Wilma vs the Methodists
To tell this story, I have to go back a couple of years. I was pumping my gas at a Quick Trip station near work, just off I-85 and in an affluent neighborhood of Buford Ga, known as Hamilton Mill.
I was approached by a casually dressed – neither well-dressed nor raggedy – white man who said he had left home without his wallet and needed ten dollars for gas, could I help him out? Immediately suspecting a scam, I told him, ‘no’. However, I have agonized over that decision for the two years since. What if he was legitimate? What if I had been in that situation, what would I do?
Not all that long ago, the topic in Sunday School class was about helping our fellow man and I had the opportunity to tell the story and ask for advice, advice from a biblical point of view.
While it was generally agreed that there are many scam artists out there, the best answer seemed to come from Miss Betty, a seventy-ish Black woman who had the good sense to be raised in the State of Alabama, though on a dirt-poor cotton plantation. Her suggestion was: “Do as it says in the Bible; give the man the money. He has reached out to you and you have responded in a Godly manner. The onus is now on him, his soul and his conscience to deal with, as to whether his need is legitimate or is not.”
I liked that answer.
After our Lake Charles detour, my mother and I had just crossed from Louisiana – which we would learn in a week’s time is referred to as “Lousy-ana” by some of its residents – into Orange, Texas and we pulled off into a very well-engineered and popular Texas Welcome Center.
Texas Welcome Center, I-10 in Orange, Texas
I wanted to use the facilities, poke around to make sure I got my free Texas road map and plastic trash bag, “Don’t Mess With Texas”, and as well, to make a phone call, surreptitiously. My mother did not want to come in, staying by the truck with the windows rolled down. I took longer than both of us had anticipated and when I returned to the truck, a situation had arisen.
Both my mother and a stranger began to approach me. I expected the stranger to be a sympathetic sort who was going to say to me, “I’m glad you’re back, your mother was getting worried.”
Instead, he threw me for a loop by saying that his car was broken down, could I give him ten dollars? Meanwhile, my mother is virtually yelling at me, “Get in the truck, get in the truck,” and she climbed in.
The stranger continued towards me with his wallet in his hand showing me his Texas Driver’s License, claiming to be legitimately in need. I’ve got Miss Betty’s advice in my thoughts as I hear my mother becoming more frantic, “Start the truck, let’s go…” and the stranger getting closer so that I can read his license.
Deciding that between Miss Betty, the stranger and God, it was my mother that I had to sit beside for the next 2,000 miles so we would follow her course of action. I started the truck and we moved on.
She explained that the stranger had waited until a group of people eating at a nearby picnic table had packed up and left, before approaching her with this tale. She had told him that he should go inside the Welcome Center and seek advice. Under any circumstances a ninety-year-old woman is going to be concerned when approached by a stranger, but making it worse was that she was carrying a fair bit of cash, exchanged into American money before leaving Canada. Plus, she was indeed worried about what had happened to me.
After listening, I told her my Methodist story. I don’t know if it calmed the waters somewhat but at least I had a response. And there was no shortage of conversation for the next hundred miles.
Well, perhaps I should say, I did a lot of listening.