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The Hitchhiker

  • Alan Muehlenweg
  • 2011 5 May
  • COMMENTS
The Hitchhiker

Last night, I picked up a hitchhiker along the highway. I'm ashamed to admit it's the first time I've ever done that. Sure, I've handed out a bottle of water or treated a homeless person to lunch. But I've never picked up a hitchhiker.

As I pulled over, a lot of thoughts went through my mind. First, my wife is going to kill me for doing this! I'll be late, and she will be worried about me picking up some stranger on the side of the highway. Second, what if my wife's fears are founded and this guy tries to mug me or worse? Third, how does this even work? What do I say? "Hi, I'm Alan, I'll be your driver for the next 30 miles."

But I knew when I saw him, that I had to pick him up. It didn't hit me at first. I actually drove past him. Then I got off the interstate, went two miles back around, and then picked him up. But God was telling me the whole time that I had to pick this man up and give him a ride. So I did.

As he got in the church van I was driving, he put his bag in the back and climbed in the cab. I introduced myself, "Hi! I'm Alan. You hungry?"

"Yeah. I'm Tim. Thanks for stopping. I'm starved. I had a granola bar this morning at about 6:30, but nothing since."

I took him to Arby's and we both got a combo meal and sat down. People took notice of Tim's long, scraggly, oily hair and his dirty clothes, but no one was really rude or said anything. Tim told me about his life, about how he was born in Ohio, his dad died when he was 12, of how he moved to Tennessee, was discharged from the military for a seizure he had in basic, and that he had been hitchhiking since then. That was in 1972. He has been homeless, hitchhiking and living from Tennessee to California for 37 years. 

I realized that much of Tim's situation was self-induced. He had attempted to go to a career tech school in California, and that it was even going to be all paid for, but there was too much paperwork and he didn't want to take the time to fill it out. When he was discharged from the military, he could have gone to college in Tennessee for free with his GI benefits, but didn't enroll in time to take advantage of it. He had three years to do so.

After we ate, I took him to the motel next door and put him up for the night. And I drove home.

As I was driving the last hour to my house, I could not get Tim out of my mind. All the details about him were vividly impressed upon me. His silver hair that was longer than my wife's, his hands that were cleaner than I expected but still quite dirty, the fact that he didn't smell as bad as I thought a person hitchhiking from California would, his shoes that he had gotten recently that already had holes in them. But the one thing that stood out more than anything else was his eyes. He had the clearest blue eyes I have ever seen. They were the color of light blue ice, like glaciers. 

Hear my heart when I say this: He was beautiful. It broke my heart that he was in such a situation and I kept telling myself, "Alan, he made these choices, these decisions that have brought him here. Yeah, life threw him some hard knocks, but he didn't do himself any favors."

And that's when I had the following thought. I wrote all the above, not for you to say, "What a great guy Alan is!" but to hear what God led me through last night in my hour towards home:

God looked at humanity, after the fall. He saw our dirty clothes, our unkempt hair, our dirty hands, our shoes with holes in them. All of that. And He said, "They are beautiful."

And even while Satan whispered, "God, they did this to themselves. They made these decisions. Remember? You told them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Don't feel too bad for them," God sent His Son in the form of a man to pay the penalty for our sins.

And even while some well-intentioned angel said, "God, don't give them grace; they will just spend it on cheap liberty," God released grace through the cross.

Both statements are true:

1. We did do this to ourselves.
2. We do spend grace on cheap liberty.

But God loved us through those facts and gave us the greatest gift of all in Jesus Christ.

So the next time you see a homeless person and think, "I shouldn't give them cash, they will just spend it on alcohol," or, "They probably just did this to themselves," remember: the same is true about us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And whatsoever we do unto the least of these, we do to Him.

Alan Muehlenweg is the student pastor at First Baptist Church in Wagoner, OK. He also works in the field of ministry marketing and working with non-profit organizations to help them better communicate how they are changing the world. Alan is an avid Star Wars fan, and has successfully passed that love on to his wife and son (who named the family dog Padme Amidala). Used by permission of the author.

Original publication date: May 20, 2009