An 80-year-old lady called me recently to ask if I could help find some help for her son who lives in my metropolitan area. She is a faithful supporting partner in the Lott Carey network that I lead. She was doing the “mother thing” by calling to see if she could find some help for her son.
Her son was in some economic stress. He had bought an old car for transportation to and from his job but did not have enough money to pay for the necessary repairs. I used to receive this kind of call with some frequency when I was a pastor, but my requests for help are of a different nature now that I am a global missions executive. I told the mother that if her son would call me, I would see what connections I might be able to make for him.
The mother called on Friday. Her son called on Monday. He was in a steady job. He was relying on a colleague for transportation. If his friend decided not to go to work, he missed a day of pay. He needed secure transportation to ensure his regular attendance and reliable service as an employee.
As I listened to the man’s story, I was inspired to pay for the repairs. Only later did I find out that it would cost $562! It didn’t matter, though. I was led by the Spirit to provide the help that my brother needed. By the way, the Lord recently sent me an additional $560 unexpectedly.
I once did a similar thing 16 years ago. The church where I was pastor was located on a main thoroughfare through town, so we often had people stopping for help. One day, a young man stopped in need of a place to stay. He was driving through town and his belongings were in the car. I went beyond normal provisions and provided more nights and more food than usual.
As I considered how to help these two men with requests 16 years apart, I imagined what might happen should my son, who is now 17 years old, find himself in need in a strange place. Might he be able to ask a pastor for help and receive it? Suppose his elderly mother has to call a preacher for help for her son. Might she be able to find it? I would want someone to help my child if he needed it. I decided to help someone else’s child while they were in need.
Thinking about whether my son might be able to get help if he got in a jam next week, next year or some time in the future is not the primary factor that motivated me to help these two men. I am motivated by my relationship with Jesus. Because he loves me in active demonstrable ways, I love others in active demonstrable ways.
I sat next to a lady on a recent airplane ride home, and we talked almost the whole way. I usually read rather than talk to strangers on the airplane, but I did so on this evening three weeks before Christmas. She told me about her continual struggles with a difficult young adult son. The rest of her children and her spouse want her to give up. But she keeps trying.
She said, “When you love someone, you don’t have a choice.” That sounds like gospel to me. When you love someone, you keep trying to help for their ultimate good. I suppose that is why God sent Jesus to the world. When you love someone, you don’t have a choice.
David Emmanuel Goatley is executive secretary-treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention.
David Emmanuel Goatley is Research Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies and Director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School.