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…and I Never Got Their Name…

April 2, 2014

This is an excerpt from my most recent book, Gas Tank Chronicles, telling of my exploits as an itinerant circuit riding evangelist on my own back in the 1980s.  I had no sponsoring organization or regular donors – I literally went on faith, trusting the Lord to give me enough gas to fill the tank to the next place.  I had thrown all of my earthly possessions into my Dodge Aspen and traveled the country, speaking in over a hundred churches and schools.  I slept in truck stops, ate at McDonalds, and preached in some of the most rural churches in the nation.  The original adventure was planned to be three months. 

It continued for two years. 

It was a spiritual journey that I’ll never forget. 

This passage deals with some anonymous Samaritans and generous hearts that will receive a whoppin’ big reward in Heaven:

After finishing meetings in Florida, I awoke at a truck stop in Pensacola and looked at my upcoming schedule. Opening my journal, I checked my next spot on the calendar and I saw that I needed to head back to the grand state of Arizona. I was scheduled for a week of meetings, and I noted that the church pastor wanted me to emphasize personal discipleship. I closed my calendar and pointed the car toward the west. I had a one-day chapel in Amarillo, Texas, and then a straight shot through New Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona.

Though I pulled out, gassed up and checked the oil, my Aspen was running rough.1bbb More than once I’d had to refill the radiator, and the water pump was acting unreliable. A few hoses needed to be replaced as well as a fan belt, but otherwise I thought it would hold up. As I rode through Alabama, the wheel’s alignment was bad enough to start the car shaking every time I hit fifty miles per hour. By the time I rode through Mississippi I was smelling odd odors coming through the dashboard. In Louisiana it was getting worse, and the car was shaking almost continually. The constant battling with the wheel and the smells were getting to me, and by late nightfall I pulled into a Louisiana diner and flopped against the counter, my head pounding. It was after midnight and the diner was nearly empty.

I held my head in my hands as a friendly waitress came over. “What can I get you?” she smiled.

I lifted my head momentarily and squinted at her. My eyeballs felt like they were on fire.  “Coffee, And something for a headache, if you have anything,” I said while squinting.

Her smile faded. “All I can give you is aspirin.”

I blinked against the glare of the light. “That’s exactly what I’d like. Two, if you –“

I looked around. She was already gone.

Wow. She was already getting me the medicine. I’d tip her nicely, I thought. But she didn’t come back. In about two minutes, another waitress came over and quietly poured my coffee.

“Say,” I gulped against the pain. “Did the other waitress get my aspirin yet? My car’s been running funny since I left a church back in Florida,” I said, “and the constant noises and smells seem to have given me a headache.”

The second waitress stepped back and blinked. “Oh.”

I smiled weakly. “Could she get here soon? I need to make a church in Amarillo by morning time.”

The second waitress was flustered. “Oh. She – uh – thought you were… well, the truth is, we don’t carry aspirin, and she went back and –“ She looked helpless.

Despite my headache I had to laugh. “No, please tell her I’m not drunk or fighting a hangover or anything.”

The other waitress apologized profusely. I got my eggs and toast and was soon on the way.

The nice late night breakfast didn’t do any wonders for the car, though. By dawn the tires were fighting the steering mechanism and I was down to forty-five miles per hour on the highway. As I passed a farmhouse, I heard a shearing sound and the Aspen bumped heavily. I quickly moved over to the shoulder and got out. I groaned as I looked at a perfectly shredded tire.

I didn’t even need to look in the trunk. I had no spare. I needed to call AAA Roadside service, but I was fighting time. I checked my watch. I had less than two hours until I was supposed to speak, and I was over forty miles away from Amarillo. There were no cell phones in those days, and I saw no highway call boxes. I was really, truly stuck.

Okay, Lord, what now?

Few cars were on the road this time of the morning, and the ones that passed me made it a point to look the other way.

In the old days I would have panicked or even become unduly angry. Instead, I shrugged and said a prayer. Lord, I need Your help in a big way, that is, if you want me to make the chapel service in Amarillo.

I looked down. I was greasy and rumpled from driving all night. I was tired and carrying the remains of a headache. I looked off to a side road and saw a farmhouse about a quarter of a mile down the lane. I started walking toward it.

I had no sooner come within twenty feet of the fence when I heard a growl and a snap. I looked down to see a medium-size dog of unknown breed latched onto my leg and pulling hard, whipping his head back and forth. I felt a bit of pain, but enough to know that he hadn’t broken the skin. I hadn’t entered a yard and was still on a public roadway. Was this a stray? Should I kick him away? Are you allowed to kick dogs in Texas?

“Rusty!” I heard a bellow come from the ranch house. The dog hesitated. “Rusty! Let him go!” The dog backed off and sat down, looking at me.

A portly man with glasses, salt-and-pepper hair and a cowboy hat stepped out onto the porch. “Sorry about that. He’s over-protective. Are you hurt?”

I checked my leg. “Not really,” I called. “Sir, can I use your phone? My car broke down and I need to call triple A and tow it into Amarillo.”

He stepped off the porch. “Do you have business in Amarillo?”

“Yessir,” I said, reaching into my coat pocket and pulling out a tri-fold brochure that told about my ministry. “I’m to speak over at the Avondale Christian School at 11 o’clock.” I gave him the address and the phone number of the school. “Or at least I was supposed to.”

He studied the brochure and looked at me as his wife came out on the porch. He handed the paper to her and looked me over. She adjusted her glasses and said nothing, reading every word on the brochure. She looked at him as he gestured to me. “Come on in, young man.”

