The first time I saw her was on Monday, she shuffled into the juvenile courtroom. She was trailed by a deputy who towered over her tiny frame. Her shoulders slumped as if the handcuffs on her wrists were pulling her toward the floor. She was seated in the jury box and was called on by the judge before long. She sat alone at the defendant’s table as the court process continued. The prosecutor spoke, then paused while a clerk went to get a phone number for the girl’s parents. The judge dialed the number. The girl’s mother answered, and soon the father joined the call. They were in Houston, Texas. The story leading up to the situation was revealed: The girl had been staying with her grandma and helping to care for her grandpa who was in hospice. Grandpa had passed away. Then, during Thanksgiving which was the first holiday without Grandpa, conflict arose. It was not surprising. The girl wound up in detention, and there wasn’t another relative’s or resource home for her to stay. The parents could not afford to come get her. However, she had to be released to a responsible party. She would turned eighteen in a few months; was it possible she would have to wait for that day before she could get out?
As the conversation continued, Beret, my wife, asked me if we could give her a ride. With some help, we got the judge’s attention. “Could we take her to meet her parents? Yes, we will drive her to Houston.” The parents were amazed but said yes. The judge was amazed and agreed. We were allowed make the arrangements. We spoke to the girl and asked her if she was okay with the plan. We also spoke to her in the detention center, and she agreed to the trip, and rather importantly, agreed to good behavior. We told her we would come to get her either Tuesday morning or Wednesday night. After a flurry of phone calls, rearranging schedules, and getting help for the Fallout Shelter gym and its class schedule, we were able to depart at 5:00 a.m. Tuesday. We drove together from Watertown, SD, to a suburb of Tulsa, OK. It was twelve hours to get the young lady to where she belonged, in her mother’s arms, and with her excited dogs. Safe.
The first time I saw you, you were walking out of a safe house. Your shoulders were slumped forward, your eyes were down, and your feet were heavy as you walked cautiously to the car side-by-side with the coordinator of your transportation. As the three of us greeted you, we tried to make you feel welcome and safe. We learned that you had just escaped after nearly twenty years in slavery, where you were sold for sex, used as a drug mule, and forced to do things that are unfathomable. You had been shot, stabbed, raped, and abused. You were enslaved—right here in the land of the free.
I saw you again later. Your eyes were lifted up. Although your shoulders were still heavy with the trauma of the twenty horrible years, the light in your eyes was evident, and you were ready to move again. Beret, you and I drove for two days, taking you to a place where you could continue to heal. We left you behind in the care of friends and with the stories of your life echoing in my head. The pain you bear is beyond comprehension. The things you said in the car should have fallen and died where they were spoken, but your story continues to echo in my mind. Your experiences compel me to drive forward, to be quick to say yes to those in need, to rescue those at risk of following your path, to provide you with safety, to put my life in harm’s way in order to ensure that your life is not. Because of you, my heart is softer, my hands are more ready, and my soul is closer to God. He is the only answer to this disaster of a world.
The first time I saw you was in a house in the Far East. You had been in a brothel for years, sold as a sex object, but you were just a middle schooler. I saw the light spark in your eyes when I showed you how to crush a man’s testicles if he tried to rape you. I saw the smile on your face when you were able to defend yourself against an attack from me, a man twice as big as you. I still pray for you often, and I imagine that your life has been full of growth in the knowledge and love of God since I first saw you in that concrete room.
The first time I saw you, there were tears in your eyes, your lips were trembling, and your voice quaked as you conceded to ride with us. As your belongings were packed into the SUV you were obviously full of fear, but we gave you a blanket to cover up in the backseat. We spent twelve hours driving in the SUV, and slowly your fear grew from silence into good conversation. When we left you, you were safe and ready for the next chapter in your life, and you were a new friend.
The first time I saw him, he was sitting and enjoying a meal in Access Ministries. He just needed a ride home back to Eagle Butte. We greeted each other and he became more than a random person. He told me his story. He had been caught, incarcerated, and released, but still had a chip on his shoulder. He accused the authorities of injustice and even suspected me of being part of the problem. We figured out the trip, and we departed, enjoying the beautiful day. He told me about being transported from one place to another, moved across the state on a minor warrant, and being brought back to the jurisdiction of the traffic court where he got his violation. He spent days in jail and then he was released with no way to get home. He had no money, no wallet, no phone—all of that was lost when he was being transported.
As we drove and the miles clicked away, he shared his music with me. He played his favorites—music that was not my style, but his passion for it made it exciting. I shared some of my favorites as well, and we compared thoughts. He talked about how he struggled with his faith, and how he knew that it’s the answer to a lot of his troubles. As we approached the river, he shared some music that he had written. He wrote poetry in music. It emulated the sound of the plains warrior but modernized and not all chanted; rap, traditional chant, and a good beat on the dashboard. We found a friendship; I dropped a friend off at his destination.
The first time I saw him was on the side of the interstate near Sioux Falls. He looked weathered, but clean. I pulled over and asked him where he was headed. He said north… I told him he was in luck. He climbed into the vehicle, with his backpack in tow. He told me stories of adventures, exciting stories, harrowing stories, and stories of peoples grace and compassion. He had been a hitchhiker for 50 or more years. He started when he was 12 when bus ticket was to expensive. He told me his sleeping bag and extra shoes had been stolen a night or two before.
We rode together to Summit, SD. He thought that would be a great place to head west from. He was excited to reach his destination in the mountains of Montana. He described a camp site he had found years ago, a hallow surrounded by beautiful pine trees, with a creek running through it. I bought him lunch, gave him a camping hammock – I told him it would be perfect next to the creek in Montana. He agreed, and we parted ways. I hope he is doing well. I think heaven will be full of people like him, people who know the great camp site by the creek, and we can walk their with our Savior.
Every trip and every drive, across town, or across the state, or across the country—each weighs on my heart. Each person who is a passenger in my car expands my mind, softens my heart, and encourages me to keep serving Jesus’s kingdom. I will provide what I have to the least of these. These image-bearers of Christ are beautifully created and worthy of my time, money, tears, patience, and love. I have always loved road trips because of the scenery. I still do. But the soul inside the car with me, that’s the real experience. That’s the best part.
Author’s note – Every transport we do is with a team. Sometimes my wife Beret and I, sometimes one of my kids, or a person from another ministry, or a volunteer. These stories are from my personal view, and I wanted to share the experience of saying yes to God’s kingdom, the experience of taking the opportunity to share some miles together with a stranger.
I hope you enjoy these shared moments.
In Christ’s Love, Rich Ohm