The doorbell of the church rang while I was on the phone with a colleague. I was told that a man came in and needed prayers. When I finished the call, I went out to the man. His name is John. John proceeded to tell me that his mother was dying and is at the local hospital. He was trying to get there. He had traveled down from Scranton, a couple of hours away. His car broke down in Harrisburg and so he started walking his way towards the hospital.
Along the way, he stopped and asked directions, had enough money to get something to drink, and rest his feet for a few minutes.
When he came to New Kingstown, something nudged him to stop at the church for prayers. And he listened to that nudge.
We were able to get him some food and I spent time with him, listening to his story, and praying with him. He wanted directions to the hospital. He said that the prayer was all he really wanted.
I know that the hospital is a good 20 minutes drive, which includes highway. There was no way that I was letting him walk. So I offered him a ride, which he gladly accepted and reassured me that he wasn’t looking for a handout.
As we drove along, I heard more of John’s story. I heard about the loss of many family members over the last 10 years. I heard about challenges in the family with health issues. I heard about his own blessings with health.
I asked John how long he had walked. He thought for a moment and then told me that his car broke down in Harrisburg, he got a tow truck, gave the mechanic $1400 to fix his car – all his money – and then he started walking. It was 5 am when he started. He had been walking five hours by the time he had gotten to us at the church. I’ve run marathons, a couple of which have taken five hours before. I know what being on your feet for five hours is like. It’s not fun. It’s painful. But John said that he just kept going. He didn’t know if his mother would survive the day and he had to go see her.
He didn’t know where he was going to stay that night. He would have more money in 24-48 hours, so he was hoping that some motel or hotel would be compassionate enough to work with him.
On the way to the hospital we stopped at a hotel, about a mile from the hospital. I went in with him. The hotel requires payment upfront. So the church helped him out with a room for a couple of days until his car was repaired.
John was about ready to break down, I could see it in his face. He told me that he wanted to repay the church for the rooms and the gas. I told him that all he needed to do was to say thank you and that he needed his money more than we did. I told him that if he really wanted to repay us, then to do something good for someone else.
He didn’t know what to say. I told him – this is what grace is. I can’t preach grace if I don’t live it.
The woman behind the counter heard this exchange and said “God is so good, isn’t he?” Yes God is.
After getting the room taken care of, I drove John down the road the hospital. We said our goodbyes and I gave him well wishes for him and his mother. And off he went into the hospital to be with his mother for what is probably the last time.
I don’t know why God nudged him to our door. But I’m glad John came to us. And I’m glad we were able to give him just a little help. More importantly, we were able to share Good News with him and with others. Good News isn’t all about words. Good News is how we live. Our entire lives are an expression of Good News – or they should be for those of us to claim to follow Jesus.
Hang in there John. You are not alone.
As I think about this encounter, I’m drawn to Psalm 23. In one sense because the Psalm is used for so many funerals, and here was an instance in which death was right on the horizon. But this was a bit different. It’s not about the person who was dying. It’s about the person who is seeing death of another.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
When I think about this passage of Scripture, I see John. He’s walking through the darkest valley. And God is the one who provides for him. God makes sure John is not in want. God restores his soul and leads him along right paths. It is God who is with John in the darkest valley and comforts him. It is God who prepares a table and blesses John. It is God who gives a future.
Psalm 23 is the Psalm for John – and all Johns out there.