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Points to Ponder: Chance Encounters?
Points to Ponder
As a new pastor I tried to get out and meet church members, particularly the shut-ins. I'd heard that one of our very elderly ladies was in the hospital so I went to meet her.
I went to her bed by the window, business card and Bible in hand. Her oxygen mask was hanging off her pale thin face. As she looked up, I introduced myself. Little did I know how well-informed she was about church news and my latest stewardship message (in which I'd said we should not rely on fund- raisers to pay church operating expenses).
Upon hearing my name, she rose up in righteous indignation and declared, "I've heard of you! You don't believe in fundraisers. How's the church going to stay open?! I don't want to talk to you!!"
Fearing that my being there a moment longer might kill her, I began to leave. As I passed the gray-haired lady in the next bed, she quietly said, "I'll talk to you." So I stopped to visit with her. She tried to console me with the knowledge that her roommate blasted a variety of people who came to visit.
While we talked, a couple came to see the lady by the window. She proceeded to tell them about that awful pastor who'd just been there, not realizing I hadn't left. After going on about the worthless wretch I was, she added, "but I hear his wife is nice." I guess I should have sent her.
That unpleasant encounter lead to my meeting and visiting regularly with her roommate. Upon her release, she invited me to her home for a lunch of homemade soup with her and her little dog. Many pleasant conversations and a warm friendship developed.
Life consists in a number of these chance encounters. I've never been thrown out of a hospital room before, or since that day, but that event lead to a blessing for that roommate and for me. One door closes, another one opens they say; even if the door hits you on the back side while you're on the way out!
Another time, I went to visit a church member in the hospital and wound up befriending the roommate. The roommate's neighbor was at his bedside. Lengthy theological discussions filled our time together. The neighbor would debate and question numerous things. The patient watched us as one would watch a tennis match.
During the next year or so, I'd be visiting a church member in the hospital and to my surprise this neighbor woman would be in the next room. This time it was her chronically ill husband in the bed. A month or so later, I'd drop by a hospital patient's room and there she and her husband would be; either right next door or at least on that hall.
These encounters lead to her calling me to discuss the Bible and my visiting them at their apartment. When he died, she asked me to conduct his funeral.
I'd thought that they only had one adult son. But at the funeral, I met seven adult children. She nor her husband had mentioned them. There was obvious bitterness and division. Who caused what I do not know. But I was there, and perhaps it was because I had the message they needed to hear. At the graveside service, I spoke about mortality and the inevitability of a near future date when they would be back at that graveside. I admonished them to pursue forgiveness and reconciliation while there was still time.
Unless those "chance" encounters had happened and our relationship, forced by timing and circumstance, had not grown and deepened, they may not have heard that message. None of the family had a church or a pastor. As Mordecai said to Queen Esther of her long-shot good fortune of being the Queen of Persia, perhaps I was crossing paths with that couple "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14).
I have also had chance encounters in which someone crossed my path at the right time for my sake. I imagine our Sovereign God looking from heaven down upon earth, watching the lives of people as they live and move about. How often has He interceded and made my path cross with that of another at just the right time?
While 200 miles from home on a bicycling trip through Roanoke, VA, I'd just used my last spare tube and tire. I needed a bike shop. As I mounted my bike, alongside of me a racing bike with its rider in full garb pulled up. Just in time to give me directions.
While researching the life of 19th century circuit rider Robert Sheffey, a man struck up a conversation as I ate lunch in a Rudford restaurant. Turned out that he happened to know the late author of the book I'd been using to explore Mr. Sheffey's travels.
When I chose a church to attend in Sheffey's boyhood hometown of Abingdon, I happened to meet Mrs. Pat Sheffey, who likewise had researched the man's life. She had married one of his great- grandsons. She is one of the wisest of people and a dear friend today.
Chance meeting? Someone has said that a coincidence is when God acts anonymously.
Look at the faces of the people you pass everyday. Each one has a story, is on a journey, and is a walking library of experiences and knowledge. Through the most unlikely encounters, however brief, God may be helping you more than you know - yet.
"Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is with those who uphold my life" (Psalm 54:4).
Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, of Clear Spring, MD. These articles are also found at www.HilltopChristianFellowship.com
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