Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Yesterday (All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away)

This is what happened at our church yesterday. Though it may seem like it, I have not embellished any details. This is what happened as I experienced it, and I thought the story worthy of retelling. The intent of the retelling is not to give us fuel to joke about, talk about and laugh about "another wacko," in order to make us feel better about ourselves, but to stimulate deep thought about all the hurt and pain that is in this world, sometimes right in front of us, and about the provisions that God gives us each day that go completely unnoticed. In the heightened awareness of this situation, I don't think a single gift from God went unnoticed, especially for two Party Time Rental employees.

Yesterday was picture day at Hope. That's right, we had a photo shoot from 3-9:30 at the church, and everybody got all gussied up (everyone looked marvelous, by the way), got posed real pretty-like and went flashbulb blind for a few minutes at a time.


While the first family was getting their pictures taken, our late afternoon took an abrupt turn. There were six individuals from the church sitting out in the narthex of the church, either waiting their turn or just hanging out (I was in the latter group), when a Party Time Rental truck pulled into the parking lot at an unnecessarily quick pace. The truck was getting closer to the church and was showing no sign of slowing. As I saw that the truck was going to attempt to drive into the drop-off area of the church, I thought to myself, "Clearance is pretty low here. I wonder if he'll hit..."

That's when the truck drove right into the church. It missed clearance by at least two or three feet. I thought, "How frustrated the driver must be. Surely he was just trying to turn around, and now he has a mess on his hands." But my thoughts turned suddenly when the man got out of the truck.

"Interesting choice," I thought to myself.

One of the eyewitnesses said to the man, "Your's rolling away!"

"I don't care," said the driver, as he proceeded to walk into the sanctuary.

Yeah, I thought it was a pretty odd response, too. He walked all the way to the front of the sanctuary, and Pastor Tom went in after him to try to make sense of the mess. The driver fumbled with a cigarette in his fingers and kept talking about tornadoes.

Meanwhile, back at the truck, the plot thickened.

The truck continued to roll backwards, and as it picked up speed, two men jumped out of the back, with looks of horror on their faces.

They jumped out just in time to watch the truck run into a telephone pole, where it finally came to a halt.

I stood gazing in confusion at this spectacle, when the two men who had leapt out of the truck came towards me, grasping their hearts, which were beating at an incredible rate. One man asked me to touch his chest, "Feel how fast it's beating," he requested. I did so, and found that his heart was racing even faster than my own.

Then the men, now certain that they were indeed still alive, said to me "He stole our truck!"
No sooner did they say this when the driver came back outside and said "I did it. I'm sorry guys. I'm sorry I stole your truck. I just had to get away from the tornadoes." He offered his hand to shake, but in their utterly dumbfounded state, neither man shook it.

The driver put his cigarette into his mouth and asked if any of us had a light. None of us did. He offered one more apology, and a handshake to each of the men, and this time one of the men shook his hand, while the other still was unable to do so.

The driver sat on the front steps of the church for a few moments. I tried to get his name, but he had other things on his mind. I went back inside to check on Pastor Tom, who was trying to get the police on the phone. Seeing that he was succeeding, I went back out to see what was happening.

It's amazing what can happen in a few seconds.

Apparently, the driver had begun walking out into the parking lot, and in the fear that he would go after his car next, one of the eyewitnesses of this now completely unbelievable event (who was also next in line for pictures) went after him with a piece of wood from the church that had fallen to the ground. He had no intention of hurting the man, but was attempting to protect the rest of the vehicles in the lot. The driver was screaming expletives and was obviously afraid. He continued to walk away from the parking lot, out to the road.

At this point, the men who were in the back of the truck said to me, "He's gonna get away! Don't let him get away!" He wasn't moving very fast, so I was not all that concerned about him getting away.

I re-entered the church, where another of the eyewitnesses suggested that we go out and follow him in a car to keep an eye on him. Now I am glad that we did so, because we had a responsibility to keep the rest of the neighborhood safe from this individual, who was obviously in no state to be out and about.

We got into the car, got onto the road, and saw the man walking up ahead not on the side of the road, but on the median. We drove a bit past him, pulled into a driveway, and kept a close eye on him. He kept making his way slowly down the road, but after a couple minutes, two police cars were right there. They cuffed him and put him in the back, and then drove him back to the scene of the accident, our church (where more and more people were arriving for their pictures).

When we got back to the church, the police were ready to ask questions and figure out what had happened. At some point, the man got out of the squad car. I did not see this firsthand, but those that did said that when he got out, the two officers drew their stun guns and yelled for him to get down. Eventually, they were able to stun him about four times, and there was the man, left lying limp in the parking lot. He continued to lay there in the rain, with the officers keeping a close eye on him. An ambulance arrived a bit later, and the EMT's checked out all the parties involved, making sure nobody was hurt. All thanks to God that everyone was okay, and the ambulance was sent away.

After awhile, Pastor Tom went out and covered the man with a blanket. The man thanked Tom and then began looking off into the distance. He said "It's beautiful, isn't it?" Tom said, "I don't think I'm seeing exactly what you're seeing right now, but yes, it is beautiful."
Eventually an armored car came, and they took the man away. By this time, there were close to twenty people watching the spectacle. I had to turn away. I had seen enough. He had been through a lot, and had put others through a lot, but I didn't think he needed another set of eyes watching him as he faced the shame of being taken away in an armored car.

It was an unbelievable situation, but at least everyone who witnessed it is still around to talk about it. The truck came a couple miles to get to our church, and through quite a few stoplights, and it sounds like the truck never reached a complete stop on the ride, and yet nobody was hurt on the way. The truck ran into the church, but not into any people. The men in the back were able to bail out before the truck hit the telephone pole, and the truck stopped at the telephone pole when it was right on target to hit the living room of the parsonage. When the driver approached the men from the back, they remained calm and did not act violently towards the man who had stolen their truck and put their lives in severe danger.

God did not allow this crazy event to become a tragedy. People could have died, and none were even hurt. God watched over this situation, over this man who had no idea what he was doing. Seeing him lay on the pavement in the rain, wearing handcuffs and foot restraints caused my heart to be grieved. I tend to laugh when I talk about what happened, because of the absurdity of some of the details, but in my heart I rejoice that it turned out how it did. The church can be fixed. The truck can be fixed. The telephone pole can be fixed.
I pray that this man can be helped as well. I pray that God would touch his life. In fact, he already has encountered God, whether he knows it or not. He encountered God in the form of a warm blanket, as he lay cold and wet in the parking lot of Hope Covenant Church.

So what did you do yesterday?


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