Open Doors and a Borrowed Van


By Catherine Hart

A funny thing happened during our older adult outing on April 26.

We're all familiar with Matthew 25:35: I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in.Bethel UMC in Atlanta would like to add an additional one: We were stranded and you rescued us. 

This is what Jackson United Methodist Church in Jackson, Ga. did for us that day.

Our itinerary included Indian Springs State Park, Buckner's Restaurant, and Tanger Outlet. After touring Indian Springs we loaded up and were ready to leave, but the bus wouldn't go into reverse. (As a backdrop, we had to put transmission fluid in the bus before we even left Atlanta. Perhaps that should have been an omen.) Unfortunately, the transmission fluid had leaked out of the bus while it was sitting at the park, but God had positioned a few rams in the bush for us. 

Some state prisoners were trimming the grass nearby. Someone asked the guard if those gentlemen could help push the bus backward for us. The guard consented and the prisoners graciously pushed the bus. We were on our way.

I learned that one of the women had commented that we just wanted to go home, and one prisoner replied that they did too.

Well, as we're going up the hill the bus wasn't changing gears. We hobbled a few miles up the road to an auto body shop. The worker puts two gallons of transmission fluid in the bus, but by now it was clear to all of us that our bus was not going to get us out of Jackson, let alone back to Atlanta.

Someone half-jokingly said, "We passed a United Methodist Church and they have two vans. We oughta see if they will rent them to us." 

A little further down the road, we decided that was actually a good idea. We turned around and went back to the church. Doesn't the Bible say that "we have not because we ask not"?

Three of us found the entrance, went in and explained our dilemma. 

Sonya, the secretary, graciously welcomed these three strangers into her office. She immediately got on the phone making calls to the pastor and trustees. She also invited the other bus members to come in and use the restroom or get some water. The trustees checked on insurance liability and other matters and gave the okay for us to borrow the van. This angel made sure the insurance information was in the van and then handed the keys to Mr. Ball, who was driving. 

The astonishing thing about that entire encounter was Sonya's and the church's trusting nature of turning over their vehicle to total strangers without interrogating any of us. 

We left our bus in their parking and proceeded on our outing.

Famished by now (two hours after we had attempted to leave the park), all 16 of us piled into that 15-passenger van and headed to Buckner's to eat. 

After that delicious meal, we made it safely back to Atlanta. Great bonding and fellowship occurred on the trip home. 

Our trustees returned the van to Jackson UMC Thursday evening. They had given it to us with a full tank of gas and we returned it that way. 

Because of this generous act of kindness, we felt that we needed to return to Jackson UMC in person to express our true gratitude because that church loaned its van to total strangers--whose story happened to be true. Seven of us were able to worship with them on Sunday. 

Rev. Chris Shurtz and the Jackson congregation were very warm and welcoming. Our Older Adult Ministry presented a check to the church for $200 along with two dozen roses to church secretary, who helped rescue us that day

Ironically, one of the songs they sang that morning was "Through it All." 

Rev. Jacqueline Hicks from Bethel extended an invitation for Jackson UMC to worship with us and gave a few closing remarks. Since we were in the vicinity, of course, we went back to Buckner's for lunch before heading home to Atlanta.

We say, “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. The people of the United Methodist Church." Rev. Chris Shurtz and Jackson UMC demonstrated all these things to Bethel UMC on Thursday and Sunday.

To God be the glory! Amen.

Catherine Hart is communications chair at Bethel UMC in Atlanta where Rev. Dr. Michael Stinson serves as senior pastor. 


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