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A dark night at the Beltway and Wilkins Avenue

It was foggy; it was cold; it was late; it was Wednesday. But, as I took the Wilkins Ave. East exit off the Beltway, there was someone needing help. The car’s hood was raised and I could see a figure leaning over the engine. It was an old, dark car and an equally old man dressed in black. Various thoughts went through my mind. It was the late 60’s. Reasons both for and against stopping quickly flashed before me.

Joyce is not home, but I have to get up early tomorrow for my trip to Lock Haven for Thanksgiving. That is where Joyce already is, at her parents place. It occurs to me that the circumstances could be perfect for trouble, but someone needs help. At least that is what appeared outwardly.

As I pulled up beside the parked car, I reached across to open up the right window. “Can I be of any help?” I could, of course. But would the help I could offer be what the fellow needed? Or, would the fellow be looking for what I couldn’t provide?

His car engine was silent, and he didn’t appear to know why. “Could you take me home to get a friend to come back in my other car and pull the disabled car home?”

“Where is home?”

“Edmundson Village area.” [Yipes, that is where I read about so much violence.]

“Yes, I’ll take you.”

“I have to get the gun out of my car. I can’t leave it here.” [What in the world am I into now?] “I’ve been hunting and the car won’t lock up. I can’t leave the gun here.”

“You aren’t planning on carrying it loaded in my car, are you?”

“No, I never carry it loaded. Here, you put it in your car. You’ll see.” [Unloaded; he was right about the gun. But, he was part loaded. His breath had the unmistakable aroma.]

It was so foggy, we could hardly see. But, I’m in the thing now. Mixed motives brought the next sally of words. I wanted to refer to Jesus, and hopefully say something significant about Jesus to him. I also wanted to further disarm him.

“I’ve just been to a prayer meeting, and it is pretty hard to thank God for all He has done for you without helping someone else when they need it.” [Silence.]

“Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and we have a lot to be thankful for, eh?”

“Yes, we do.” [Vernon, you don’t even know his name! At least, be couth.]

“What’s your name?”

“Napoleon.” [Should’ve known – Napoleon, a guy that knew his way around.]

“Do you go by Nap?”

“That, and some people call me Nappy.”

Isn’t it strange that I can remember all this, but I don’t remember very much of the specific “witnessing” words, except that he said he believed in God. I said something about a person being able to believe something occurred but that is not the question. The important thing isn’t believing a chair is in the corner. The important thing is sitting down on it when you are tired. Accepting Christ is like sitting down. 

“Well, Nap, do you go to church?”

“I gotta be honest. Not very much. My wife goes, but when she asks me to go, I just turn over in bed. Finally I get up and watch some TV. Then I go to the bar. But, I am going to do better. This is the best thing that ever happened to me. When you said about Prayer Meeting and helping a person, my hair just stood up on end.”

How hard to stay serious all the time. I thought of his hair standing on end. I took a quick glance. He had on a hat. I’ll never know.

“Well, Nap, I would like you to come to my church Sunday. It is down in Linthicum. Know where Linthicum is?” “No, but I’d like to go. No promises though.”

“Why don’t you meet me at my house, and we’ll go together.”

“It’d be better for you to call me Saturday night or Sunday morning. Let me give you my number.” “OK”

“Where do we turn, Nap”

“Next light, turn left.”

Riding in silence for a while. Another turn. House on the right.

“That’s my other car. Want to come in for a while? My wife is in NY. Only one there is my dog.”

“Thanks, but I better get home.”

That’s about it. I’ll call him to see what will come out of it. I have his name, address and phone.

Why even bother to write this down? Well, one reason is because I have taken the Good Samaritan story seriously. We are afraid to help people. Can’t we trust God that he will take care of us as we have the Kingdom of God first in our lives? We have so much concern about people’s “souls” that we forget their lives.

Jesus talks about clothing, feeding, visiting people. It was serious to Jesus to help people. There are reasons why we should do things for people. But, most of us have “our reasons” for not helping. Is it simply that we are selfish?

Well, that is the story of my Thanksgiving Eve encounter with Napoleon. In the sermon I had preached only three days earlier, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I said that a thankful and grateful person is a generous person. I even said that some people in the service might want to invite some unfortunate person to dinner with them. I wasn’t home for Thanksgiving. I couldn’t ask anyone in, for I was a guest myself somewhere else. But, I tried to give of myself for Thanksgiving. One person (I know him quite well.) did hear my sermon last Sunday – the preacher.