I was eighteen or nineteen, naive, to say the least. I flew down the interstate, coming from St. Louis in a twenty year old Galaxy 500, on the way to Kansas. This was a big car that would comfortably hold six people, more in a squeeze. Just past Fort Leonard Wood, I saw a hitchhiker. I always picked up hitchhikers, and this day was no different.
He was older than me, maybe thirty, and traveling alone with a large bag. He climbed in the back seat and shut the door. Just as I put the car in drive, the door opened again.
“Scoot over, friend.” A young soldier on leave climbed in. Then another. Then another. Within seconds, my car was crammed with soldiers heading to Springfield, Mo for a few days recreation. Nine of us. Seven soldiers, a random hitchhiker, and me. There was barely room for me to steer.
I don’t remember everything we talked about, but I do remember we talked. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking how out of place the hitchhiker looked among the soldiers. I remember asking where the soldiers had come from. When I pulled over, I had seen but one person on the side of the road for a mile in any direction, the random hitchhiker.
Yet, there they were, crammed in as if mine was the only car on the interstate that could or would haul them a hundred miles west.
The soldiers wanted off on the north side of town. The hitchhiker wanted to go with me all the way to Kansas. When I dropped the soldiers at East Kearney St., though, they insisted the hitchhiker get out with them.
“I don’t mind taking him with me to Kansas,” I said.
“No, he’s getting out,” said one of the men while the others practically dragged the hitchhiker out of my car.
“You should be careful who you pick up,” said a soldier, ducking at my window, smiling.
I have thought about that day many times in the past thirty some years. I have concluded that God sent those soldiers to me to protect me from… I wonder what they protected me from. I have often wondered if they were angels that looked like soldiers. I wonder if the lone hitchhiker was a serial killer. Who knows?
It’s likely that everyone were just what they seemed, a down on his luck drifter and seven eager soldiers. Still… I wonder.
I do know this. When we help those in need, whether it’s feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, helping widows and orphans, visiting the sick and imprisoned, it is like we are taking care of God, himself. Maybe that day, God also took care of me.
‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
My challenge today: help someone; make a difference in someone’s life.