We were in Alaska, spending time volunteering at the Kingdom Air Corps ranch. It was evening and we were driving back to the ranch after dinner. Arvin and Kathy in the front, our daughter snuggled between us in the back.
The man’s fire was off the side of the road and he was wrapped in his jacket, sitting on his pack.
“That’s the man we saw earlier,” Arvin pointed out. My husband nodded. We turned onto the mission driveway. Halfway to the cabin, Arvin sighed. His deep voice echoed slightly through the cab. “I may be crazy, but I think we need to go invite him in for breakfast in the morning.”
They made plans and I smiled. I love being surrounded by men who know the heart of God. They live with arms open, with hearts that beat with the desire to see God glorified and mankind introduced to His love.
When morning arrived, we woke up early and made our way to the cafe. Amos jumped in a truck and drove down to the end of the road. He came back with Tommy.
It soon became clear that Tommy suffered from more than a lack of home or shelter or food. He changed personalities swifter than the wind changes direction. One minute Amos was a kind person offering him food, the next Tommy was certain there could be no man alive without evil intent. “It’s a bad, bad world,” he said, swinging his arms.
Amos took a step back and offered him space. “You’ve been hurt pretty bad by some people, haven’t you?”
Tommy nodded and swung his arms again. But, he claimed, it was all okay because he’d found the light. He was going to live forever.
He reached into a bag and brought out a huge book. A Bible, a Koran, and the Book of Mormon. “It’s all here,” he says, “how to deny yourself and become a god and find eternal life.”
“I don’t believe it works that way,” Amos said.
Tommy preached for twenty minutes, his voice getting rougher each time he looked at my husband.
We glanced at each other and did the married-for-so-long-we-can-read-each-others-minds trick. Tommy was scared of men. Amos kept his mouth shut and kept his hands still at his sides.
I felt nervous. I’m more of the serve-coffee-and-cookies-while-my-husband-shares-the-gospel type person. But this time Amos couldn’t, so it was up to me.
I stood and offered Tommy food. “Only if it’s wrapped in plastic,” he told me, “that’s how I can make sure I’ll live forever. You can only trust things that are honest and true.” He ate a yogurt, accepted a few mints and some protein bars. He looked at me. “Do you want to live forever?”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Not in this body,” I told him.
“You probably haven’t read Joseph Smith’s writings, have you?”
“Actually,” I told him gently, “I have. They’re very sad and I believe they are very wrong.”
“Why?” He looked genuinely confused. “You say you believe in Jesus, why not him?”
For fifteen minutes we talked about how there has to be a basis of truth. We can’t just accept anything that is spoken or written. Jesus said that many will come and claim he had returned, but it would not be true. Jesus proved His authority by overcoming death, with power, not just words. Jesus wins the hearts of people through radical love.
Tommy looked at me and his eyes seemed to light up, then just as quickly the light faded. “I just accept it all. It’s the only way to be sure. Nobody knows anything for sure.”
We talked about the historical records, eyewitnesses, how Jesus has changed my life from the inside-out. Tommy nodded and stuffed a few more protein bars into his backpack. He looked at Amos suspiciously. “This man says he just wants to help, but I know better. There are evil, evil men in the world. I almost trusted that one. But then he tricked me into drinking coffee. I haven’t drank coffee in five years because I know it’s not honest and true. But he tricked me. I know he’s not safe.” He looked at me. “Be careful. We can only trust things that are honest and true.”
“And wrapped in plastic?” I asked, holding up the dish of mints. He dumped it into his bag and handed me back the empty bowl.
I nodded. “How do you know?”
He blinked. His words stopped. He glanced at Amos, then back at me. “Because I know what I’ve seen.”
I dared to lean forward and touch his arm softly. “That’s how I know things too. Because I know what I’ve seen. That man over there? He loves Jesus. And because of Jesus, he cares about you. I know because I’ve seen it. Now that you’ve said you don’t want to drink coffee, he isn’t offering any, is he?” I point to the fat compilation of holy books. “I’ve read those. All of them. And the Bible is the only one that I’ve seen take people from death to life. I know it’s true because I’ve seen it and I’ve experienced it.”
Tommy stared at me. His eyes were brown, his pupils dilated. I could feel Amos’s prayers spinning around me, Arvin’s grim smile, the presence of Love.
It wasn’t too long later that Tommy left, swinging his backpack onto his shoulder, crunching on a mint, insisting that he didn’t need a ride. “I’m just wandering. It’s the way to keep life pure and true.”
I have no idea where Tommy went. Alaska is full of hitchhikers and wanderers. Every time we saw a fire, we’d look to see if it was him. It never was.
But I do know that God taught me something that day. People need to hear truth. They are desperate for it. And I’m an eyewitness of the truth. I’ve seen Jesus step right into broken, angry, hurt, and confused lives and bring freedom and light and hope and love.
I know because I’m one of those lives.
Whether Tommy was lucid enough to understand my words, I’m sure I’ll never know on this earth, but I was lucid enough to understand them. And I needed to speak them. We are called to believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths.
Probably you won’t stumble into a confused homeless man on the Alaskan highway, but maybe you will see your neighbor today. And maybe your neighbor hasn’t ever heard about Jesus.
I can’t tell you how many men, who live right down the street from seven different kinds of churches, have looked at my husband when he’s shared the gospel with them and said, “I never knew. Nobody ever told me.”
Are you an eyewitness of the faith?
If you are, then maybe today is the day to confess it.