OK, one more “that time I helped someone” story:
This one happened in Florida, late one morning when the intercom from the front office told me, “There’s a man on the phone who wants to talk to the pastor.”
I knew how these conversations usually went. But I wasn’t all that busy and was feeling fairly pastoral, so I said, “OK, I’ll talk to him.”
It was a little different than what I expected. He didn’t ask anything of me other than wanting to have lunch with me. I was free for lunch, so when he told me where he was, I told him I would meet him at the barbecue restaurant just a quick walk away.
When I arrived at Woody’s, I figured that he was the guy standing by the front door, so I introduced myself, we went inside and sat down.
I told him lunch was on me. I was fairly certain a request for help would eventually come, so I was prepared to pick up the tab. When the waitress came, I ordered a lunch special, but he only got a plate of fries and some ice water. Interesting.
As we waited for our food he did most of the talking and I mostly listened. He was an experienced truck driver and was on his way to St. Augustine for his next job. He didn’t have his own truck, but was meeting someone for his next haul.
The food arrived in a few minutes, and while I enjoyed some pulled pork and sweet tea, he launched into a lengthly monologue about driving truck, his experiences and what he hoped his future would look like.
“You know all those orange and blue trailers you see on the road? Those are all beginners. That’s their first job. Trust me, they aren’t making much money. Barely enough to get by. They are just learning how to drive, so when you see them, give them lots of room.” I took his word for it, though I didn’t know if that was a fact.
I did ask, “So how long do you have to drive before you are making good money?”
He said, “At least ten years. Until then, you aren’t making anything. Most drivers don’t last that long. You have to stay clean — no record, no drugs, no alcohol. Most can’t do it. Companies can’t find drivers who are clean and most guys who want to drive can’t get jobs.”
Our conversation went on for about an hour. Mostly about truck, a little bit about family, and of course a mention of church life, since I’m a pastor and all. Then he mentioned that he just need to get up to St. Augustine to pick up the truck for the next job.
I said, “I can give you a ride.” He was meeting someone at a place near the outlet mall. Half-an-hour away, not a problem. Of course, in the back of my mind a voice tried to tell me I probably shouldn’t do this alone. But I didn’t feel threatened and he seemed honest enough, so we headed up the interstate to his destination.
On the way we talked about where he had lived in Florida, his time in the military, his kids, who were grown and living somewhere, and of course a quick mention of wanting to get back to church. In fact, when he was in the area, he would probably stop in.
When we got to the motel, he told me his truck was arriving the next day. I wasn’t going to just leave him there, so I went inside and paid for a hotel room for him.
As I drove home, I marveled at how he chose to spend a couple of hours with me rather than just asking for some help. I don’t know if he had practiced that skill, or if it just worked out that way. But it was effective. I probably would have said no to an outright request, but was willing to help as the need unfolded. Pretty clever. I’ll bet anyone could use that strategy. Invite someone into your life, gradually unfold your need, and let them be a part of your story.
I didn’t come away from that encounter feeling used. Instead, I was fascinated how our lives had intersected for just a moment in time. I learned a lot. Every time I see one of those trailers on the highway, I remember that day and what he told me about those drivers. I also think often about my vocation, and how people seek out a pastor for help. I’m safe, often generous and usually compassionate. I didn’t do any preaching or teaching that day, just bought a guy lunch and gave him a ride. Ministry moments aren’t spectacular. Neither was Jesus. Maybe that’s the point.