“Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”
–James 4:8 (NLT)
Austin stayed on the line as Brenda called the pastor and invited him to join in the three-way discussion. Mr. Carter was already depressed after Will’s death. Now Austin and his crew were short-handed.
Brenda paced the floor and mused as she waited for the pastor to pick up the phone. “If Austin had felt like quitting before, he’ll certainly quit after he hears what the pastor has to say.”
She hadn’t had the courage to tell Mr. Carter about the board’s decision to freeze funding for the shelter, and while she knew it was the coward’s way out, she left it to Pastor John to be the bearer of bad news.
When John did pick up, Brenda excused herself and got Austin on the conference call with them. After the three of them exchanged pleasantries, Austin went back into his study and lifted his briefcase from the floor.
Pulling out his laptop and opening the shelter’s file only told Austin what he already knew.
“The facts don’t lie,” he grumbled. “We’re all washed up.”
“Maybe you’re right.” The pastor spoke in an even tone. “But I think we need to set the pace by seeing what God has to say. You two have become so busy that you forgot to seek God. It’s one thing to be without man’s help,” he went on, “but quite another to be without God’s direction. We all miss Will, but now we need to pick up the pieces.”
“What do you mean?” Austin cried angrily. “You make it sound as though Brenda and I haven’t prayed about this.”
“Calm down,” the pastor said. “I don’t mean to suggest that at all. Just listen to what I’m trying to say with your heart.
“Sometimes, like the old saying goes, we get so caught up in activity that we can’t see the forest for the trees. There’s quite a difference between what I call microwave praying, and really seeking God’s face. But the book of James makes it quite clear that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man or woman has the power to move the hands of God.”
“Prayer is one thing,” Austin sighed, “but we need a partner who can help with funding.”
“Austin …” The pastor spoke in a commanding voice. “Let me tell you about George Müller. He lived during most of the 19th century, so he didn’t have access to our modern methods of fund-raising. But what he did have was a wonderful prayer life, and through prayer he fed thousands of orphans.”
“Okay,” Austin growled, “I’ll come clean. I feel like God has let us down.”
“How is that?” ask the pastor.
“An almighty God could have stopped Will’s death, so I’m not in any mood for a history lesson.”
Brenda spoke up. “We need to tell you something else, Austin, and then I’d like to make a comment. I can understand how you feel. I had a similar opinion, especially when I found out from the pastor that the board cut us loose. I was going to let him tell you, but instead I sent a detailed email. Instead of rehashing that, I’m trying to see it as a challenge and an opportunity.”
“Opportunity?” Austin sneered as he scanned his document. “Where do you come up with that nonsense? You sound like a proponent of one of those self-help books.”
“Austin!” Brenda screamed into the phone. “Wake up! I tried to tell you what God was showing me earlier, and you just laughed. The pastor is right–we’ve become so busy that we’ve put our dependence in the wrong place.”
“I’ve had enough!” Austin cut in. “You two can have your little prayer meetings. God helps those who help themselves, and it’s obvious to me that you don’t want to do that. So, I officially quit!”
Hanging up the phone with a bang, Austin wandered outside, where he did his best thinking. It was still early in the morning, and everything was quiet when Austin came to a stop behind his apartment building. There he surveyed his surroundings and sat down on the familiar stone retaining wall, where he puzzled over the future.
His head ached, but after looking at both sides of the issue for what seemed like hours, he made a difficult decision.
“I hate to admit it, but I guess I’ll just have to go back to driving a cab for a living. Aside from working at the shelter,” he groaned, “that’s all I know how to do.”
And with that, Austin Carter began his job search.
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A few days later, Austin had a job with a company named Comfort Cab. His first day at work was a long and boring orientation session.
Austin found himself in a classroom where he went over customer service issues, and the laying out of company rules. Then he was told there would be training with another driver for two weeks.
Thankfully, all that training was over now. Austin didn’t know how he had come through the whole ordeal unscathed, but he had graduated to driver status with flying colors.
The next few weeks were a blur of 5- and 10-dollar trips, and Austin was soon having second thoughts about his new career. But there were two things which kept him behind the wheel. First, in spite of the short cab runs, he was actually learning to make money driving.
The other saving grace was the people he met. For example, by listening to experienced drivers’ advice, he soon learned how to find the good cab fares, and in the airport he met people from all over the world.
The first-hand glimpse into different customs and cultures was fascinating for Austin, but picking up people on what he called his supermarket runs could also be interesting. Both groups shared everything from home remedies to thoughts about current events.
While the new driver tried to cover it up, he still felt discouraged by his private problems. But with a convention in town, the week ahead promised to be especially busy. Austin was relieved that he could finally keep the thoughts which haunted him at bay.
Answering a call, Austin drove to a run-down apartment house with a large building behind it. He picked up what he thought would be yet another short run, but his manifest told him that the passenger was heading to the airport.
