How I picked up two tattooed hitchhikers and learned something about Christianity
Last Sunday I attended church in Charles Town, West Virginia. It was a spiritually satisfying service and the spirit of truth was palpable from beginning to end.
Among other topics, the leaders and speakers discussed the need to love, support and minister to one another.
After all, every one of us is a child of God.
After a few parking-lot goodbyes with old friends, I left to attend a committee meeting at another congregation about 45 minutes away in Virginia. Just a few miles down the road, I spotted a man and woman beating the blistering heat in the shade of an overpass. According to the sign — and the side of the highway they’d chosen — they were heading southwest.
Even at the speed limit, I could tell the man had tattoos, piercings and that the woman was noticeably pregnant. I rolled by them in surprisingly heavy Sunday traffic, but their faces seemed to travel with me.
Moments earlier I’d sat in church and heard passionate testimony about the need to better see and serve my spiritual siblings. Then, with those inspired words still bouncing around my head, I’d driven right by an opportunity to turn a sermon into service.
I glanced at the clock on my dash, took a peek in my rearview mirror and drove on. Two exits later, I finally listened.
I circled back and was actually relieved to see the couple still sitting in the same spot. I studied their appearance and thought, “I’m glad my kids aren’t in the car.”
“Where ya’ headed?” I asked the man in my very best I-am-a-pro-at-this voice.
I laughed. “That’s a bit far, how about 30 miles farther than you are now?”
They loaded their backpacks and a few other personal items in my trunk and the introductions began. They were heading to Tennessee, California and, eventually, Hawaii. I told them to call me again for that leg of the trip.
I explained why I was in a suit to segue an introduction about my faith. They shared their faith, too, and although we had some doctrinal differences, we soon discovered that as Christians, we agreed on much more than we didn’t. I was impressed with their knowledge and appreciation of the Bible and they spoke of their deep respect for people of all religious backgrounds.
The woman, Sparrow, shared a favorite scripture and her friend, Zach, did the same. Later, she recalled a sweet spiritual experience that occurred in the same Tennessee town they will soon revisit on their journey west.
They educated me on their lifestyle of peaceful, sustainable living and their belief that God is troubled by the sliding standards of the world. I asked if they were worried by the perception of hitchhikers and people like me judging them at 70 miles an hour. Sparrow spoke for them both. “Being resentful or angry at them for judging us is no better than them judging us in the first place. We can’t worry about what they think. We can only focus on treating people with kindness.”
Suddenly I thought, “I wish my kids were in the car.”
We soon switched highways and the time came for me to head north and for them to go south. As we approached the exit, they asked me why I’d stopped and I explained my beliefs on how the Spirit works. I confessed there have been many times when I passed someone on the interstate or an onramp and hadn’t offered assistance. But on this particular Sabbath day, I’d felt peace and a spiritual invitation to help.
We said goodbye, took the obligatory selfie and I continued on to my commitments in the opposite direction.
Finally heading home several hours later, I passed that same exit on the interstate and wondered if they’d had success moving south. But there they were, still smiling in the thick Virginia heat, sweat pouring down.
I drove them another 20 miles south before leaving them yet again at my hometown exit. I prayed they would safely arrive at their next stop and that Sparrow, Zach and baby would find friends and joy in the journey.
Later that evening I shared the experience with my family. I explained that Dad isn’t promoting hitchhiking and we won’t pick up everyone we see with their thumbs out — safety and discernment are still the highest priority. I am, however, promoting that we both drive and live a little bit slower so that we might see people beyond their outside appearance.
I hope I’m wrong, but it’s unlikely I will see Zack and Sparrow again. It won’t matter, though — I won’t forget the peaceful spirit of Christian unity I felt with them at my side. And our time together reminded me I need to do a much better job of taking my Christianity with me when I walk out of church every week.
We were treated to a spiritual reminder that a friend is a friend, a believer is a believer and a Christian is a Christian — even if they look and live a little differently.
Christianity doesn’t — and shouldn’t — stop at the church doors. It should carry all the way from a highway in Virginia to a sandy beach in Hawaii — and all the places in between.