Portland Tabernacle corps officer has an unexpected encounter on Christmas Eve.
by Raymond Dihle, Lieutenant
It happened on Christmas Eve.
I had just dispatched the drivers to pick up the kettles and stands. It was the final day of the kettle campaign and there was a light at the end of the tunnel—kettles were almost done! With the last driver sent out, I dragged myself to my office and sat down at my desk to catch up on my email while I waited for the drivers to return.
Christmas planning started months ago and I had been going non-stop since the beginning of October. Every corps officer works hard this time of year; I was tired. I felt like I had missed Christmas. Not the lights and the bells and the music—they were everywhere and impossible to miss. I felt I had passed right by the reason for the season, the joy of Jesus’ birth and the truth that it brings. In their place were Ring-Bells.org, counting kettles, hiring bell ringers, bank deposits, food boxes, meeting and kettle reports.
As I sat at my desk, bothered by how slowly my computer was starting up, I looked out the window into the gathering darkness and noticed a lone figure standing in our nearly empty parking lot. A woman, about 45 or 50 years old, was standing there. The corps, family services, and senior center were all closed. With nothing else going on in the neighborhood, she seemed out of place. She had her hand on her chin and was looking around with a worried expression on her face. I had never seen her before; she wasn’t one of the “regulars,” so I went outside to see what she had to say.
“I don’t know,” she said when I asked her if she was OK. “I guess I need a Christmas miracle,” she said and then fell silent. I waited a few moments before I asked her what she meant. “Well, I’ve been driving around, not knowing what to do or where to go. I’ve got a 15-year-old son, my husband doesn’t work, I’ve got no money and no food. It’s Christmas and I have nothing. I need a Christmas miracle.”
We had just completed Christmas distribution, Adopt-a-Family, and Silvercrest distribution. Did we have anything left? I didn’t think so. I thought, “Great, just great. It’s Christmas Eve and the shelves are bare for her and for us.”
I said a quick prayer and told her that I don’t think we had anything left but if she would bring her car around, I would go in and check to see if anything remained in our pantry. As I walked through the now quiet hallways of the corps, I was pretty sure I would only be able to dig up a loaf of stale bread and maybe a can of string beans.
I unlocked the door to the pantry and flicked on the light. Looking around the room, I noticed one food box sitting on the conveyor. That’s odd—they are not usually put there unless they are ready to go. I opened it up and to my surprise I found it to be a full food box! I threw it in the cart and felt a small bit of hope rising within me. Walking over to the freezer, I opened it up and found it empty except for one small turkey! Now I was starting to feel like something special was happening here. I grabbed the turkey and as I turned back toward the cart I noticed the potato bin held one five-pound sack. A scripture verse started coming to me…how did that one go? I loaded it all in the cart and started heading back to the parking lot. As I passed my office I grabbed one of the giveaway Bibles I keep there and headed out the door.
She had just stepped out of her little beat up hatchback when she spotted me heading her way. She saw the cart and what was in it. She began to quietly cry. I loaded the food into the back of her car and handed her the Bible. She handed it back and I thought she did not want it, but she said, “Write something in it.”
I thought for a moment and wrote, “Always remember your Christmas Miracle of 2010.” She read what I had written, looked at the food, then at me and said, “My Christmas Miracle.” She smiled, got in her car and drove away.
As I got back into my office, the Scripture I had been trying to remember finally came to me: The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brother of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:37-39 NIV).
I will never forget Christmas Eve 2010. It was the night I met Jesus in our parking lot.