The neighborhood was depressing and bleak, and everything seemed to be falling apart. While he was waiting, Austin wondered how anyone in this income bracket could afford air travel.
Then his eye felll on the beauty walking down the driveway. His mouth fell open, and he tried not to stare. She looked so alien and out-of-place in this seedy neighborhood. “Please let her be the passenger!” Austin thought.
The cab driver was captivated by the woman’s porcelain features, but he was especially transfixed by the eyes which stared back at him. They were a deep blue, like clear pools of water. Then there was her streaming golden hair, which sparkled in the sunlight.
Paralyzed by the sight of her, Austin shook himself and climbed out of the car, putting her bags in the trunk. After asking which terminal she needed to go to, they were off. But after they’d been driving about a block, the woman asked if they had time to go back for a second.
“Well, there’s a lot of traffic on the road today,” Austin replied. “Is it necessary?”
“It’s not just necessary,” she growled. “It’s urgent. I forgot some supplies at the clinic.”
“Are you a nurse?” Austin asked as they drove back the way they had come.
“No,” she said in a clipped tone, “I’m a doctor.”
“I know it’s none of my business,” Austin ventured, “but can I ask you a few questions?”
“I’ll answer you in a minute,” she grumbled. “We’re at the clinic now.”
In seconds they were on the road again, but the car was filled with silence. Hoping to break the ice, Austin forged ahead.
“I was just wondering where a pretty girl like you might be traveling, and why you weren’t going to the convention. I’ve been picking up people all day, and you don’t seem to fit in here.”
“What do you mean by that?” she fumed. “Maybe I should just get out here.”
“I’m sorry if I offended you. That was meant to be a compliment.”
“I don’t know why I’m doing this,” she retorted haughtily, “but I’ll tell you. Do you want the long or the short version?”
“It might as well be long,” Austin answered. “We have about 45 minutes to kill.”
“Just because you’re a captive audience of one, don’t make me sound so boring.”
Austin glanced back in his rear-view mirror and laughed. “Please feel free to bore me.”
“Okay,” she said, smiling and beginning to relax as she slowly opened up.
“I’m on my way to England,” she started, “to address a medical convention.”
“But in that case,” Austin mumbled, tapping the steering wheel, “Something doesn’t add up.”
“What might that be?” she asked.
“Oh, I was just wondering about the contrast here.”
“Yes.” Austin chose his words carefully. “I was wondering why a doctor who could be making 6 figures would choose to live in poverty. No offense intended, but how can you afford a trip like this?”
“I told you it was a long story,” she laughed. “But before I start, I want to apologize.”
“What do you mean? I’m just a lowly cab driver.”
“That’s just nonsense. God doesn’t show any partiality, and I had no call to be rude. Aside from that, we haven’t even been introduced.”
When Austin’s cab paused at a stoplight, the doctor held out her hand warmly. “Hi, my name’s Topaz. Sorry– I was in such a hurry that I forgot my manners.”
“My name’s Austin,” the driver called as the traffic began to move, “and I’m waiting to hear what you have to say.”
“Okay,” Topaz said, her eyes sparkling. “You asked for it. I may not have acted like it before, but I am a Christian. In order for this to make sense, I need to start at the beginning, when I gave my life to Christ.”
“I’m all ears.”
“I asked Jesus into my life about 20 years ago at a homeless shelter. There they gave me a hot meal, and I cleaned up the outside of the building, but I knew that there was something more I could do. They were Christians, and they told me what that meant. God began to deal with me right then. I had always looked upon my fellow homeless as though I was better than they were, but God was putting a new love for them in my heart.
“After getting back on my feet, I worked in several dumps as a waitress. I thought I was just there to pay the bills, but God knew better.
“I was feeling ready to quit when a little man walked in. He appeared to be clean, but odd-looking. He had ears that stuck out, and eyes that looked right through me. No one knew who he was. In fact, the other girls were surprised. You see, most of the crowd was composed of regulars who came in for coffee and conversation, so this man’s presence was quite unexpected.
“The mysterious man came straight up to me, saying we needed to talk. When I asked him why, he said that he had some important news for me. This got my attention, so I told him I had a 15-minute break in half an hour, if he could wait. He said he would, and he sat down at the counter for a cup of coffee.
“When it was my break time, he walked over to me and pulled an envelope out of his shirt pocket. Handing it to me, he just winked, and then he was gone.
“‘How strange,’ I mused. This peculiar man just seemed to vanish before my eyes.
“When I recovered, I only had 10 minutes left, so in a frenzy I tore the envelope open. Tips hadn’t been good that week, and money was tight, so I was hoping that God had used the stranger to deliver a check. I was disappointed when all I saw was a phone number scrawled on a piece of scratch paper, and a message telling me to ask for Mr. Davis. Since I had never met the messenger before, I was surprised that the only signature on the paper was, ‘From a Friend’. I mulled my mysterious new friend and his message over for the rest of my shift.”
To Be Continued …
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