NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Each Monday afternoon, I meet with three or four of our young pastors at a fast food cafe near my house. We sit there for an hour or more, drinking coffee or soft drinks, and sharing about our lives and ministries.
Recently, I threw out as a conversation starter: “Give us your life-verse, the Scripture that explains you.” I started with mine, Job 4:4, “Your words have stood men on their feet.”
Carl’s verse was Acts 18:9-10, Jim’s was Colossians 1:28.
Then Mark said, “Philippians 3:10, ‘That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.’ I just want to know the Lord more and more. It’s all about Jesus.” He thought for a moment, then said, “And if you want to really know Him, you must be willing to suffer for Him. It’s a tough way, but it’s worth it.”
Mark told the group about some of the suffering in his life. He’s been through enough for several humans — including the loss of both parents, difficulties in his church, depression in his personal life.
Someone said, “You never know that Jesus is enough until He’s all you have.”
While this discussion was going on, I was the only one who could see the two women employees who were having their late lunch in our little corner of the restaurant. The first one was reading her newspaper while working on her salad, but it would have been impossible for her not to hear what we were saying. The second woman came and went several times. A man sat at a booth not far away, clearly taking in the conversation.
When we first started meeting six months ago, we discussed meeting in a back room at one of their churches. I even thought of inviting them to my home. But everyone agreed the most convenient place was this little restaurant where people come and go all the time, where the coffee is cheap and hot, and where we will not be disturbing anyone by our meeting. I thought at the time, “And who knows — the Lord may decide to use our witness to someone eavesdropping.”
Which is what happened today.
As the men were discussing how in our suffering God becomes more precious, the woman looked up suddenly and turned our way. I said, “Want to get in on this conversation?” and smiled. The men turned in her direction.
She said, “You were talking about our suffering. My 15-year-old son was killed in a car wreck three months ago and it broke my heart. But I’m so glad to know that just a few weeks earlier, he got saved.”
That brought a chorus of sympathy from these young pastors. She went on, “I can tell you’re all Christians. I’m a new Christian myself. I go to Victory Life. I’ve just been saved a short time. And you know what I discovered? It’s hard.”
Someone said, “You’ve been floating downstream, and now you’re swimming upstream. It is hard.”
“But you know what?” she said. “The big thing now is the Lord gives me hope. I never had any hope before. But in the long run, these earthly years are just a blip. A mist. We’ll hardly even remember them in eternity. The important thing is to get our family members saved.”
Her friend joined her and told of her situation. Two miscarriages, and a stillborn delivery.
“I’m Kathleen and she’s Debra,” the first one said. I said, “Could we pray for you?” And we did, filling that back room of the fast food place with our intercession for Heaven’s blessing upon these two women who have endured so much.
We were preparing to leave when one said, “We’re in the prison system. Assigned to this restaurant.”
That got our attention.
She named a nearby parish and said they have been in that prison, one for 10 months, the other for the past 2 years.
“Prayer is all you have,” one said. “Your children are out here, you don’t know doing what, and you can’t do a thing for them but pray. And what you pray is for the Lord to save them. Because if He does that, everything else falls into place.”
One said, “I never had time for God. I was raised in the church but went astray. I would walk past my Bible and look at it and know I should stop and read it. But I never took the time. Then I got in big trouble. When they put me in prison, it was a new one with larger cells for just two people. I finally had the time and opportunity to read my Bible, and I did. It took that for God to get through to me.”
As we were leaving, one of the pastors was getting names and contact information and giving them his. We said our goodbyes, then I turned back at the door. “The Lord sent me back to give you a hug,” I said.
One of those divine appointments that the Father delights in making.
Easily, the high point of that Monday.
Joe McKeever is director of missions of the Greater New Orleans Baptist Association.