Who needs a helping hand today?
You know what question is coming as soon as you recognize the voice on the phone.
“Do you have any free time today?”
“Uh, well . . . hmmm.”
I typically pause and take a deep breath before answering. What am I about to get myself into? What is he doing now? You see, when Trent Donley is soliciting help, there is no telling what adventure lurks ahead. One can only guess.
So, what is the emergency of the day? How much time is this going to take? And, considering the normal daily demands involving career, home, church, family, etc., who has time to spare? I certainly don’t.
But it is difficult saying no to Trent because, somehow, he always manages to find time for others. Lots of others. Typically, Trent is seeking help for someone who is in the middle of a crisis. Often, it is someone he just met.
Some people rescue stray animals. Trent Donley rescues people. He finds hurting, needy people wherever he goes: at the corner convenience store, auto shop, grocery store, or local ball field.
Some people travel thousands of miles to serve as missionaries. Trent walks out his front door.
Donley, a longtime member of Hillside UMC in the Atlanta Marietta District, is not necessarily in need of projects to keep himself busy. In addition to a full-time job selling medical equipment, he is a father of four, including two special-needs children. He and his wife, Michelle, are active in a variety of ministries at Hillside. Service to others seems to run in the family. Complaining and fussing do not.
In the Donley family, there is no time for it.
Trent, as quick to smile as he is to lend a helping hand, can appear larger than life. A passionate sports fan, Donley maintains the college playing weight of an offensive tackle. Well, in reality he was a tight end at the Citadel in the early 80s, but what is an extra 70-80 pounds among friends? He doesn’t allow age, weight, lack of sleep, or even common sense to slow him down.
One memorable night last spring, Trent put out a call seeking help to move some furniture. My first thought, “Why is anyone moving at 7:30 at night?” But when Donley calls, there is usually a good story lurking in the not-too-distant future.
I was somewhat amused to find myself part of a small group of out-of-shape, middle-aged men helping a young Mexican family move into a new apartment. The youthful father we were helping works in a restaurant that Trent frequents. The best part, Donley was using an old RV he inherited a few years ago to help with the move. Ever try to squeeze a coffee table through the door of an RV?
Another time, Trent was desperately seeking a vehicle for a man whose old, battered truck had finally worn out. If the man didn’t have transportation he would lose his job.
After responding to the urgent call, I tried to get contact information for the man through Donley’s church. No luck.
“I didn’t meet him at church,” Trent explained, with an incredulous tone of voice indicating my ignorance. “I met him last week out having a beer. He has a wife and kids. He needs help.”
John Wesley famously proclaimed, “The world is my parish.” What a stirring mantle we have inherited. Do we take that seriously?
I was reminded of that missionary zeal when Trent called me last week.
“I need someone to pick me up later this morning,” he said. “You available?”
In this most recent case, the tireless Donley was coming to the aid of a family left homeless after the father lost his job. Trent offered his beloved and versatile RV as temporary shelter. He simply needed a ride home from the campground where he was getting the family settled.
For people familiar with Trent, this qualifies as a perfectly normal request. Of course, providing emergency shelter for a family of five does not mean the job is done. Donley drove the father to a local business and helped him land a job.
Now Trent is working the phones trying to find more permanent housing for a family he barely knows.
“He would save everyone in the world if he could,” said Mark Crumpton, a friend who has been on the receiving end of various Donley calls over the years.
I recently read a story about an experiment involving a group of seminary students. In the exercise, each student was told to prepare a sermon they would be delivering at an auditorium across campus.
Before leaving to give the sermon, each student was told they were running short of time and needed to hurry. As they made their way across campus, the students’ path was blocked by an actor, who pretended to be in great distress, collapsing in front of them.
One by one, each student walked past the needy person, in some cases literally stepping over the man without offering any help or even checking his condition.
The bitter irony: Each student was preparing to deliver a sermon about the Good Samaritan.
Most of us have a good excuse for failing to act. We have obligations. We have commitments. We are busy.
Trent Donley does not make excuses. He makes phone calls. He makes deliveries. He makes time.
What about you? Do you have any free time today?
Glenn Hannigan is editor of the North Georgia Advocate. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.