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The Death of This Man Changed My Ministry

May 12, 2014

1bbbTo renew an old cliché, I remember it as if it happened yesterday.

I was driving home from school down a lane late one afternoon on the way to my apartment in Hollister, California.  I was tucking all of my schoolbooks on the passenger seat and trying to keep them from sliding to the car floor.  The school had no room for me to have an office or even a desk, so all of my paperwork was carried to and from the school every day, and I hadn’t the money to buy a briefcase.   I was content, though, as I cranked down the window on my orange Dodge Aspen and breathed in the heavenly air of central California.  This was a nice little drive back to my homestead, down a largely unused road that ran parallel to a public facility. On the right was an orchard, and on the left was a community park surrounded by a six-foot-high chain link fence.  Trees dotted the landscape of the wide field of tennis courts, softball diamonds and kite-flying meadows.  I glanced lazily ahead to the pavilions and park benches as I puttered my way back to my second story flat.

I noticed a large cloud just ahead of me.  A large, dusty cloud near a tree.

Then as I drew nearer I noticed a pickup truck that was tilted awry next to the tree.  The tree was damaged.

The truck was attached to over twenty feet of fence.  It had ripped it right out of the ground and tangled it up on its fender.  Pulled the fence posts up with it as well.

An ambulance was sliding to a stop as I pulled over and jumped out.  I could see a police car taking a sharp corner and zooming toward us.  I trotted across the road just as the EMT was walking briskly over the scene.  Two junior-high age girls stood staring at us blankly.  A man lay on his back on the ground, his arms and legs spread widely.   He blinked once or twice but otherwise remained motionless.

The EMT glanced at me with a question on his face and raised a hand to stop me.

“Clergy,” I said quickly.  “Can I help?”

He lowered his head and looked as a fireman dropped to his knees beside the man and started CPR at a manic pace.  The man did not respond.  No more blinking. The EMT looked him for three seconds and shook his head.

“Yeah,” he said, nodding at the inert man.  “Pray for his soul.”

I noticed that the man’s chest was reacting oddly to the CPR action.  How do I describe it?   It was giving a fluid response to the fireman’s efforts.  It reminded me of someone pushing their hands down on a waterbed.

It was because the man’s chest was crushed.  Pulverized.

The fireman got up, took off his helmet and shook his head.  My heart sipped a beat when the reality of this scene hit me.

I saw the man take his last breath here in this world.

I walked over to the two young girls.  One of them had a gash in her nose so deep that I could see bone and cartilage.  “I’m so cold,” she told me.  She didn’t seem in pain.  The other girl looked around dumbly.

“Let me see if I can get a blanket,” I said, but I was stopped by a policeman.

“You need to go,” he said briskly.

“Clergy.  Can I help in any way?” I responded.  I glanced and saw a whiskey bottle – completely empty – on the back of the cruiser.  The realization slowly came to me.

“No,” he said firmly.  “We have this.  Please go back to your car.”

I nodded and headed toward my vehicle.  Before I got across the street, the EMT filled me in.  It all came to me in pieces.

Two fifteen year old girls.

Daddy’s pickup.

A stolen bottle from his liquor cabinet.

Girls drank some and found Daddy’s keys.

Joy ride.

70 in a 25 miles per hour zone.

Weaving to either side of the road.  Both driver and passenger drunk.

A pedestrian up ahead.

Pickup hit him from behind, but directly in front of the pickup, square between the headlights.  He was splayed spread eagle on the front grill. While he was stuck on the front of the pickup, the vehicle rammed the chain link fence, tore up the fence and then bounced off the tree.

It was, the EMT said, as if the man was a battering ram.  He took the full force of the truck ramming into the tree.  It was a wonder that he even survived long enough for me to see his last breath.

But he hung on long enough.

“He was the local drug dealer,” said the EMT with a grimace.  “This guy was bad news all over town.  Still, that’s brutal for anyone to endure.”

I walked across the street and left quietly.

As I pulled into my parking space I sat with the keys in my hand for almost an hour.

I saw a man die.

I saw a man step into eternity.  I saw the very moment.

And it is very likely…

…very likely…

I saw a man step into an eternity without Heaven.  I saw a man who, within the next minute or so, face the Savior as His Judge.

It changed my attitude about teaching.  About preaching. About counseling.

That is the reason, my friends, why I value every minute in the classroom.  I want to teach the Truth.  I want to bring it plain, clear, and real.

Because you never know when the final chapter of someone’s life will be written.

James said “Your life is like a vapor.  A mist.”

It sharpened my goals.

And by reading this, I hope it may sharpen yours.


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  1. Sylvia Strickland permalink

    Brad, just wanted to take a minute to let you know that I look forward to reading your posts. I know that they are being used in the readers’ hearts and lives. It is so true that you never know when your last breath may be, whether you are young or older. Only God knows our appointed time. Thanks for speaking truth…………. 🙂

    • Thank you, Sylvia! We have had two beloved students, recent graduates, pass away this year, and so our school is in total agreement with you statements. Life is so fragile here on earth.

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