been trying to do an outreach project of some kind every second saturday of the month, which had to be rescheduled to sunday this month because of a wedding this past saturday. i hadn't gotten much response from people in the church yet, so as i drove to church sunday morning i still wasn't sure exactly what we'd do after church. passing the Sunoco station off U.S. 23 & Carpenter Rd in Milan, though, i felt a sense of conviction that we should start by washing the bathroom there.
after church, i could find only one person who wanted to join me, a 10 year old named Sarah. (a little background: Sarah, who loves Jesus with all her heart, had heard about our last servant evangelism project a couple of months ago, and then the next day she'd called me saying she read an article in a magazine about a vineyard church in another state doing the same kind of outreach, and how God had done something awesome through it. she made me promise to take her along the next time we washed bathrooms.) i knew Sarah was really eager to go, but i also knew it probably wasn't a good idea to go out if it were just going to be she and i. so i told her and her parents we could reschedule for another time when there was at least one other person available.
as we were talking about it, servant evangelism veteran Jon overheard and said, "oh, you're not going?" as i explained the situation, he told me he was up for it, if we still were. alright, we decided, it was getting late, but it would be worth doing at least one bathroom, if only so Sarah could get a taste of serving Jesus this way.
we loaded cleaning gear and some chocolates into my car, and pulled out of the church parking lot. on the road, i shared about my sense earlier that morning. we agreed to go to the Sunoco station, and prayed that God would use us and that we'd be allowed to clean their bathroom, since it was the only place we had in mind.
inside the station, there was a small line of people waiting to pay. we got in line behind them so that we could ask the cashier permission to clean the bathroom (funny, huh? you can dirty bathrooms without permission, but you've got to ask to clean them). the line took some time because the cashier was on the phone for a while, writing something down on a sheet of paper. eventually the line moved, people payed, and we got close to the front. only one young woman was in front of us--she'd been up front the whole time in fact, as people we're paying their bills. she hadn't moved. that is, until it was our turn to talk to the cashier.
she turned to face us, and seemed to be on the verge of tears. our eyes met hers, and she seemed to be pleading. "are you o.k.?" we asked.
"no," she said, and began to cry.
"what's wrong? is there anything we can do to help?"
"i'm lost. i just moved to Monroe a month ago, and now i don't know where i am or how i got here or how i'm going to get home." there was panic in her voice, and despair, like she was confused and trapped.
"it's o.k.," we said, trying to reassure her that Monroe was only 20 minutes or so from Milan, and that we were sure we could help her find her way home, no problem. that seemed to produce no relief whatsoever. then the cashier told us that she already had directions (that is why she'd been on the phone, writing down directions on the paper).
"is there something else?" we asked.
"i ran out of gas, and i don't have any money..."
aha! it suddenly became clear why Jesus had sent us to this gas station today. "no problem at all," we said, "your gas is on us today. that's why we're here. will you let us pay for it?" as we gave the cashier money, the anxiety and hopelessness melted away from the young woman's face, giving way to relief and bewilderment.
"would you like some chocolates?" Sarah asked, handing her a gift box of Godiva chocolates. the tears on her cheeks seemed to change midstream, from sadness to joyful surprise as her face brightened.
"would you like us to pray for you, too? we'd be happy to."
"yes...please. that would be great..." so we did, briefly and simply, there in the checkout line, and her whole person seemed full of peace when the prayer was done. Jon said he looked at the cashier while we were praying and her eyes were tearing up as well.
after the young woman went out to fill up her car with gas, the cashier asked what we wanted. "oh," we said, "we're here to clean your bathroom for you...may we?"
the expression on the cashiers face was genuinely priceless, as she nodded, temporarily too discombobulated (is that a real word?) to speak. we gave her some chocolates as well, and attended to our business, cleaning the bathroom to the best of our ability.
we thanked her for the opportunity to serve her afterwards, loaded the car back up, and drove back to the church, praying for the people we'd served and rejoicing that God had met us at Sunoco. rejoicing that he'd loved that young woman enough to send us to express his love and care to her. and rejoicing that he'd loved us enough to let us play.