana. He and his wife shared a single-wide mobile home with their infant child. A tornado had ripped through the park, picked up their fragile home and tossed it around. They found themselves outside, miraculously alive, but their daughter was nowhere to be found. Only a pile of twisted metal and debris lay where their home had once stood. They tore through the rubble. From some distant place, the wind had picked up pieces of steel rebar and driven into the remains of their mobile home. Bits and pieces of metal and were collected on the rebar like meat on a skewer. They were horrified. If their child were in the rubble – would they find the little girl alive?
As they peeled back the shattered remains, they looked for signs of life. Then near the bottom of the pile, they came upon a large frame, the picture still inside, face down. As they turned it over, it was a print of Jesus they had never seen before. It had not hung in their house. They had no idea where it might have come from. In the picture, Jesus was holding a lamb, overlooking a flock of sheep. Underneath was their little girl, unharmed, except for a tiny bump on the head.
Under the stars, I had an opportunity to affirm God’s goodness, his grace in sparing the family, his purposes for all our lives. I took his hand and standing in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night – we prayed. We cried. We sensed God’s presence.
That apology, not for something I had done, but for the insensitivity of others touched “the line in his heart” and led to an amazing opportunity for witness.
Where may God place you this Christmas Season? Somewhere He wants His gospel shared? His plan of forgiveness understood? Be open and ready. 1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.