Monday, July 23, 2007

The Hitch Hiker

Bee Gees Song of the Day: Tragedy

“Here I lie, in a lost and lonely part of town
Held in time, in a world of tears I slowly drown”

I sent this email to my family on January 23, 2003 after an interesting encounter on a very cold January day. Wind chills were -26° F, and I saw someone walking on the road while I was going to work. At the time, I felt that I would be a very bad Catholic if I didn’t stop and give this person a chance to warm up in my car, so I let him in...


I want to tell you something bizzare that happened to me this morning. I'm driving into work late and the cold is just bitter. Wind chills are 20 - 30 below, its just bitter. (The breeze Gramma loved so well is working against us.) Anyway, I'm driving in the hills to get to work and I see a fella walking. Now normally, I don't pick up hitch hikers, but no one should have to walk in this cold. So against my better judgment, I stopped and asked him if he needed a ride.

Big kid. Well, young man really, but he came across as being developmentally disabled. His manner of speaking was slow and deliberate and loud. I would have pegged him though between 19 and 25 years old.

Immediately, as he is closing the car door, he says "What church do you go to?" "The Catholic Church. Do you go to church?" "Yes. The Christian Church right up here." "Oh, good. So where are you walking to? Where can I drive you?" "To the store." "Uhm, the store up at the corner here that is closed, or the Mobile Station further ahead?" "The Mobile Station." Since it was on my way (and that's really as far as I planned to take him anyway) I took off.

"You know," he says, "We're ALL Christian. The Lutherans, the Protestants, the're Christian aren't you?"

This must have been important to him, and I responded, "Yes, you are right, we are all Christian. Catholics are Christian."

He continued, "We all believe that Jesus is Lord. And that is good. Only one religion doesn't believe in God and that is the ATHEISTS!".

Not sure where this was going I said, ”You are right. They don't believe in God at all."

The young man persisted, "And if you don't accept Jesus in your heart, you won't go to heaven, right? Those Jehovah Witnesses, they don't have Christmas in their heart all year round, they just don't have Christmas in their heart."

Might be an attempt at evangelization. "Well, no they don't have Christmas in their heart because they don't believe that Jesus is Christ. But I believe they are good people trying to live their lives and their faith as best as they can. They go out and try to witness to people. Sometimes I think they do more than some Christians I know. We have to try to respect everybody."

Well that was just no good for my rider, "Well, it takes more than just being a good person to go to heaven."

I didn’t want to agree just for the sake of agreeing, "Well, I don't know. A person can't help being born into a certain situation. It’s not a persons fault if they are born into an atheist family. But God still loves them very much and if they live a good life and don't do anything bad, I think they can still go to heaven."

He thought about this. "Oh. Well. But you have to accept Jesus in your heart and then you go straight to heaven!"

I said, "As long as you stay a good person. Some people believe in Jesus, but do bad things. And they probably don't go to heaven."

"Not if you REALLY accept Jesus in your heart." I could see his point.

"Well, there are some evangelists who weren’t honest to people and took their money, and think about the Catholic priests who did terrible things to kids. They might not go to heaven."

"Yeah, but if you accept Jesus in your heart and you don't do ANY more bad things, then you go straight to heaven, right?" He really sounded like he was 6 or 7 years old.

"Yes, I guess you would."

"Look at Ted Bundy," (this statement should have inspired more fear in me than it did. In retrospect, I really should have gotten the willies), "he accepted Jesus in his heart and do you think he went to heaven?"

"I don't really know. He killed a lot of people," (it occurred to me as I said this that perhaps I shouldn't be reminding this stranger what Ted Bundy did to lone women), "and I guess only God knows what was in Ted Bundy's heart when he died. He might have to be punished for all those people he killed, don't you think?" I didn't think it was the right time to engage him in the theological merits and Catholic Doctrine on purgatory.

Unconvinced, my rider said, "Yeah. Maybe."

So by this time, I'm heading down the hill and the Mobile is in sight, and my throat hasn't been slit yet. I'm thinking I might be OK. I pull into the Mobile, to the side and this kid (who never stopped talking) opens the door. Directly in front of me, a big huge snow plow wants to get by, but can't because this kids butt is sticking out the back door and he's still talking, not backing out.

"Honey, the plow wants to get by, you have to close the door." I'm anxiously looking at the huge orange plow. "Honey he wants to get by, you have to go now." The kid was babbling about Jesus and I had no idea how to make him shut the door. "You take care, I have to go." The last thing he said was "Divorce is bad. Forgiveness is good." He finally shuts the door.

Freshly divorced at the time, I had no idea how to take that little parting shot, since we weren’t talking about divorce, but about accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be taking a grander message from this meeting and I pondered it the rest of the way in to work. I eventually forgot about it.

My family berated me for picking up a hitch hiker. My mom was convinced with the Ted Bundy reference that my little Christian friend was a killer on the loose and that I had behaved very irresponsibly. I was lucky to be alive. (The good news was that with the bitter cold, my corpse would have been preserved for a period of time, maintaining any forensic evidence left behind.)

In retrospect, I think it was just a chance encounter with a young man on fire for his Lord taking the opportunity to evangelize to someone. But you never know…


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