In summer 1985, the homeless mother of a small child asked me a question: Why had I been so willing to house her family for three weeks in a small travel trailer on our church parking lot?
I quoted the Golden Rule as it was quoted by Jesus in Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” Then I told her this story.
Five summers hence, in 1980, my best friend Roger Williams asked my help in moving him from his Baylor University apartment to the California seminary I attended.
He didn’t have to ask twice. A week later, my wife and I met Roger at his Waco, Texas, apartment where he and his wife, Belinda, were packing their Chevy Vega. After shoving his remaining possessions in my Toyota, we spent the next day on a monotonous drive through West Texas.
As we ascended Interstate 40 into New Mexico, Roger’s Vega began overheating. Fortunately, however, we managed to limp into Tucumcari, N.M., where we found a hotel.
The next day was Sunday, and I suggested we approach a local church for help. The others agreed, and we found a church where we presented our story along with our credentials. We explained we were Baylor graduates, ministerial students and the children of California pastors.
At first, not understanding what we were asking, they suspected we were conning them.
Not the case, we promised. We had money and only needed a good mechanic.
Reassured, the church members recommended a mechanic and proudly told us how they deal with traveling cons. They left their charity money with the local police station. Travelers needing money were referred to the sheriff. “It’s amazing,” they bragged, “how many of those travelers never show up at the police station.”
“Ha!” we laughed. “Pure genius!” we exclaimed, not wanting to be mistaken for “those same con artists.”
The next morning, the mechanic promised a quick repair, so we sent our wives ahead to a hotel in Albuquerque.
A few hours later, when Roger attempted to write a check, the mechanic scowled. Whoops, they didn’t take out-of-town checks. When we reached for our credit cards, we realized that we had given them to our wives for the hotel.
Not to fear, we thought. We called our new pastor friend and asked if he could help us cash a check.
There was a long silence on the line.
“You’ll need to go to the police station,” he told us. The mechanic would point the way.
Suddenly, the preacher didn’t see Baylor graduates any longer. We weren’t seminary students. We weren’t preachers. He only saw us as those people who had tried to con him in the past.
Five years after that, when the homeless mother asked me why I was so willing to help, I told her I remembered Tucumcari.
I remembered what it was like to have no one believe you or believe in you. I remembered what it was like to suddenly be nobody and have no one. I remembered what it was like to carry nothing but a smile on your face. I remembered what it was like to barely have a prayer.
And praying was what I was doing during that walk to the police station. As I prayed, I started patting my pockets. In my back pocket I found the credit card my wife gave me as she drove off that morning. “You should keep our card. We’ve got Belinda’s card.”
I remembered all of this when the woman asked me why I was so willing to help. And with that memory of Tucumcari, the Golden Rule became much easier to apply.