I spotted an open chair, splashed in sunlight in the corner of the room where a young man sat scrunched over a newspaper. “Is this taken,” I asked? He gestured for me to sit down. When I got settled I tilted my face toward the beam. “Beautiful day,” I said, mostly to myself, yet the man acknowledged it, and agreed. Soon we were in a lively conversation about his interests and upbringing.
“Did God play a part in your early years,” I asked? At this, our friendly chatter took a turn. He leaned forward and looked at me with a serious expression. “I have 18 Bibles at home, one for each year of perfect attendance in Sunday school.” “Wow, pretty impressive,” I said. “You still read them?” He shook his head. “Some are cartoon in nature, and others have my name on the cover.” His tone suggested that the bibles were no longer a subject of pride, yet something also told me there was more, much more to his story. “Want to talk about it,” I asked?
That’s when Jeff recounted his journey. After 18 years of Sunday school, he said he became disillusioned and stopped going. For about five years he was off the grid. But then one day he was struck by a car, and while lying under the wheels with serious injuries he made a promise to God to return to his faith if he survived. “How’s that promise going,” I asked? He shrugged, “not so good.” A few things he had mentioned made we curious if he really understood the grace of God, the true gospel.
That’s when I dove head first into my own story of hitch hiking trips, letters from a stranger and finally highlighting when I first understood the true message of Jesus. At this point he stopped me and asked, “Back up a bit; tell me the true message that stranger wrote in those letters to you.”
His eyes told me he wanted to believe, but his body language grew rigid, defensive. While he squirmed, I began. I told him about how God spared my life after I fell asleep at the wheel in high school, literally moved the car around a telephone pole. “I began to see that I was not the only person in the universe,” I said. “The stranger had told me that God was using events in my life to grab my attention.” Then I talked about a picture I had bought in high school of a man bending over a cliff to save a wayward lamb, and how it never dawned on me that that man was Jesus. “The night I returned to my dorm room after receiving Christ was the first time I saw Him as the figure bending over that cliff,” I explained. “Jesus said he would leave the 99 and go after the one errant lamb, and that lamb was me.” I told him more about the stranger who picked me up and how that half hour conversation had changed the trajectory of my life, because through that man I felt Jesus Christ appealing to me, bending me toward Him and into relationship. I read and re-read his letters, and they gave me a roadmap to find my way to God.
He kept shaking his head saying, “it’s just unbelievable.” In the final splashes of a sun-drenched afternoon, we bowed our heads, and I prayed for him. When it was over, tears hung in his eyes. “Thank you,” he said. “I have a lot to think about.” While I walked away, the thought occurred to me that Russ, the stranger who had sent me letters, had given me something tangible to read and re-read. To this day I keep them in a safe place. But for Jeff, God intended him to meet a living letter, a man who sought rest on a chair in the sun, and ended up taking time to remind him of a promise he had made fighting for his life under the wheel of a car. I prayed that Jeff would pick up one of his 18 Bibles, and come home to a Father who has waited patiently for his return.