Strangers in the Night
One never knows who or what might be encountered in a church parking lot, especially after dark.
Here at Oak Chapel United Methodist, which sits at the confluence of two busy roadways, we’ve had crows, cats, and all kinds of other critters, but we’ve also had visits from a wide range of people who use our lot as a rest stop, a meeting place, an outdoor walking venue, and who knows what else.
Just last night, following our Maundy Thursday service, we noticed an unfamiliar car idling in the lot right around dusk. One of our church members approached the vehicle and asked what the driver was up to. He said he was low on gas and wanted to know if he could use our lot to stay overnight and get some sleep in his car.
Part of his story didn’t add up. If he was low on gas, why was he wasting his valuable fuel by allowing the car to run? Our church member, a kind, caring, and compassionate individual, suggested that I go out and speak to the occupant, and so I did.
The man inside was really downtrodden. He was 64 years old — just one year younger than me — but at a very different place in life. He had a variety of health issues, including respiratory challenges that led to him have a tracheotomy in his neck. He even asked me if God still cared about him.
I was really conflicted. I had to look out for the welfare of the church and the safety of our members, so I was reluctant to have him spend the entire night in our parking lot. On the other hand, was it really that big of a deal, and what harm would he cause?
Still, I felt it might be best to ask him to find another place to stay, so I told him that the local sheriff and the state highway patrol often drive through our lot at all hours of the day and night, which was true. I handed him two $5 bills so that he could get some gas and maybe a fast-food meal, but I also decided that I couldn’t simply send him on his way, so I handed him my card with my contact information.
Then I recalled that haunting passage from the second chapter of James, which states, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
I felt like someone had just shot a hole in my faith. But it was too late. He was already gone. I can only hope that he will keep my card handy and call on me once again for help. This time, I won’t let him, or my Lord, down.
Such is the quandary we face, discerning between good works and personal safety. As disciples of Christ we want to extend ourselves, and reach out to the “least of our brethren.” At the same time, we need to have some common sense and take precautions where health and safety are concerned.
I don’t know how this story will end. Will he call me back, or will I never hear from him again? Time will tell, but in the meantime, I pray to God that he watches over this man and guides me to the proper course of action next time.
Until We Meet Again, Be Blessed! – Pastor John