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When Good Deeds End in Tragedy

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

I received a strange call today from the sister of a young drifter I had become acquainted with a few weeks ago.  She had called to tell me that he had died.  It seems that he had hitched a ride with a guy who was bad news. This guy, along with his girlfriend and my friend, were headed for town when the police spotted them and gave chase.  Evidently, there was a warrant out for the driver’s arrest.  The chase ended badly when the car flew off an embankment and landed upside-down in a pond.  All three passengers must have been killed on impact.  There was no sign that any of them had tried to escape.

I got to know this young man through my work as a minister.  He had come by my office one day begging for food.  He had hitch-hiked down to Birmingham thinking he could find work, but when he arrived he discovered that jobs were scarce.  He’d been sleeping on a couple of plastic crates in the woods and collecting cans during the day to buy food.  Our church helped him with a few things–we bought him a few meals and helped him get into a trailer for $10 a night.  One of our deacons even found him a job.  He seemed interested in our church, and I was hoping he would study the Bible with me and obey the gospel.  He came to church one Sunday night and promised to return the following Wednesday.
He often said, “I’ve got my whole life in front of me.”  He was only nineteen.  Little did he know, that young life of his would end suddenly because of a bad decision.  He was killed before we had a chance to help him.
Any preacher can tell stories like this one.  We’re in a position where people feel like they can come and ask for help.  Most of them are freeloaders just looking for a handout.  You can get pretty calloused dealing with their kind several times a week.  But some people really do need help.  As hard as it might be to minister to them, the church must continue to try. 
I get pretty frustrated when I’m doing benevolent work.  At the same time, it puts me in contact with a cross-section of my community that I would never encounter otherwise.  That’s important.  Every person has a soul–even the ones who have made a mess out of their lives.
I’m not sure what I’m trying to say with this post.  This is just one story in a chain of unhappy endings.  Maybe it’s my way of bringing attention to one of the most difficult Christian responsibilities.  When our best efforts end in tragedy, we must put our trust in God and keep trying, knowing that this work is not for our glory, but God’s: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).