This really happened to us and I have to share it with you;
It was Saturday afternoon, sunny, warm and breezy so Bev and I thought we would take an impromptu drive out to the mountains, maybe find a hotel and then get a nice dinner somewhere. My car was having battery problems so we decided to take her big van. Since that car has these great big head rests (six of them) that tend to block my rear vision, I decided to lay all the seats flat.
We packed a cooler with cold drinks and ice (something we never think to do) and hit the road. We got a later start than we would’ve liked but that’s pretty much SOP with the Beyers. By the time we got to the scenic mountain area of west-central Maryland it was already after 3:00 pm. My wife had said that we might have a hard time finding a hotel and she was right, everyone was booked up. The folly of our day was apparent to us and we ruefully headed on home.
We still had about an hour’s drive ahead of us when, rounding down a steep hill, we were surprised by a lone figure walking along the side of the road. It looked to be an older woman and she was pushing a bicycle. She was carrying at least four bags or duffels and had what seemed like a tattered shirt wrapped over the top of her ball cap, kind of like a scarf. Her appearance was everything one would expect of a homeless person and finding her in the middle of farm country was unexpected. As we drove by she began to jerk her thumb out as if she was hitch-hiking but since she couldn’t let go of the handle bar we almost missed the gesture.
“She’s hitch hiking.” Bev said. We continued on down the hill and I concentrated on keeping the big car on track through the S-curves.
“You’re kidding” I said.
“You think we should turn around?” said Bev
“Hmmm.” That’s all I said and we drove on. As it was, there were no turn-outs or side roads to be had. After a couple of miles I made a right onto a farm lane.
“We’re going back, aren’t we?” Bev asked.
I had been thinking of that scripture where Jesus said that when he was hungry someone fed him, when he was sick someone visited, when he was naked someone clothed him. I was imagining him saying to me; “When I was hitch hiking, pushing my bike and carrying a heavy load on a hot day, you didn’t stop to pick me up.”
“That was you, Jesus? I thought that was an old lady!”
When we got back to where we could see her trundling down the hill we pulled into a drive way and waited. There was no shoulder to the road. She must have recognized our car or figured out what we were about because when she saw us she began jogging down the road, her laden bags swinging and her bike wobbling back and forth.
She was a skinny little thing, wearing too-big athletic clothes; sweat pants, sneakers, socks, sweat shirt and ball cap. The sweat shirt said “Messiah College”. Her sun glasses were as big as scuba goggles and her skin was sun browned and leathery. In spite of the heat and her recent exertion she appeared dry and surprisingly clean. It turned out that she liked to be called Sherri and she had been riding her bike from Hagerstown, a good 20 miles behind us, when she got a flat tire. She’d been having a lot of flats lately and someone told her that there was a Wal-Mart 10 miles on up the road in Frederick, where she might get them to fix the bike (seeing as how she had bought it recently from another Wal-Mart). She said that she had been praying hard for someone to come and pick her up, blessing and thanking us both.
We stowed her bike easily in the back of the car, where there was plenty of room with the seats already down. She said the bike was new but it looked a little beat up. It was the same brand as my first bike, a Roadmaster, except hers was the girl’s version. The rear wheel looked bent. We opened up one of the middle seats for her and she was surprised and grateful as we handed her an ice cold Diet Coke Plus (with vitamins!) from the cooler. We cranked up the A/C and headed off to find Wal-Mart.
As we drove she told us, in a genteel southern draw, that she was originally from Richmond Virginia and had raised two daughters, both now in their thirties. She now had grandsons and granddaughters and they lived in different parts of the country. For the past eleven years Sherrie had been riding her bikes (she’s been through quite a few) across the country, from Florida to California and up into Canada, preaching God’s word. Raised a Methodist, she was now Pentecostal by choice and a speaker of tongues by election. Standing on street corners in small towns and big cities she preached a sermon of salvation from damnation through the acceptance of Christ’s love.
She rarely slept indoors and tried to coordinate her travels with the seasons, going south in wintertime. She asked about Baltimore and Washington where she said (amazingly!) that she felt a lot of concern for all the homeless people that she heard lived there. Many of the homeless that she met on her travels seemed to be so hopeless and that saddened her.
She was very interested in us, our faith and our family, but in a sensitive and generous way. She never pried or preached. She said that she might visit the church we attend outside of DC and asked when we held services. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see her some day.
We parked at Wal-Mart and helped with her bags as she chained up the bike. I asked her if she was OK with money, if she even had enough for a new bicycle inner tube. She hemmed and hawed a bit so before she could answer I asked if it was alright if we could contribute to her ministry. I gave her some cash and I could tell that she was genuinely grateful. She then surprised me by asking suddenly if this was something that I would like her to repay someday. Humbled, I told her that it was part of my tithe, since it was obvious that she took Jesus’ commission to heart.
As Bev and I drove on down the highway, we began to chuckle. God has a very dry sense of humor. How coincidental that, on the spur of the moment, we decided to take a day trip to western Maryland, in the big van, with the seats down, spare cash in our pockets and a cooler of cold drinks in back. How unfortunate for us that there were no hotel vacancies in the area (most probably because of our own chronic tardiness) which resulted in our having to drive down that one particular road, so far from home. How gallant, to grudgingly turn around and help someone more ‘unfortunate’ than us.
Somehow this older woman is able to travel across this huge land, cheerfully spreading the Good News, carrying everything she owns on her back. Eleven years of pedaling up mountains and through deserts, and she is as clean and bright as a new penny, sharp as a tack. It was obvious that God looks out for her and I bet she wasn’t the least bit surprised when we came back for her. We were just two more characters stepping on to her God-directed stage.
I can imagine her praying as she walked along the busy highway, “OK Lord, I wonder who you will be putting into my life now”, confident that she was safely in his hands.
And I can imagine God smiling down on her, “Hmm…Looks like Sherri is having a little trouble today. Who can I send…who can I send…..Oh! I know…the Beyers! I’ll bet they’re just wasting another Saturday. I’m sure they could benefit from a little time spent with Sherri.”
“Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
In her passion for God, neither does Sherri.