I thought I was just being a good Samaritan.
It was a brutally cold winter night in Wisconsin, and I was pulling out of the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant when I saw a woman shuffling down the sidewalk, hunched over and freezing.
I rolled down the window of my toasty Saturn SL2 and asked, “You okay?”
“No,” her teeth chattered. “My car broke down at that gas station.”
“Can I give you a ride home?” I offered.
“That would be amazing,” she replied as she jumped into the passenger seat.
But before I made it to the first stoplight, she popped the question. “So . . . are you a freak?”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Are you a freak?” she repeated. “Do you like to have sex?”
What ensued was, to say the least, one of the more memorable conversations of my ministry. I assured her my interest in sex was exclusively for my wife. She asked what I did for a living . . . and gasped when I told her the answer! (I believe her quote was, “A pastor? Just my luck.”). And then, since her car actually was broken down, I drove her home safely. We talked about our children, their ages, and their favorite breakfast cereals. I invited her to our Christmas Eve service at church. She seemed interested. We said goodbye.
And the next morning, I had the best story to tell my wife!
Looking back on that night, a few spiritual lessons struck me:
1. Prostitutes (and all sinners) are people—I know this should be obvious, but prostitutes have names, stories, and sometimes even kids who like Lucky Charms. It felt surreal to be talking about cereal with a prostitute, but I did, because prostitutes’ kids eat breakfast too. And that simple fact reminded me that everyone, no matter what his or her sin or struggle, is a person. A teenager dealing with gender dysphoria is a person. Your cousin with a meth addiction is a person. The homeless man you see near work is a person. Your story and struggle might be radically different, but everyone you see today will be a real person with a real soul and a real life. And Paul says you both have this in common: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23,24). In other words, you have way more common ground than baffling differences. Start there and God just might open doors for understanding, empathy, and unconditional love.
2. Kindness sticks—When I invited this woman to our church, her immediate reaction was positive. Why? She said, “Churches have helped me in the past.” Those words reminded me that, despite the ugly examples of hypocrisy in the church, there are still plenty of loving, sincere, forgiving people in the family of God. Jesus’ “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16) and Paul’s “be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32) are powerful ways to connect with those who are searching for something more. Although I didn’t see her at our church that Christmas, I hope that act of kindness opened some doors for the next Christian who crossed her path. And the same is true for you. You might not see the fruit of your good works, but you are planting seeds. And God will make those seeds grow in his time, in his ways, to his glory.
I have a hunch you might not get propositioned by a prostitute today. But God will put plenty of people in your path in the upcoming hours. They might be freezing or lost or lonely or angry. But each one is an opportunity to introduce someone to God’s grace.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 as a pastor in Madison and now Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as a host and speaker for the Time of Grace television program and contributes to the written resources of Time of Grace Ministry. Pastor Mike is married to Kim and has two daughters.
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