Several months back, Pastor Peter issued a challenge in his sermon. Take a bag, fill it with the care-package items on the list, then give it to someone in need. But when you do, ask their name. Ask if you can pray for them. Get to know them. When he issued this challenge, I understood what was being asked of us. What I wasn’t prepared for was how I would be affected by the interaction, and what God would reveal to ME by answering this call.
I work in Italian Village, a rapidly growing neighborhood in downtown Columbus. On this particular night in early December, I worked til close and left the shop around 8:30PM. It was colder than usual — temperatures in the single digits — but I knew I wouldn’t make it home if I didn’t stop for gas. I stopped at the Exxon Mobil near my exit at 71-North and 5th Avenue. This isn’t what you might call a “nice” area, especially for a woman alone at night.
When I pulled into the gas station, my usual internal dialogue commenced. “Gas card? Check. Keys? Check. When you get out, lock doors behind you and observe your surroundings.” It was then I noticed a tall, thin man pacing a wall in my headlights. Every part of my brain was throwing red flags. “There are other gas stations down the street. Just start your car and leave.” I sat for a minute in my still-locked car. This man was wearing no gloves, a rain slicker, and beaten-up tennis shoes. I said a quick prayer for my own safety. As I exited the car, something nudged at me from within.
The moment I stepped out of the car, the man at the wall took 2-3 steps forward and spoke. His words were broken, but I made out his request… “Do you have any change?” My brain was already firing again, telling me that if he took any further steps that I was out of there. I told him I would check my car, and did so with my eyes still keenly aware of where he was. He remained still. I only found a few coins, but I offered them to this man. He then asked if it was okay because “I didn’t want to scare you.” My stomach turned and my heart shattered into so many pieces in that moment… How quick I had been to judge…
I knew in that moment what had nudged at me. I was being called, challenged in that moment to get out of my comfort zone and do more. I was being pushed to trust in that moment, to set aside fear and prejudice. I filled my tank, praying the whole time for guidance on what I should do. I had no food or cash. I didn’t have one of the challenge bags. What was I going to do?
I walked over to the wall where this man had returned to his pacing. “Sir, have you eaten today?”
“Can I buy you something from the gas station?”
“What’s your name, sir?”
/pause… “Dwayne.” — I tell you the truth, the look on his face went right through me…
“Well Dwayne, I’m Larryn. And if you’ll let me I’d like to buy you something from the gas station. What can I get for you?”
“Would you buy me a 12-pack of Pepsi?”
So I entered the gas station to buy a 12-pack of Pepsi. It couldn’t have been more than three or four minutes that I was inside, but when I exited the gas station, two other cars were pulling away from Dwayne. He looked at me with tears in his eyes, holding several bills in his hands. Probably $10-20 each. I offered him the Pepsi, and he tried to hand it back. “Are you sure?” I handed him the Pepsi and said it was the least I could do.
The tears streamed down Dwayne’s face. “God is so good to me today. Thank you. God is so good.” He left the station lot repeating those words.
All reason, statistics, and “common sense” reinforced in me that I should never have taken this chance. Worldly prejudice and self-preservation almost won out that night. I don’t always think I listen intently or hear God as loudly as I did at that dark, cold gas station. I do not know where Dwayne is today. What I DO know is that I was called outside my comfort zone that night, and in doing so was made to do God’s work by showing love. I know the importance of scripture and the power of prayer, but I was called to action that night. I realized how comfortably I’ve sat with my scripture, in my prayers… neglecting that our God is a god of action. I’ve realized how much work there is yet to be done when I answer God’s call. That God reveals Himself more fully to us when we share in His love with others.
And so it was on a cold December night at a run-down gas station that God showed Himself to me in the eyes of a man named Dwayne. And humbly I wept… God really is so good.
Matthew 25:40 — “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.’