The Compassionate Stranger

The stranger entered the church and took a seat near the front of the church. At first, people only noticed that his clothes did not measure up to those of the rest of the congregation, but then finally someone began to count and realized that he had chosen Mrs. Oddbody's pew.

No one had sat in Mrs. Oddbody's pew in years. No one except Mrs. Oddbody, of course. No one else dared. Neighbors whispered to one another, daring to speculate about what Mrs. Oddbody would do when she made her grand entrance.

They would not have long to wait for soon Mrs. Oddbody arrived at the back of the church and began her trek down the aisle without a clue as to what awaited her. As she neared the front of the church she began to count as she always did. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. When she got to eight she saw someone sitting there, so she began to count again only to come up with the same conclusion.

She inched forward to where the stranger could see her, hoping he would understand and beat a hasty retreat. The stranger looked at her and smiled, but she did not return his smile.

When it was obvious he had found his final resting place, at this as far as this service was concerned, she let out an indignant "Excuse me" and pushed past him into the pew.

As the service began the stranger could not help but notice she was more concerned with him occupying part of her pew than she was getting anything from the service.

They came to a point in the service where the pastor invited everyone to come to the altar and pray. The stranger arose and went forward. There was no need for him to hurry, because this did not seem to be a part of anyone else's exercise program that morning.

He fell to his knees and began in earnest prayer. He prayed for quite some time until it seemed like someone had tapped him on the shoulder. Someone had. He raised up only to be asked by a man if he could return to his seat so the pastor could get on with the sermon.

He complied and arose to return to his seat. As he arrived back at row eight he noticed that the lady had scooted over to occupy the aisle seat once occupied by him. This time she smiled a triumphant smile.

He said, "Excuse me" as he moved past her into the pew. She had hoped that her sitting forward in the pew would discourage him from trying this, but her hopes were soon dashed. As he sat down he turned and to return her smile, he found out her smile had already gotten tired and had been replaced by a bad case of persimmons.

The service continued and concluded at the expected hour in order to keep the congregation there as long as the pastor. Besides, this pastor had heard what happened to his predecessor. He once ran into the kickoff of a big football game and nothing hurts a congregation more than a pastor who runs into the kickoff. Of course, no pastor has done such a dastardly thing twice without being sent to a cannibalistic country as a missionary.

Before the lady could leave, the stranger turned to her and reached out his hand to shake hers. Taken by surprise the stranger had managed to clasp her hand before she could pull it away.

As his nail-scarred hand took hers it was as if scales fell from her eyes and for the first time she realized who this stranger was. Her tears did not flow, they gushed. He embraced her as they began to talk and after a few moments they headed toward the altar to pray. No one had noticed any of this as they were all too busy beating a hasty retreat.

The next Sunday people were immersed in typical pre-service conversation when a hush fell over the crowd as Mrs. Oddbody arrived. Not only was she accompanied by the stranger, but she had stopped by the orphanage and picked up a carload of boys which she instructed into the pew ahead of her. Anyone could have heard a hymnal drop as Mrs. Oddbody looked up and everyone could see the glow on her face. She looked twenty years younger.

After Mrs. Oddbody and all the boys were seated the stranger turned away and went to take a seat next to the man who had tapped him on the shoulder the week before. The puffed-up man had no idea he was about to make a newfound friend.

Just as Jesus planned to do with this church, why not begin today to change the people of your church. A good place to start is with the first person in your church who reads this story. Then forward it on to the person in your church who needs to change the least. They will be more likely to read it, apply it, and forward it on to the next person.

Addendum -- Matthew 5:44 (NKJ)   "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."

[ Steve Demaree -- from via William H. Rayborn (HeartWarming) ]


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