By Allen Schofield
Several years ago I was driving through West Central Missouri, more than 100 miles from home. A middle-aged man was standing beside the road with a sign that read “Christian family—STRANDED. Need work.” I have strong hesitations about picking up hitchhikers and strangers, but the wording on his sign and his conservative clothing (somewhat Amish in appearance) caused me to circle back around.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
I explained that I was from out of town, but given the time of day, I wondered if I could at least buy lunch for this stranger. Hesitant to get in my car, he asked, “Are you a Christian brother?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I am a minister.”
It was my turn to ask the questions. The stranger explained that he was a 42-year-old man who did evangelistic work. He was currently looking for small jobs to pay for car repairs. Once his vehicle was fixed, he would join up with his eldest son, who was in Oregon. His family would set up a prayer tent in the midst of Woodstock-like events. He was eloquent, poised, and optimistic. I could tell he was very passionate about his love for God, and I felt safe.
As the stranger got in my car, I asked where he was from and was shocked as he began to describe a small town I knew very well. In fact, we had grown up in the same small town of 800 residents.
He asked me what my name was, and I said Allen. He jumped in with my last name, which I’d not planned to share. “Schofield! You’re Bob’s son!” It was surreal as the stranger continued, “I’ve been praying for your father. How is he?” The stranger knew both my name and that my father was ill from terminal brain cancer. How bizarre that this total stranger, whom I had planned to assist, had actually been praying daily for me and my family, by name.
Over lunch, the man shared his story with me and how our lives coincided. When he was a 13-year-old boy (a year before I was born), his father left his mother and six children. Compounding the hurt of his father’s departure, there were horrible events immediately following. He had been mauled by a dog and torn up badly, requiring more than 60 stitches. He acquired hepatitis. He was traumatized to the point of not speaking for weeks and left to “heal” in the mental ward of a nearby hospital.
Simultaneously to his time of tragedy, my father had become the new minister at the Christian church in town and began visiting him during his lowest point in the hospital. Dad spent hours at his bedside, often in simple silence, offering reassurance that someone cared. His recovery was slow, and my father played a central role. My lunch guest then mentioned how Dad had introduced him to Bible college. He studied for several years to train for ministry. The man concluded by saying that he would not be in ministry, and possibly not even be alive, if it had not been for my father.
As this man told his story, it was amazing to find out that he was no stranger. I had an older “spiritual brother” to whom my father had devoted himself.
When can the value of a ministry be determined? It is often not known until years later. This chance meeting was a timely gift from God. My dad had been ill for eight years. I needed to hear these words, as cancer was stealing many of the father qualities away from Dad. My father needed to hear them too. And he did hear—just a few short months before his encounter with our heavenly Father.
Allen Schofield is an associate minister at Ridgeview Christian Church in Rolla, Missouri.