By Thom Mollohan
About 15 years ago, I took a team of college students on a mission trip to minister to migrant workers in a resort town. At the end of an especially demanding day of labor, I was walking back to our headquarters with a young man from our group along a darkened boardwalk that connected miscellaneous shops and restaurants to each other with little patios at various intervals. By day this segment was lined with tourists casually browsing through various amusements, shopping for whatnots and trying all sorts of delectable cuisine. But at night it was dark, mostly deserted and barren of any sense of wholesomeness. The police generally stayed away from that part of town at night—although I didn’t know it at the time.
As we walked, my companion chatted easily about everything from girls to job prospects for the rest of the summer and his success as a black belt in karate. As we came to one particularly remote portion of the walkway, someone hailed us from a shadowy corner.
“Could I have a drink of water?” he called out in a voice that left me unsure if he spoke with an accent or if his speech was somewhat slurred.
I slowed down just enough to see a dark form seated on one of the tourist chairs commonly found there. He appeared to be a young man in his early twenties, but given the way his eyes were abnormally sunken into his head, I was only guessing. My friend and I were both carrying water bottles. I slung mine off my shoulder and walked over to the man who I began to see more clearly as I approached. I offered him the water bottle and he took it from my hands appreciatively. After he pulled the bottle from his mouth, he offered it back to me. I smiled weakly and gestured that he keep it. “It’s okay,” I said, “you might be thirsty later.”
He took another drink, wiped his mouth, and then rolled his head strangely to one side. “Hey, are you CIA?” he asked gruffly, looking at me suspiciously.
“Um, no,” I answered somewhat startled.
His eyes narrowed a bit. “Are you KGB then?” I shook my head. “FBI?” he asked, his eyes narrowing to slits as doubt suddenly coated his tone.
Not having experienced a situation like this before, I did not know how to respond. I responded hoping not to say anything inflammatory, “No, no, my friend and I are here sharing God’s love with people.”
He smiled and stood up, wobbling as he did so. I realized then that he was probably on a bad heroine trip. Still, it didn’t seem right or wise to abruptly end our conversation. I was also wondering how God might use this situation.
The man, who said his name was Ramos, briefly told us how he had come to work in that town. But then he stopped, and with a wild look in his eye, he asked me again, “You said you’re not CIA?”
“No,” I again replied.
“They’re everywhere,” he whispered leaning towards me. “Are you sure you’re not KGB?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Are you from outer-space?” This question seemed out of rhythm with his other queries, but I responded with conviction that I was not from outer-space, but that I was a Christian telling people about God’s love.
He remained friendly and mild for few more moments but then suddenly looked at me savagely rearing back his right arm as if he were going to hit one of us.
“So do you want to feel my pain?” he snarled at me. At once I noticed in the very dim light that he was holding an empty hypodermic needle in his hand ready to strike! There was nobody else around, so what could we do?
For a split second I remembered that my companion was a black belt in karate. But my hopes were quickly dashed when I saw his sagging jaw wagging in the wind in astonishment. It was the only part of his body which was moving. Since I was responsible for him and he was clearly in no frame of mind to defend himself, I instinctively pivoted my body so that I was between the attacker and my friend.
A prayer instantly lifted from my heart to heaven as quick as an exhaled breath. I looked the disturbed man in the eye and simply said, “No. But I know Someone Who can bring healing to your pain.” His rage instantly melted as he flopped back into his chair.
“Do you really?” he asked wearily.
Though my friend and I were not sure what he would remember when he came back to earth, we went on to explain to him how sin—doing what we want instead of what God wants—separates us from fellowship with God. We shared that God sent His Son into this cruel, hard world to bring us hope. We explained the promise that God Himself made to save any and all who call on His Son in faith.
Curiously, Ramos did not lash out again, but instead, allowed us to pray with him. We prayed that he would experience the healing of his heart by God’s love and be set free from his addictions. Afterwards, we offered to walk him home. He refused our offer, but thanked us for the kindness we had displayed. With the Bible we gave him in one hand and a water bottle in the other, he staggered off into the darkness quickly disappearing into the shadows. We tried to follow him to find out where he lived, so we could be certain that he made it home alright, but we could not tell which way he went. We then returned to our base.
We came back to that same spot over the next few days, but did not see him again. Unfortunately, we found out no more about him. We were not able to find anyone who knew the man. Still, we know that it was a divine appointment arranged by our Father in heaven. Through what seemed to us to be a simple act of service and words which may have fallen all over themselves, we believe God still sowed seeds of hope in one man’s broken life. It’s good to know, wherever I go, that God can bring healing to even the most wounded of souls, hope to even the most forlorn and lost hearts, and freedom to those ensnared by sin, hate or bitterness.
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:4, 7.