My mother, like yours, told me never to give rides to strangers. So when I saw a small-framed person bent over on the side of Highway 96 one wet morning, I decided to keep going. I was just leaving our Fairview site and was heading back to Franklin for a meeting with Charles Valdez, the chairman of the GraceWorks board—and my boss. Besides if I stopped to help, I would be late or even miss this important meeting entirely.
However, as I kept watching the figure in my rearview mirror, God reminded me of the heart of the message of the Good Samaritan; it is not about traditional conveniences, protocols or human logic, but more about broadening an understanding of who is your Neighbor, and then meeting a true and unmet need of your fellow man. Oh boy! Okay God, I will turn around and go back to help him/her (?)—I really couldn’t tell which. All I saw was long blond hair and a small frame in wet jeans and a waterlogged sweater.
I made a quick U-turn and headed back toward the figure who was now walking slowly with a pronounced tired limp. As I pulled beside the person, I saw it was a young man, maybe in his twenties. I asked if I could help and he told me his name was Michael and that he was tired and hungry and had been walking for a long long time, literally all the way from Florida!
Even though he was walking in the direction I had just come from, I offered to take him in the direction I was heading so I could take him to GraceWorks in Franklin and make my meeting on time, (yep I wanted helping him to be convenient). He denied my offer, saying he had walked too far to go backwards and asked if I could give him food instead. I didn’t have any.
But seeing he was wet and tired, I invited him to sit in my car for a few minutes. I saw he was leery of getting in, so I said “I imagine your mom told you never to get in the car with strangers, but God told me to be kind to strangers for you never know when you entertain angels unaware.” Michael got in.
As we sat he shared a bit about himself and told me his mom was no longer living. He was walking to a county west of Fairview to go live with a relative. He also was a songwriter. He told me of his hopes and dreams. I prayed with him, gave him some money and then pulled off. I started down the highway, still watching him in the rearview mirror and thinking I was on my way to Franklin, but God told me to turn around.
A second U-turn and again I was beside him. He was as surprised to see me as I was to be there. It was not my plan to turn around, but God would not let me leave him (despite the meeting with the board chair!).
I invited Michael to get into the car again and ended up driving him all the way to GraceWorks West, after first stopping in a drive-through to get him a meal. As we rode, Michael told me of his tendency to run from joy, feeling he didn’t deserve it—even going to the point of sometimes inflicting pain on himself when he felt he was experiencing too much joy. I reminded him that joy was one of the fruits of the Spirit and therefore was definitely a gift directly from God’s hand to his heart. As I dropped him off into the ready and compassionate hands of the staff at our Fairview site where I knew he would get dry clothes and some portable food, I reminded him of God’s love for him and God’s desire for him to receive and give joy in order to pass it on to others.
I often say God divinely appoints who walks through the doors of GraceWorks seeking help. Michael was mine. On this particular day, God decided that I would serve a Neighbor outside the walls of GraceWorks; in fact, the place on the road where I picked Michael up was almost exactly between the Franklin and Fairview sites. Nonetheless, the principles of Neighbor serving Neighbor still applied. It was His grace that guided me to stop (twice!) for Michael and put his need above my own and above my schedule. In this encounter, I was the other Neighbor—the one who was transformed by serving because God blessed me to be used by Him.
As we celebrate National Volunteer Week, to commemorate the many men and women who volunteer throughout GraceWorks, I can’t thank you enough for all the ways you allowed yourself to be used by God. I pray you have also experienced a strong sense of God’s divinely appointed encounters while serving with us, whether it was with a Neighbor, a customer or a fellow volunteer. Thank you for being part of this ministry that transforms the lives of others while at the same time transforming yours. We are not GraceWorks without you!
By the Power of Grace,
Valencia A. Breckenridge, CEO
p.s. Charles and I did end up having a lovely meeting due to his kind patience and understanding as he waited for me to show up.