I stepped inside to a spacious home with oaken doors, wide hallways and the biggest sofa I’d ever seen. The floors were white tile and the kitchen opened up into the living room. Cathedral ceilings towered above me in the grand entrance. “Won’t you come into the kitchen, now,” said the wife, “and have something to eat.”

“Oh, really, ma’am, thanks, but I’m really a mess– “

“Nonsense,” she said, turning to the stove. “You go get your Sunday clothes from your car.” She nodded to her left. “The bathroom’s down the hall. Hurry now and get cleaned up. Breakfast will be ready for you.”

I retrieved my clothes and took a hot shower in one of the most ornate bathrooms I can remember. Gold faucet handles on the shower. Embroidery on the hand towels. In no time I was cleaned and dressed. I stepped out and pulled on my tie. “I cannot thank you enough.”

She nodded and put the last plate on the table. “Now, say your grace and have something to eat.”

My eyes bulged. I was looking at a table loaded with eggs, bacon, cereal, muffins, jellies, pancakes and syrup. And a nice huge pitcher of coffee.

“This is, uh, quite a nice spread for the three of us. You’re quite generous.” I said.

“Oh, we already ate this morning,” said the woman, who showed not an ounce of fat on her body. “This is for you, young man, so you sit down and eat up.”

As I was enjoying the fine spread before me, the husband came back in. “I called triple A. Your car’s already been towed to the garage right next to the school.” I put the coffee cup down to thank him, but he pointed at the cup. “Finish that up, now, son, and get yourself over to the car in the garage. We gotta move if we’re gonna make that chapel time.”

The woman scooted me out the door with a pat on my shoulder and soon I was sitting in the front seat of a brand new Cadillac, jetting down the highway towards Amarillo. “It’ll be close, but we’ll make it,” said the man, looking at the clock on the dashboard. “I called the school and said you were on the way.”

He pulled me up o the front of the school building and nodded for me to go. “Hurry, son. You’ve only got about three minutes.” I leaped out and then turned to thankhim, but he had already pulled my door shut and was on his way. I stood there, amazed at the kindness I had been shown. A man had just traveled forty miles to take me to a school, after arranging for the care of my car. His wife had fed me the biggest breakfast I’d had in months.

And in all that time, I never got to find out his name.

I trotted up the steps and was met by the principal, who ushered me right up to the stage. I introduced myself to the student body and went right to the message. I had made it on time. As I stated earlier in this book, the Amarillo student response was powerful, with over ten students making decisions for Christ. One of the girls confessed to me that she had been tangled up in drugs and was now fighting addiction; she wanted help. We were able to get her immediate assistance.

I entered the garage and prayed about what to do. I had no money for a spare. In fact, I had no gas money to travel much past the Texas state line. I approached the mechanic who winked at me and grinned a toothy smile. “Mister, you must have some good friends out there. The man who called in for the towing supplied a new tire on your car, and this here school paid for a spare.”

Before I could utter any words, he turned. “They said to give you this envelope. They called it a fancy word, an honorarium, or something like that.”

I was taken aback at the man’s integrity. “Hey, thanks for taking care of that money for me.”

“No problem at all,” he said, still smiling. He breathed heavily. “Your Aspen will never make it to Phoenix. Heck, it won’t even make it to Albuquerque. It’s worked its little heart out of you, sir, but it’s sinking slowly into the west, if you catch my drift.”

I nodded. Oh, I get it. This is why he’s been so kind. Now, what kind of bill was he going to try to stick me with?

He motioned for me towards the garage area, but surprisingly, he walked right past the Aspen, talking while he walked. “The school told me the work you do, traveling around and sharing the Bible. I like that kind of stuff, and I wanted you to know that I appreciate what you’re doing.” He turned and leaned against a pole. “You’ll need a bigger engine if you’re going to keep doing this riding around the country.”

I raised my hand. “Well, now, look I –“

He gestured toward the other bay in the garage. “That’s why I’m going to give you this car.” I turned and looked at an army-green car that seemed to be twice as big as the Aspen. He popped the hood. “It’s a 1975 Dodge Malibu Classic. It’s older than the Aspen, but it’s had twice the tender lovin’ care your car would ever imagine. I’ve been working on it here and there for years and never knew what to do with it until I went and asked God what should be done.   And he said to give it to you.”

I looked at this pocket. It showed his name: Andy.

“Andy, I can’t tell you how much this means to me.”

Andy held up his hand. It had the title and registration in it. “Now you get on the road and get back to doin’ what you’re supposed to be doin’. I topped off the oil and filled the gas tank. Those new tires they donated? I put them on this Malibu. Oh, and the boys here, we threw an extra spare in the trunk. The way you’ve been movin’ about, it looks like you need two.”

Despite his gruffness, he allowed me to hug him. I shook hands with all the mechanics and headed out toward Phoenix in my second car, a Malibu Classic.

I arrived in Phoenix in the early evening, barely tired at all. My trip through New Mexico seemed like a lark.   It’s amazing what air conditioning and a radio can do for you. I was so happy to have a radio, I even listened to the Navajo nation broadcasts for over an hour, having no idea what they were saying.

God, please bless the anonymous farmer and his wife – I will never know their names this side of Heaven but please give them a mighty big blessing.  A huge gift from above, please.  And one for Andy, too, for that amazing gift that he gave to make it possible so that I could continue your ministry.  Please reward him in a gigantic way.

You, God, touched these hearts so that I could travel for You.  You gave them the ability to supply me.  You are Yahweh Yireh: the Lord Who Provides.

 

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.  – Philippians 4:19
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