By Jimmy Stopper

This summer, we stuffed all six of our family members into our mini-van and drove to other side of the country and back.  This trip was something we had been planning and dreaming about for years (even if the dreams never really involved being stuffed in a minivan).  Before we left, I shared with my family that I had been praying for the past two months.  My prayer was that God would use us on this trip.  Specifically, I prayed that God through His grace would bring people we could minister to into our path and that He would give us eyes to see and ears to hear them.  I didn’t just want this trip to be focused on us but also on how we could minister to others.  God surely answered my prayer.  He brought many people to us in need and it was a joy to minister to them alongside my wife and children.

However, one particular encounter stands outs above the rest.

It was Father’s Day and we were somewhere in Wyoming.  We were in the middle of a 12 hour drive on our way to South Dakota.  My wife decided to stop for a bathroom break at McDonald’s and I naturally thought to myself, “I need to buy myself a McFlurry as a Father’s Day gift to myself. Hey, I deserve it, right?”

As we pulled into McDonald’s, I was dreaming about the chocolate and vanilla ice cream hitting my taste buds. Mmmmm… I wanted chocolate so much that I asked the cashier to combine Oreo’s and M & M’s in my McFlurry.  I got my first taste and realized that was a bad decision.  I ruined my Father’s Day gift to myself.  Hmmph!

As I opened the door to our van, a woman walking across the parking lot in front of us caught my attention.  She was visibly upset.  As she came closer, I asked her, “Are you okay?”

She stopped dead in her tracks and looked up at me with fear on her face.  As I looked at her more closely, I could see dark bruises all over her face and her neck.  I have no idea what other bruises were hiding under her long sleeves and long pants.

I immediately told her that I am a pastor. I was hoping that telling her that would help her see me as a safe person.  She was clearly very scared.  She kept looking around her as she responded to me.

I asked the obvious question, “Has someone beaten you?”

She said, “Yes.”

I began to tell her right away that God loved her and that I had prayed that God would bring people into our path that He wanted to encourage.  I told her that God brought us all the way from North Carolina and had us stop at this McDonald’s so she could know and hear about the love God has for her.  I motioned for my wife, Tiffany, to come out and talk with this new friend.

Her name was Leslie.

I loved standing by and watching my wonderful bride minister to her.  It was amazing to me how my wife echoed my words to Leslie, without knowing what I had just said to her.  She told her again that this meeting was no accident – it was God’s plan to have us meet because He wanted to remind her of God’s love for her – especially when she didn’t feel very loved.

You see, she was running from her boyfriend who had beaten her.  She kept looking over her shoulder, afraid that he was chasing her and was going to find her and kill her.  He had smashed her cell phone so she had no means of communication.

While Tiffany kept talking with Leslie, I walked over to the car to explain the situation to our children.  I asked them to pray and then rejoined the conversation.

Lesile explained that she was trying to get to her mother’s house in South Dakota.  Her mom had no idea that she was coming.  She’d taken a bus this far from Portland, Oregon.  Somehow, she missed the next bus so she was forced to wait until the next morning to get back on the road.

I asked where she was going to sleep for the night and she pointed to the gas station she’d just come from.

She said, “I’ll just stay inside the store until they close.  Then, I’ll sleep outside the store tonight.”

Tiffany looked up and saw a Super 8 motel across the street.  We told her that we would like to put her up in the hotel for the night so that she would be safe and could catch her bus in the morning.

She was bewildered. Why would perfect strangers love her like this?

After we cleared some space in our messy van, we drove Leslie to the Super 8.  She enjoyed talking to our children.  They were very kind to her in what could have been an awkward situation.  But we’ve always told our kids that ministry is messy – it means sacrificing your plans and timetable to love someone else.

While Tiffany and the kids chatted with Leslie in the van, I went into the hotel to make sure it was a safe place for her and to get her rooms keys.  I asked the Super 8 attendant if they had a Bible in their hotel rooms.  She said that they have a complete Bible (not the Gideon Bible) in each room but it would need to stay in the room.  I told her Leslie’s story and she gave us a $10 discount on the room and told me that Leslie could keep the Bible.  Thank you, Lord!

When I got back to the van, everyone got out so that we could pray together for Leslie.  We circled up, held hands, and prayed together.  I cried as I heard each one of my children pray thoughtful, loving, gospel-centered prayers for Leslie.  Thank you, Jesus, for this wonderful blessing.

After prayer, we gave Leslie hugs and walked into the hotel.  It was so special to see Leslie put her arm around my wife as we walked in.  They had connected in such a short time.  We wanted to check out her room with her so she could see it was safe and that her boyfriend was not hiding some where inside.  We directed her to the Bible in the hotel room and told her to start with Psalm 23 and then Mark if she wanted to read more about Jesus.  (We like Mark for beginners because it’s sort of the Cliff Notes of Jesus’ life.)

We all got back in our van and continued on our way to our hotel for the night.  It was such a blessing that God brought Leslie into our lives.  It was an encounter that our children will remember for a long time and will surely impact how they reach out to others in the name of Jesus.  Here are a few thoughts that I would like to leave you with:

  1. As we read the gospels, you will see a clear pattern in Jesus’ day-to-day life.  As He was on His way to certain places, He always welcomed interruptions.  He stopped to minister to hurting people.  The day that we met Leslie, we had one of our longest days of driving – 12 hours.  We were not going to get into our hotel until late but after our time with Leslie, it was going to be really late – so much so that the hotel had to tape our room keys to the office door because they would be gone for the night.  What was supposed to be a quick 5 min, $2 stop ended up being a 90 minute, $92 stop. We ended up getting into the hotel at 1 a.m. in the pouring rain. Jesus did some of His greatest ministry this way!  Zaccheus was saved this way!  Jesus was just passing through the town and stopped to have dinner at his house.  In another encounter, Jesus was teaching in a house when the roof was ripped off and a paralyzed man was lowered in by his friends.  Jesus forgave and healed this man.  There are so many other stories like this Bartimaeous, the bleeding woman, and more.  We must be willing to lay aside our plans to serve God.  We can ask God to help us have eyes and ears to see what God has for us to do and then for the willingness to lay aside our plans for His divine encounter.  If we are willing to do this, we will experience some of our greatest moments on this side of heaven.
  2. Don’t be afraid to involve your children in real life stuff.  We want our kids to be exposed to real life while they are with us so we can teach them how to love and minister to hurting people.  We want them to grow in loving others for Christ.  They saw up close the brokenness of this woman and how badly she was beaten.  They saw the evidence of her being strangled by another human being.  They saw how one man’s sin affected this hurting woman.  When we pulled away from the hotel, we had a wonderful real-life discussion about physical abuse, sin, being willing to love strangers for Jesus, and so much more.  Our children will never forget this.  There is no doubt in my mind that they will know what to do in a situation like this because we modeled it, taught them, and gave them the opportunity to minister with us.  We are just following Jesus’ example of how he taught His disciples – He did life with them.
  3. Be bold with your faith.  Surely, there are redemptive relationships that will be built slowly over long period of time.  But there are also those opportunities that are short and come to us before we have time to prepare for them.  This was one of those opportunities.  We must be prepared to offer God’s hope to hurting people in these times.  Do you know how to share the gospel in a short, concise way?  You should for times such a these.  Are you growing in your understanding of the Scriptures so that you can bring verses to mind in these times that would be helpful to a hurting person?  But even if we have prepared beforehand for these interruptions, we must be willing to be bold for Christ’s sake.  Paul asked the church at Ephesus to pray for him, specifically “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.”  How can you boldly encourage someone you briefly come in contact with to take one more step closer to God?

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