Last night my 16-year-old daughter, Jennie, called me to tell me she and her friend, Jacob, had stopped to help a woman who ran out of gas just outside of town. This woman’s 13-year-old son was walking back toward town, along with the woman’s boyfriend, and they had gone to look for them and give them a ride.
By the time Jennie called, they had picked up the boy, and he was in the car with them. I don’t know where the mom and boyfriend were, but they were not with my daughter. All she knew about this boy in the car was that his name was Lance and he was 13. While she was on the line, I was asking all kinds of questions. Where is he from? What’s his last name? Where exactly are you?
At this point, the story wasn’t entirely clear, and I wasn’t totally certain my daughter was safe. A wave of fear hit.
My first reaction had been, ‘Awesome. I’m glad they’re helping these people out. What great kids.’
And then as she talked, I started to think about it. Analyze it. Who was this woman? Who was her boyfriend? Were they safe? Were these strangers under the influence of some type of substance? Was the whole thing a scheme, and were these people really just looking for a victim to rob or worse? This was the kind of thing that could easily make a headline.
I immediately went to prayer and asked God to cover this situation. God, please keep my daughter and her friend safe. I couldn’t come up with anything else, but just the same, that brief moment of fear and doubt dissolved and I was left with peace. Faithfully, the Holy Spirit filled me with that peace that surpasses all understanding. And I knew Jennie and Jacob were just fine.
Now I know what the world thinks of this. I’ve been there before. In fact, I’ve been there in recent weeks. There’s been a sizeable debate in my house about taking risks, assessing situations and trusting that God will protect you wherever He sends you.
This all reminds me of a story from a few years back, right around Christmas. I was coming out of a meeting at a local restaurant, when a woman in the parking lot caught my eye. She appeared to be going from car to car, talking to the people about something urgent. I got in my van and suddenly couldn’t find my cell phone, so rushed back in to search the meeting room where I had eaten. It wasn’t there.
When I got back to my vehicle, to my simultaneous frustration and relief, my phone was right there on the seat where I’d put it when I got in the first time. How could I have missed it the first time?
Before I knew it, here was that woman from before at my window. I rolled it down, and she explained to me that she and her family were traveling through Montana and had run out of money and were about to run out of gas. Looking in her vehicle, I saw several small children and a man, her husband. He didn’t speak English, which is why the woman was the one doing the talking.
I told her to follow me to the gas station adjacent to the restaurant and I’d fill her up. As I was pumping her gas, she told me that she was going to get to the nearest Wal-Mart to return some Christmas gifts so she would have money for food and gas for the remainder of her journey. The news reporter in me was asking all kinds of questions.
Where are you going? Where are you from? Why are you moving?
She told me that she and her husband were out of work and trying to get to their family for help and a new start. I looked in her vehicle again and noticed that the kids looked really cold. I don’t remember much about their faces, but I remember their disheveled hair and their eyes, which were sweet, bright, innocent and full of excitement about this stranger who was talking to their mom.
I asked if they had coats, and she said no. She also shared that the heater in the car didn’t work, and if you know what the temperature is like in the Northern United States in December, you know that it would be miserable to travel for hours and hours on end in a car with no heat.
Without even a second thought, I told her to follow me to my house where I had a huge closet full of old blankets and comforters. I gave her five, one for each child and one for her and her husband to share. I gave them the warmest stuff I had, along with snacks for the road. She had shared that they hadn’t eaten.
Before you say, ‘Aww, what a nice thing to do,’ let me fill in some blanks.
Somewhere between the gas station and my house, I started to panic. Because I started to think. I just invited total strangers to follow me to my house. They could rob me blind or kill me. I called my mom and kept her on the line for the remainder of my interaction with this family. And I beat myself up for being so foolish as to just show strangers where I live. As I was gathering items from my house, I locked the door behind me, just in case.
After I gave them the blankets and food, eliciting a joyful series of squeals and laughter from the kids in the back seat, they drove away. I pulled my cell phone, which was still connected to my mom, out of my coat pocket and told her all was well. Like a mom, she said, ‘Okay, it worked out fine this time, but don’t ever do that again.’
What started out as an immediate reaction to my fellow man in need somehow had been tainted by my fears and lack of faith, feelings that had been planted by immersion in a world that tells us that the only people we should help are people we know and trust. People who are in the same ‘class’ as us from a socio-economic standpoint.
And then I was ashamed. Initially, I was ashamed that I had put myself at risk. Even more, I was ashamed for being ashamed. Hadn’t I done the right thing? The internal conflict was huge. But why?
The Bible is clear on these matters.
Let’s look at Matthew 25:31-46.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I returned back to my office that day and shared this story with one of my co-workers, who I knew was a Christian, and asked for her input. Of course, working in open quarters, everyone in the building was aware of my story and before long, it was circulating around our little town.
About two weeks later I was getting my hair cut when someone in the salon asked, ‘Aren’t you the one who invited that Indian family to dinner at your house a couple of weeks ago?’ I almost choked on my own saliva.
Of course like all stories, mine had evolved as it was passed from person to person, and I wasn’t sure if I should be amused or annoyed. I corrected the inquisitive woman and explained that the family was of Hispanic ethnicity, which is not the same as Native American. Here in our little corner where the demographics are about 95 percent caucasian, I’m certain that many people truly can’t tell the difference. Not that it matters, it’s just a detail. And I’m a detail person.
I also recounted the rest of the story, and I could sense that the previous discussions, those that had taken place without me present, were conducted in a way that said, ‘Wow. What an idiot. Who does that? Who puts themselves at risk like that?’
Then I was annoyed.
So getting back to my daughter’s story, I was amazed at how quickly I moved from being proud of her and Jacob for their actions to being fearful that they’d gotten themselves into a situation that could go south very quickly.
By the time they got back to my house to tell me all about it in person, I was glad I’d had the ability to call scripture to mind that reminded me that they did do the right thing. They’d assessed the situation, felt right about it, and moved in obedience to God’s call to help ‘the least of these.’
I also remembered a verse that talks about moving in obedience and not talking ourselves out of doing what’s right. Isn’t that what we do? We get these nudges to help people and then talk ourselves out of it for one reason or another? We trust our worldly knowledge and reason ourselves out of following our Biblical call to help the least of these.
When Jennie got home I had a choice. I could chastise her and Jacob for putting themselves at risk and tell them that even though they were lucky this time, ‘Next time be more careful and just keep driving,’ or I could tell them, ‘Well done.’ I chose the latter.
Dare I say my daughter is more like her mother than she’d admit? And dare I say that’s okay?
What about you? Would you stop to help the stranger?