Reflections on Hebrews 13:2 and Amazing Grace
One summer about twenty years ago, Kimberly Borin rode cross-country with fifteen others from Seattle to Atlantic City. It was a fundraising effort for the American Lung Association. Her group traveled on average eighty miles a day and made the trip in seven weeks.
On one of those eighty-mile days, Kimberly had fallen behind. That was unusual for her. She liked to be out ahead of the pack. But on that particular day, for some reason, she had chosen to take her time, to slow her pace and enjoy the getting there. She was traveling through the hills of Idaho, up and down and up and down, truly in the middle of nowhere. That’s when it happened, or more accurately stopped happening. Having descended down a fairly steep hill and just beginning to make the ascent up another, her pedals stopped pedaling. They simply refused to engage. In a valley between tall hills, Kimberly looked her bike over. At first she couldn’t find anything wrong. It all looked as it should, until she noticed the absence of a very small screw missing from her derailleur.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers …
Having passed a small town at the top of the previous hill, Kimberly walked, bike in hand, up the steep incline and found at the top of that hill, in the center of town, an auto body shop. The shop owner took one look at the derailleur and told Kimberly that he didn’t have a screw that small. He suggested that she might find one at the sewing machine shop around the corner. As they talked, Kimberly explained her mission, how she was riding cross-country with a group raising funds for the American Lung Association and added, as an afterthought, that she was from New Jersey.
As if to make sure he had heard her correctly, the shop owner repeated, “You are from New Jersey?!” Without waiting for confirmation, he continued, “wait until I tell Fred!” The owner then walked Kimberly across the street and around the corner to the sewing machine shop. Having explained her situation, Kimberly was invited inside to search through boxes and boxes of assorted sewing machine parts. Meanwhile the auto body shop owner left to find Fred. It took quite awhile, but Kimberly did find a screw small enough to fit the derailleur. Once the screw was in place and the bike was in working order, she returned to the auto body shop where her team’s van was to pick her up and return her to the group. As she rounded the corner between shops, a group of locals greeted her as if she was a celebrity. Word of her presence spread quickly. “Wait until you meet Fred!” they said to her.
It was beginning to feel a little unsetting. Here she was a stranger, traveling alone in an unknown town with no backup if things got out of hand, and it was beginning to feel like things were getting out of hand. At the auto body shop, she waited anxiously for the team van to arrive. As she waited an old, rusted pickup truck pulled into the shop. An older man, maybe sixty or so got out with two bags of garden vegetables in his arms. It was Fred. He approached Kimberly, put down his bags, and gave her an uninvited hug. “I am so glad to see you,” he said. “You are like an angel to me.”
… for by doing that some have entertained angels …
Kimberly was taken aback. Something was happening here and she was a big part of it, but she didn’t know what it was.
It seemed like a silly question at this point, but Fred asked her where she was from. She was sure by now that the whole town knew she was from New Jersey, but it seemed important to repeat it. She replied, “Flemington, New Jersey.” At the mention of Flemington, Fred’s gaze turned from expectant and hopeful to amazement and awe. Tears began to form freely.
“I am from Flemington too!” he replied. Whatever was happening between them, it was getting bigger. They actually knew people in common. And as they talked about their hometown, Fred’s story began to unfold. He had left New Jersey in the late 70’s because he had done something he was not proud of, something he was ashamed of. He didn’t say what, but it was clear he didn’t choose to leave. He felt he had to leave. He had to find a find place far from New Jersey, where no one would find him and where he could start over. This was that place, an Idaho town, in the middle of nowhere, population 300. He had been there ever since. Over the course of his exile, Fred had been praying for a sign of forgiveness, an assurance that forgiveness was possible for him. He had asked God to send someone from his hometown, from Flemington, New Jersey. He had asked God what seemed perhaps not impossible, but certainly highly unlikely. And here was the answer to his prayer standing right in front of him.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
Kimberly was a stranger in a strange town, on her way to somewhere else. Nevertheless, she was also the bearer of grace, through no intention of her own, but clearly by the intention of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot manufacture epiphanies for one another, but sometimes we deliver them nonetheless. Sometimes we are angels unaware. And sometimes a stranger is the answer to our prayers.
Writer's note: I was able to reconnect with Kimberly as a result of this blog. She granted me permission to use her real name and to encourage you all to visit her blogs and website:
"A Man Named Fred" will be published in a book by SQuire Rushnell and Louise DuArt. Their book is called, GODWINK LETTERS: A Devotional and will be published by Howard Books/Simon & Schuster in the fall of 2012.