“But David encouraged himself
in the LORD his God.”
1 Samuel 30:6b KJV
If anyone had told me that at my age I would be willing to sleep on a hard tile floor and shower in a utility closet, I would have said, “No Way!” But God had His plans for me.
Several years ago I, along with a group of others, ventured on a Mission Trip to the St Louis, Missouri area. We had three days of hot, sweaty, fun sleeping on the tile floor of a local church, bathing with a water hose in a utility closet and spending our days running block parties in the local area. We pulled a trailer, cheerfully painted on the outside, to draw the attention of children as we passed through their neighborhoods. Filled with snowcone, popcorn, and drink machines, games of all sorts, food, and prizes galore, we definitely drew a crowd.
We set up five block parties in three days and had a great time providing food, fun, and the gospel. When it was over, we were physically wiped out—tired but happy and feeling good about our weekend and those who responded to the call of Christ.
On our trip home, we stopped in Terre Haute, Indiana, to fill our vehicles with fuel. As I stepped out of the van and walked toward the double glass doors of the convenience store, I noticed a man sitting on the curb. His only companion the hammered silver doors above his head which read, “Ice 99 cents a bag.”
His appearance startled me. He looked like my brother—wearing a black tee shirt and jeans, sporting a beard, and long salt and pepper hair pulled back in a ponytail under a baseball cap. His face told a thousand stories. I stared for a moment too long then continued into the store.
Once inside, I quietly asked a pastor friend, “Did you see that man sitting on the curb?” I did not wait for him to respond. “Somebody needs to talk to him about Jesus.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Me.” I queried?
“You,” he smiled and walked away.
Me! Okay then, I thought to myself as I meandered through the store trying to think about whether I had the courage to strike up a casual conversation about Jesus with this stranger.
Finally, I paid for my purchases and walked out the door. After a few steps toward the van, my feet changed directions as my body followed.
“Sir, I am so sorry for staring at you, but you look just like my brother.
I felt awkward and supposed he would think me crazy or rude for staring. His response surprised me.
“Do I?” he replied with a slight grin.
“Yes, sir you do. He wears black tee shirts and jeans and a baseball cap. His hair is like yours, and he wears it in a ponytail. He lives in North Carolina.”
“By the way, my name is Joyce,” I extended my hand.
“Hi, Joyce, I’m Harold. It’s nice to meet you.”
Our hands met in a quick hello, and I could feel my shoulders relaxing as my body breathed a sigh of relief.
“It’s nice to meet you as well, Harold. I’m with a church group going back to Michigan from St Louis,” I began. I rambled, and he listened.
When I asked Harold if he lived in the area, he began telling me his story. Only passing through, he pointed across the street and down the highway as he explained that his car was sitting on the side of the road broken while he waited for a junk man to arrive and give him $50.00.
Before I knew what was happening, I began asking a plethora of questions. What are you going to do? Do you have family you can call? Where are you headed? Where are you going to sleep tonight?
His answers saddened me. “I don’t know what I am going to do. I haven’t seen my family in a very long time. I’m just driving. I heard there is a mission in town where I can spend the night.”
I do not know why he answered my questions except that I asked them. I wondered how long it had been since anyone had asked those kinds of questions of him.
I explained my sorrow because I didn’t know anything about the city. I suggested he call a local church and see if they might offer some help. He then asked me the question that sparked our Jesus conversation.
“What denomination are you?” he smiled.
“We’re Baptist,” I said holding my breath and hoping that he had never had a bad experience with Baptists.
“I’m a Baptist,” his smile broadened as he reached into his backpack and began pulling out a small tattered black leather Bible.
My heart raced as he stretched out his arm and handed me his prized possession.
Knowing that “being a Baptist” doesn’t mean that you know Jesus, I knew I needed to ask.
“Tell me, Harold, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
“Yes, November 14, 1978. I gave my heart to Jesus. I haven’t always stayed with Him, but He has never left me. I carry this Bible everywhere I go. It is a King James Bible. I read it a lot. Sometimes the language is hard to understand; especially when I am trying to explain it to other men I meet when I sleep in a mission or someplace like that.”
His words exposed what I already expected. Harold had been living like this for a very long time.
“Well Harold,” I began, we have been handing out New Testaments in a modern translation of the Bible. Would you like to have one to go along with your King James Version? It might be helpful. I would be happy to give you one.”
Harold affirmed that he would like that, and as I turned to walk toward the van, my pastor friend walked toward me—a Bible in hand. He wore a huge smile as he handed it to me. “Thought you might need this.”
Harold received it gratefully, and I knew that our time together was coming to a close. I assured Harold that I would be praying for him, reiterated my suggestion that he call a local church to see if they could help and suggested that he get back in touch with his family.
I extended my hand, and Harold received it warmly. Like me, he seemed to understand that we had made a lifetime connection. Feeling the tears welling up, I released his hand.
“God bless you, Harold.”
“God bless you, Joyce, and thank you.”
Tears flowed as we pulled away from the gas pumps and out of Harold’s life forever. I prayed that God would protect him and solve his current crisis, that he would reconnect with family and stop driving to nowhere, and that he would remember that someone was praying for him.
Several weeks later my husband and I, on our way to Illinois, drove west on I-40. As we neared the Terre Haute, Indiana exit, traffic was being diverted off the interstate and through Terre Haute. We followed the road until it came to an intersection and we turned left. That is when I saw it—The Lighthouse Mission. Immediately my mind raced backward to my recent encounter with Harold. I wondered if he might have spent the night in that mission. The sign out front displayed a phone number, and my sweet husband drove slowly until I could get a pen and write it down. I immediately began dialing. I wanted to hear someone tell me that Harold had been there and that he was ok.
I spoke with a woman giving details of the date and Harold’s full name hoping that she could tell me something. “No,” she said. They did require their guests to register but she could not find Harold listed for that weekend or any other. She offered the name and phone number of another ministry in town. I thanked her and quickly dialed the number. They had no record of Harold.
“Maybe he took my advice and called a church,” I tearfully smiled at my husband. “Maybe he called his family and went home.”
“Maybe he did, honey. I’m sure he is okay,” my sweetheart consoled me.
“I’m sure,” I replied. Maybe he was an angel, I thought to myself as a smile crept across my lips.
I never forgot Harold or our brief encounter. His sweet spirit and confidence in God reminded me that the outside wrapping does not necessarily display what is inside the package. As for me, I have remained grateful to God for interrupting my plans and allowing me to sleep on a cold tile floor and bathe in a utility closet for I was both encouraged and reminded that some of life’s greatest blessings come wrapped in the most unexpected packages.
© Joyce Powell