A challenge in self-control
by Glen Doss, Major –
As I watched the woman emerge from beneath the bridge, a toddler by the hand and an infant cradled in one arm, my heart leaped. “So this is what it means to be a Salvationist,” I thought. “To offer sandwiches and a cup of soup in Christ’s name.” New to the Christian faith, I relished every moment of my changed lifestyle.
As we pulled the canteen to the edge of the park, our last stop of the night, the woman rushed to get into line. Already there were at least 20 men and women jostling to get ahead of one another. “Easy, easy. There’s plenty to go round,” said Mark, the man working with me. He had done this many times.
We gave each person a sandwich, a bowl of soup, and a cup of coffee. Water, milk and juice were also available. The line continued to grow. I was beginning to wonder if we had enough food for all when a grizzled, burly man stepped forward. I recognized him immediately—I had served him when we first pulled in. “I want a sandwich and coffee,” he demanded.
“Sir, I wish I could help you. But we’re running out of rations. I served you earlier, and the people behind you haven’t had anything yet.” His eyes flashed, and his jaw clenched. Abruptly he stepped forward so that his face was just a foot or so from mine—then he spat on me!
Time stood still. Spittle dripped down my forehead and nose. I saw red; I felt violated. Deep resentment mounted within me, and I was suddenly seized with an obsession to strike or curse the man. Wiping my handkerchief shakily across my face, I eyed him standing there leering, clearly seeking to provoke me to anger. Silently I prayed: “God, help me to behave like Christ toward this man. Help me to control my temper.” A sensation of deep warmth and assurance of God’s protective presence enveloped me. Through his grace I was able to respond, “God bless you, sir.”
The leer instantly vanished, replaced by a scowl. With an oath, the man stomped off. “Thank you, Lord!” I prayed. For I knew I would not react this way before coming to know Christ. “Touch this man’s heart. May he come to know you and find your peace.”
I turned my attention back to the line of people. It was twilight. Darkness would overcome us momentarily. As the woman with the two children approached, my heart went out to her. There was a frightened look in her eyes; her teeth were bad and her cheeks hollow. The face of the toddler clinging to her skirt was dirty, his clothes torn. I wondered what their story was. Handing her the food, I asked a few questions—what were her needs, where was she from? She was friendly and willing to talk, though there was desperation in her manner. She was driving on the way to a relative in the next state when her car broke down. It was an old clunker put together with wire; there was no saving it. For two days she and her little ones had been stranded. Her money was gone, and she didn’t know what to do.
I told her to stand by; I thought I could help her. As I served the remaining people, darkness enveloped the park. In the moonlight from a pay phone I called the Salvation Army family shelter. They had room—“Send them right over,” they said. When I shared the good news, the woman’s face lit up. “Oh, thank you! Thank you!” she exclaimed. Calling a taxi at my own expense, I saw the little family off.
As I watched the taxi disappear into the dark, I glanced back at the park where a few people were still eating. The van was closing up. As I got in beside the driver, I thanked God for a good day and for using someone like me to bring a little good into the world.