It was a warm Sunday in late fall. The church service was over, and Pastor Sam,* his wife Karen, and their seven children enjoyed some time of fellowship with their friends before piling into the van. Sixteen-year-old Andrew hopped into the driver’s seat of the big 15-passenger van, and Pastor Sam settled into the front passenger seat. They only lived a few miles from church, but every little bit of driving practice was good experience for Andrew. Once Karen and the children were settled in, Andrew drove out of the parking lot and onto the highway. It was little Stephanie’s fourth birthday, and they were looking forward to an afternoon party at home with family and friends.
One moment there were the happy sounds of the children talking, then CRASH! The deafening screech of tires was followed instantly by the sickening sound of crunching metal. The children erupted in screams. Sam was disoriented but regained his senses quickly. Glancing back, he was shocked to discover the front of a black pickup actually in the van! It had smashed through the two rear doors.
The two-vehicle wreck came to a shuddering halt in the ditch. The jolt had broken Sam’s seat, but he was thankful he was unhurt. Before he had time to check on his family, the pickup’s driver was at his door.
The man released a torrent of desperate words, culminating with a wail, “What have I done?!” The driver was hysterical.
Sam recognized him. He was Brad Young, a town drunk. And it was obvious that Brad recognized Sam. The pastor was well-known and loved both by those in the church and the community.
Karen clambered out of the van to speak to Brad. “You’ve been drinking. You could’ve killed us!”
Nine-year-old Madison was crying in the back seat. Her head had been hit by a flying toy. Sam ignored Brad for a moment to check on his family. Thank God there were no serious injuries. Then Sam heard hollering from the ditch.
“Is the preacher still there? Where’s the preacher? Can the preacher talk to me? Please, I need help!”
Sam found Brad rolling around in the ditch in a fetal position.
“Please, preacher, can you help me?”
Though intoxicated, Brad was alert enough to realize what he had done. He knew this crash meant jail time for him. He grasped at straws, pleading with Sam. “Can you help me?”
“Brad, of course I’ll help you, but I need you to know that change can only come through Jesus.” Pastor Sam didn’t mince words. He shared what he could of the gospel, but within minutes, the ambulance showed up. Once the police arrived, Brad was taken into custody. He was not only very drunk, but had been driving at over 110 mph (177 kmh). As Brad was led away, Sam assured him that he would go to see him.
A week later, Brad was released on bail. Sam visited him on his first day out. Brad was floored that Sam would actually come and see him after everything that had happened. He’d thought he would never be able to show his face in public again. After all, he had almost killed the community’s pastor and family. Pastor Sam talked with Brad about forgiveness, and assured him that his whole family freely forgave him for what he had done.
Some time earlier, Sam had gone through a TERM Seminar and ever since then, he’d been using GoodSeed resources in his church. He offered to go through the interactive edition of The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus with Brad. Brad was more than willing. His probation officer had wanted Brad to get into a secular rehabilitation program as soon as possible, but Brad asked if he could meet with Sam instead.
“You mean the guy you ran into? You’ve got to be kidding.” The probation officer simply couldn’t believe that Sam would really be interested in meeting with the man who had been responsible for the accident. She called Sam to clarify, and Sam assured her that he was more than willing to meet with Brad and that, as a family, they had fully forgiven him. Pastor Sam used this opportunity to share the gospel with the officer, telling her about God’s forgiveness.
Brad was starving for spiritual things. At his first session with Sam, they spent five and a half hours reading and discussing The Stranger. They continued twice a week, meeting for two to three hours each time. Brad simply couldn’t get enough! It was as though the lights had started to go on for him. He had so many questions and Pastor Sam answered each one.
During one session when they were near the end of the book, Pastor Sam was explaining more about faith and trust. He reviewed how being righteous before God wasn’t about a person’s actions or about keeping rules. Instead, it was trusting in what Jesus had accomplished on the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to take care of a person’s sin problem. Sam linked it to the illustration from the Old Testament of the blood sacrifice covering a person’s sin.
Brad stopped Sam and said, “That is exactly what I believe! I believe that!” The lights of understanding and personal faith had dawned.
A month later, Brad stood up in Pastor Sam’s church and was baptized upon confession of his faith in Jesus. He had become a faithful attendee at church, bringing his children with him, and he continues to learn what it means to take God at his word in his new-found life of faith.
Pastor Sam still has weekly Bible studies with Brad and now Brad’s wife has tentatively started to attend as well. At present, Brad is the only believer in his family, but his transformed life is a testimony to the power of the gospel. But it is not just his family who has seen it. Sam was able to get Brad into community service instead of jail time, and seeing Pastor Sam and Brad working together in town has made a profound impact on the whole town. Complete strangers from other states have called Sam to ask about the car wreck, the subsequent Bible studies, and Brad’s changed life. It was through one of these contacts that a man was so blessed and encouraged by the testimony that he and his friends sent enough money to purchase a replacement vehicle for Sam’s family as well as pay for a family holiday.
Brad’s probation officer has also seen the remarkable change in Brad. She recently called Pastor Sam to ask if he would be willing to take another alcoholic through the same study.
Sam told her, “I’m not a counsellor and I don’t do therapy. But I give Jesus and his Word. It’s all about God and it’s only Jesus who will save and change him.” Time will tell whether this second man will be willing to sit down with Pastor Sam and discover the liberating truth of the gospel as well.
Pastor Sam’s thrill is to teach believers and see them gain a sure footing on Scripture through systematic, foundational creation-to-Christ resources. “It is incredibly profitable for their growth and learning about their God,” he says. For Brad, that clear teaching has meant his salvation from both a rough lifestyle of sin and an eternity separated from God.
We never know who God will bring across our paths, and it may be through shocking circumstances. May we, like Sam, have the love of Christ in us—a love that is quick and willing to forgive, a love that is willing to share the good news of the gospel with those who desperately need him. Even a wrecked van is a small price to pay for the privilege of being an ambassador for Christ.
(* All names changed as per GoodSeed policy.)