EDITOR’S NOTE: Correction added in the 7th paragraph (Feb. 9).
ALABASTER, Ala. (BP) — About 40 years ago a young boy managed to get into the coin box of the vending machine on a Wednesday night at Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. He and two buddies each grabbed a heavy handful of quarters.
Four decades later he still had a heavy conscience. That guilt led to one of the most surprising phone calls Michael Brooks said has ever received as a pastor.
“I was here alone,” he said of that evening this past December, “and I answered the phone and the person on the other end said, ‘Can you tell me who your pastor is?'”
Brooks, pastor of Siluria Baptist, said he immediately thought it was a benevolence call.
“We were getting a lot of those in December,” he said.
But the man — who had blocked his identity and location from Brooks’ caller ID — didn’t call to ask for anything.
Instead the man on the other end of the phone called to tell the decades-old story of what he’d taken. He said he wanted to make restitution for the debt Brooks didn’t even realize he had.
The man shared how a few years after the vending machine incident he had come to faith in Christ and his family moved away from Siluria.
He told Brooks he knew it was wrong to steal and that he shouldn’t have done it. And he wanted to put a check in the mail to the church to make up for what he’d done.
“It had always bothered him all these years. It was something that was really oppressive to him,” Brooks said. “He didn’t want his identity revealed but he said, ‘I want you to be free to share the story in any way you see fit. Maybe my story will help others who are facing decisions about right or wrong in their lives.'”
When the check came on Christmas Eve 2014 — for $1,000 — Brooks decided to share his story with the congregation during their candlelight service.
That night he spoke about the forgiveness offered through the gift of Christ’s birth. And then he shared the story about the man who sent the check.
He told the story of the man’s unconfessed sin that had taken place right there at the church and haunted the man for years.
Brooks then pulled the check from his pocket, the check that had arrived that very afternoon.
“People gasped,” he said. “I felt the same way — I was just bowled over when it arrived.”
Church member Allen Massey said he was stunned by the gesture and the amount.
“It’s unreal that someone would really do that these days,” he said. “I don’t know how much he took, but what he gave back was an astronomical amount more.”
Most people, he said, would let something like that slide because they had done it as a child.
“It just shows how the Lord works in people’s lives,” Massey said. “He got right with God and did the right thing.”
Brooks said the Holy Spirit impressed the man — who is a successful businessman in another county — to do as Zacchaeus in the Bible did and make up for the wrong he had done before he became a Christian.
“I know restitution is a biblical principle, but I still remain amazed at what has happened. We all do,” Brooks said. “God allowed him to show the sincerity of his commitment by repaying the money he had taken falsely 40 years ago.”
When they talked on the phone Brooks asked the man what he would like done with the money.
He told Brooks he would like for it to go to the children’s ministry.
It became a down payment on a playground project the church had recently proposed.
“It was a Christmas gift to our children,” Brooks said. “The man offered our church two things this Christmas — a gift and a story of Christmas grace.”
And no one — except for Brooks and the church treasurer — knows who the benefactor is.
“He said he wanted to stop by sometime, and I hope he will,” Brooks said. “I’d love to hear more of his story. He talked about the Lord’s leadership, that he felt God really wanted him to do this. What a way to honor what God placed on his heart. We are all still amazed.”