Six months ago a destitute man used his last pennies to get to a small town outside of Washington, D.C., hoping to find some landscaping work. He hadn’t worked in days, or eaten for that matter, yet he arrived hopeful with one set of dirty clothes on his back and the other set in a laundry basket on his passenger seat.
After hours of driving around hearing "no" from potential employers, the man entered a church in hopes that if he washed at least one set of clothes, he might have better luck with employers.
He inquired at the church. “Might I use your washer and dryer so I can clean my clothing and attempt to locate work today?” he asked rather timidly to the stern-faced, gray-haired old woman who approached briskly. “No, I’m sorry.” She replied curtly, “Our washers are not open to the public. You will have to go elsewhere.”
The man left the church dejected and attempted the church across the street. This attempt was met by a friendlier-faced gentleman, but he got the same reply: "No."
By this time, the man was not only dirty, but his stomach began to growl as he received regular reminders of the past 48 hours without food in the form of waves of nausea. Not sure how to proceed, the man saw a church steeple about a block away that beckoned him to approach. “Third times the charm!” the man thought as he scampered up the street to his destination. “Thank goodness there are so many churches so close!” the man thought. “I’m almost out of gas, and I’m not sure how I’m going to get back home, but this looks like a generous church. I’m just sure of it!”
Unfortunately, the only person available at the church was an old janitor who seemed to be down on his luck himself. He said he wasn’t allowed to open the laundry room to "outsiders."
Tired, hungry, dirty and broke, the man wandered slowly back to his car. Almost as if on cue, an older gentleman named George came out of the electronics store with a large package and a smile on his face. He appeared to be excited about his purchase, so the young gentleman hoped he would be nice.
“Excuse me, sir,” the younger gentleman said. “Could I bother you for a favor?”
George took one look at the gaunt, hopeless young man, and his heart went out to him. George wasn’t regularly in the habit of stopping for people in this crime-ridden area of D.C. The last thing he needed in his busy schedule was to be mugged. And he had spent so much time researching and waiting for the special purchase in his arms; he wasn’t about to be distracted.
“What can I do for you?” George asked.
“Well, I attempted to come into town and find work, but I haven’t had much luck. I spent my last money on gas getting here, so I’m not sure how I’m going to get home. Do you maybe have a $5 bill so I can refill my tank and do my wash? I tried the three churches over there, but I don’t think they like my kind.”
George looked intently at the man, thinking, "They don’t like my kind either, son, so we have something in common." He asked, “When was the last time you ate?”
The young man ashamedly looked at his feet before responding, “Forty-eight hours ago, sir. But I am OK. I just need some money to get home and try again tomorrow.”
George immediately grabbed for his wallet, and a $20 bill floated up to the top. Bewildered, he looked at the $20, then at the young man, then back at the $20. George didn’t even realize he had $20 as he thought he had spent all of his cash in one of the last two stores.
George handed the young man the $20 bill and said, “How about taking this and getting something to get you fed, get your clothes clean and then get yourself home? Can’t work hard if you don’t have any energy, right?”
The young man thanked George over and over and then tore straight into the McDonald’s across the street. He knew they had a $1 hamburger special as well as the seasonal eggnog shake for Christmas. It had been years since he had an eggnog shake! George sat in his car mesmerized as the young man gulped down his lunch before zipping next door to the Laundromat.
As for George? Well, he was profoundly changed by this experience. He realized that God had chosen and placed him there on this day for a special purpose: to serve a person he didn’t even know.
For that brief five-minute exchange, he forgot that he was a single father who had struggled with alcohol and drug dependency issues. He forgot that he had been rejected by the majority of people he came in contact with. He realized that he, a man who the world had forgotten, had been hand picked by his Creator to serve another person who the world had forgotten. He realized that he had been chosen, accepted, valued and forgiven … and that he had a place and a purpose.
And the purchase? Well, that was for his daughter… who now has the distinct privilege of telling her father’s true story to whoever will listen.
Of course, the real gift was realizing that modern-day Samaritans often come in shapes and sizes we don’t expect and most times won’t accept. Modern-day Samaritans have one thing in common: They know the stigma of rejection, so they have decided to follow their hearts in responding to others as people, not as stereotypes.
"Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." —Proverbs 11:25 (TNIV)