Susan Tanner thought she knew the importance of witnessing – until she had the opportunity to save someone's life, both spiritually and physically.
As part of a visitation team at the 2,500-member Leslie (Ala.) Baptist Church, she had regularly shared the gospel in many homes in the attempt to save lost souls from spiritual death.
Yet when handed the visitors' card with Maria Woods' name on it, Tanner could not have realized the part she was about to play in saving a life on the brink of physical destruction.
Woods had come to the altar for prayer the Sunday before, and when the associate pastor tried to talk to her, Woods told him that her sins were too great for God to forgive.
Because she seemed too upset to listen to his counsel, the associate pastor asked Tanner to visit her.
Tanner arrived at Woods' home later that week with another woman instead of her usual visitation partner – her husband, Richard, a deacon in the church. After some time, Woods answered the door obviously upset, her otherwise attractive face swollen from crying.
"I was afraid at first that she wasn't going to let us in," Tanner said. "But when I told her that we had come from the church, she swung the door open wide and invited us to sit down."
Tanner began by asking Woods, "If you were to die tonight and God asked you why he should let you into heaven, what would you tell him?"
Woods began to cry, and answered, "He wouldn't let me in."
After Tanner asked why, Woods explained she felt like a building that – although nice and pretty on the outside – was dirty, filthy, and falling apart on the inside.
"That's what my life is like," Woods told Tanner. "On the outside I'm OK, but on the inside I'm a total mess."
Tanner felt this was her opportunity to share Romans 3:23, which reads that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."
She also read John 3:16, substituting Woods' name for "the world." And through Scriptures in Romans, Tanner used the "Roman Road" to share the plan of salvation with Woods.
"She was crying and asking questions the whole time," Tanner said.
At this point, Woods told the two church members how her sin had destroyed her marriage and that she knew God could not forgive her. When asked why God would not forgive her, Woods said that someone had told her that adultery was the unpardonable sin.
"Oh Maria," Tanner told her, "God sent us to tell you that He loves you and is ready and willing to forgive you and welcome you into His kingdom. The only unpardonable sin is the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ. Don't let us leave here without asking Him into your heart." That news penetrated Woods' heart and helped her realize her inadequacy in dealing with the situation.
"I need help," she replied.
Tanner and her partner then led Woods in a simple prayer of confession and faith.
"I have never seen anyone more sincere or more broken," Tanner said. "As we stood up, she grabbed me and hugged me and said, 'You saved my life.'"
Tanner was so taken aback that she quickly said, "No, honey, Jesus did that." That's when Woods told Tanner, "Hold on, I want to show you something."
She then went to her bedroom and returned with a loaded pistol in her hand.
"When you drove up," Woods explained as she emptied out all the bullets, "I was sitting on the side of the bed with this gun to my head. So see, you did save my life."
"I think we were all stunned," Tanner said. "No one can imagine the awe we felt about God's providential timing for our visit."
Tanner noted that her experience has given her a greater sense of urgency about the importance of her church's visitation program and her daily witness.
"When you realize that your visit kept a person from immediately ending their life with an eternity in hell, it really puts witnessing in a whole new light," Tanner reflected.
And the happy ending is Woods' new walk in the Lord. The following Sunday, she returned to the church and made a public profession of faith. She has since been baptized and has begun a life of service to Jesus Christ.