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The Hitchhiker

    For several days I had a nagging feeling that I had someone special waiting for me. In fact, I couldn't get the thought out of my mind. Hebrews 13:2 kept coming to the forefront of my thoughts. It was a mantra playing in my mind, overshadowing all my other thoughts: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

    When I went to the local bookstore, I picked up only one book. It was Linda Goodman's Star Signs. It was stacked on a lower shelf, and I had to actually stoop down to see it there. I reached down and pulled out this one particular hardback that was among dozens of other books. For whatever reason, this book acted like a magnet. I felt drawn to it. I quickly opened it at the beginning of the book, and jumping out at me was the Bible quote from Hebrews 13:2, which had been ever present in my thoughts all week long. I could not believe that the first book I picked up, on the first page I turned to, had this verse sitting right there in front of me to remind me of "my appointment."

    I did not know what specifically I was to do or whom I was going to run into. I was trusting that my inner feelings would lead me to the right place and the right time to make "my appointment." I relaxed and let the thought go.

    Later in the week, while at work in downtown Sacramento, I got an urge to leave work early to head home. The feelings were too strong to ignore. I left work, heading south down Highway 99. That Bible passage kept coming back to me as I drove. I knew something was about to happen, so I was on the lookout for what it might be even though I was not totally certain of what I was looking for. My feelings got stronger the farther I drove south. I felt I was about to make my appointment and very soon.

    When I passed the South Sacramento Kaiser Hospital, which was only about five miles from my house, I saw a hitchhiker alongside the highway.

    It was illegal to be hitchhiking on that stretch of the highway. He was not near an on-ramp, and he was standing along the highway where no one could safely pull over to give him a ride. It was obvious that this young man did not have a clue as to how to hitchhike.

    I decided that I should pull over and give him a ride. It just did not feel like an optional thing to do. My feelings were very strong that this was something I needed to do. I pulled over as close to where he was as I possibly could. Even then, he had to run about 100 feet to get to my pickup truck. When he got up to my side window, I could see how young he was. I later found out he was 22 years old. He looked beat-up by the weather and life in general. He was soaked from sleeping in a field alongside the highway the night before. The rain had continued to dampen him and his spirits all day. He was wearing a short sleeve shirt, and he didn't even have a jacket. He had taken a pair of white socks and had fashioned gloves over both of his arms. It was apparent that he was trying to keep warm, but the socks were soaked, as was everything else he was wearing.

    He looked in at me through my truck window, but then he pulled back with a strange look on his face when he got a good look at me. I asked him where he was heading. He replied that he was trying to get to Texas, to find his step dad. I was only going a couple more exits down the highway, but I told him to hop in the truck and I would take him a short way.

    He smelled like someone who had been living out on the streets for weeks without a shower. He had a rancid body order that emanated in all directions. It was a musky, foul smell like a pile of unwashed gym clothes stuffed in a locker for months. His clothing was drenched and more than just dirty; he was filthy from head to toe. He was so cold and chilled that he was actually shaking. He did not say too much as we made it to my exit ramp. When I took the turnoff, I impulsively asked him to stay in the truck. I took him to my home so he could warm up and eat.

    When we got to my house and my daughter saw the young man coming in with me, she made an expression that I knew meant she wondered what in the heck I was doing. His odor permeated the house. I showed him the bathroom where he could take a hot shower. I gave him some of my clothing to change into, tossing his spent rags in my garbage can. When he was clean and freshly dressed, I took him to my garage and pulled out my camping equipment. My thoughts were that if this kid were going to survive out on his own, he needed some basic equipment.

    I pulled out a backpack and filled it with camping gear, including a waterproof tarp that he could use to make a shelter. Back in the house, I packed a wool blanket and some other comfort items into the backpack. I went through my clothing and gave him some underwear, tee shirts, sweaters, socks, extra jeans, and most important, a jacket. I also gave him an old Oakland Raider's baseball cap and a bag to carry extra food and clothing. I made sure that he was fully equipped.

    He was grateful and polite when I made him lunch. He looked at me in the same way he had when we first saw each other on the highway. I asked him what he was thinking.

    He told me that he had left his grandmother's house up on the northern coast of California because she had died. He had no one to turn to and no place to call home. He told me about all his time spent in foster homes and about the lousy life he had been living. He was now trying to hitchhike to Texas to see if his step dad would take him in.

    He went on to tell me how he got to that place on the highway and what had happened to him the night before. He told me that the rainstorm had drenched him. He was unable to stay dry because he had no tent or rain gear. Everything he owned had been totally rain soaked. His sleeping bag was ruined, so he had thrown it away. He had no jacket or spare clothing. He went on talking, and it was easy for me to see that he was desperate and depressed. The night before, he had felt that he had absolutely nothing in his life for which to live. There was nobody in his life to help him or care about him. This caused him much inner pain. I could empathize since I'd felt this way many times during my younger years.

    As he talked about his night of despair, I could tell how close this young man had come to thoughts of suicide. I thought on that night of his young life when all he wanted was to end all the suffering. He had felt so unloved and unwanted, even the weather was against him. At this point in his conversation, his eyes got that fixed look on me again.

    He told me that at his very lowest point of despair the night before, he had some kind of "real-life dream," as he called it, while he was totally awake. He saw a man who looked just like I did: same clothing, same beard, hair, eyes, and voice. He believed I was the one who had been in his real-life dream the previous night. He did not understand how or why. He went on to say that "this man" came to him with a smile on his face as he reached out and said something.

    I stopped his story at this point. I opened a kitchen drawer, reached in and pulled out an opened pack of sugarless chewing gum. His eyes opened wide.

    "Some people have said that I have a special psychic gift. When I hand you this, you will understand more fully what happened to you last night," I said.

    I reached out and put the pack of gum into his hand, and his eyes began to tear up. Why I had said and done this, I was not even sure myself, but the words just came out.

    He stated that in his real-life dream, the man who looked like I did, had put the package of chewing gum into his hands. Then, the man in the dream went on to say something to him.

    "And the man said that everything would be all right. God loves you," I finished his sentence for him.

    The young man let out a gasp. He said that was word for word what the man in his dream had said to him. Those were the exact words that the night before gave him enough hope to continue his journey to Texas. My daughter, who had been watching all this transpire, couldn't believe all that she heard. The kitchen was very quiet for a few moments as we tried to figure out what had taken place. We had just witnessed something incredibly special. We did not have a clue as to how or what had happened or even why.

    I gave the young man a hug. We got back into my pickup truck, and I drove him to the best spot to catch a ride heading south on Highway 99. I put a few dollars in his pocket and handed him a raincoat so he would be comfortable. He got out of my truck, and I watched him walk away down the road. He turned one last time to look back at me, sitting there in my truck.

    "Thanks," he called out.

    "Thank God," I replied.

    He walked over to the on-ramp for the highway to continue his journey. I started up my truck and turned around to head home. My eyes were beginning to get moisture in them. I figured it must have been all the rain, but I knew this was much deeper. I knew God had given me a special gift that day.

    That happened back in 1991, and I have been sending out prayers for this young man ever since. I do not know his name or where he is, but I know that in some strange and wonderful way our paths had crossed. Our lives have been forever changed because I listened to that voice within me. How many more strangers are waiting out there for others to discover and help? How many are "angels unawares?"

    � 1965-2003 by Bill McDonald

    From the Book A Spiritual Warrior's Journey