In the late nineties, I had taken a team of college students on a mission trip to a resort town wherein there lived and worked several hundred migrant workers from several different countries.
At the end of an especially demanding day, a young man in our group was accompanying me back to our headquarters. We walked along a darkened boardwalk that connected miscellaneous shops and restaurants to each other with little patios attached to it at various intervals. In the daylight this was normally lined with families of tourists casually browsing through various amusements, shopping for miscellaneous what-nots and trying out of all sorts of delectable cuisines. But at night, it was dark, mostly deserted and barren of any sense of wholesomeness.
Nevertheless, it was the path that we had to tread that night. As we walked along, my companion breezily chattered on about the experiences he’d had during the week and, spurred on by my occasional exclamations of interest, moved on to other matters of his life including girls in which he’d been interested, job prospects for the rest of the summer and his success as a black belt karate student.
As we traversed a particularly remote portion of the walkway, someone hailed us from a shadowy corner of one of the patio areas. “Could I have a drink of water?” he called out in a voice that left me unsure if he had an accent or if his speech was somewhat slurred. Still, I slowed down just enough to see a dark form seated on one of the tourist chairs commonly found there. My younger friend and I were both carrying water bottles. I unslung my bottle from 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. He was a young man, in his early twenties I guessed though his eyes seemed abnormally sunken into his head.
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 replied, “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 as he looked at me sideways.
“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 and suspicion suddenly coating his tone.
Not often being in that situation, I was unsure how to respond but decided that by no means would I say anything inflammatory (I hoped). “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 very much under the influence of some sort of drug. Still, it didn’t seem right or even wise to abruptly end the conversation and I was also wondering what God might do with the situation if I remained alert to His leading.
The man, who said his name was Ramos, briefly told us how he had come to work in this town. But then he stopped and, with a wild look in his eye, asked me again, “Are you 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, convincingly I hope, that I was not from outer-space but was a Christian telling people about God’s love.
He was again friendly and mild for few more moments but then suddenly looked at me savagely and reared his right arm back as if he were going to hit one of us.
“So do you want to feel my pain?” he snarled at me. For the first time I noticed in the very dim light that he was holding an empty hypodermic needle in his hand poised for stabbing. Hmm, there was nobody else around us at all.
For a split second I was glad that my companion had a black belt in karate. But the only part of him moving was his sagging jaw wagging in the wind. Also, I was responsible for him so I pivoted my body towards the stranger to make certain that I was between him and my young friend.
As a prayer lifted from my heart to heaven as quick as an exhaled breath, I looked him in the eye and simply said, “No. But I know Someone Who can bring healing to your pain.” He instantly calmed down and flopped back into his chair.
“Do you?” he asked quietly.
Though my friend and I were not sure what he might remember when he “came back to earth,” we told him how sin (doing what we want over what God wants) separates us from fellowship with God. We shared that God sent His Son into this cruel, hard world so that He might bring to us hope. We explained to the young man the promise that God Himself made to save any and all who in faith call on His Son.
Ramos allowed us to pray for him, that he might experience the healing of his heart in God’s love, and with a Bible we gave him in one hand and a water bottle in the other, he staggered off into the darkness.
We returned to that spot over the next few days, but we never found out any more about him. Nobody seemed to know who we were talking about. Still, we know that it was a divine appointment arranged by our Father in heaven. Through what seems to us often to be awkward acts of service or words that fall all over themselves, God was still somehow sowing seeds of hope in a broken man’s life.
And 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 of hearts, and freedom to those ensnared by sin, hate, or bitterness.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, Who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:4-7 ESV).
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.