Back in the 1980s, probably 1987 or 88 , I was an adult sponsor on a high school church mission trip to Appalachia to a little coal mining town in West Virginia.
A chance encounter happened one evening. After a hard days work, after dinner we would walk to a convenience store a couple of blocks from the community center where we were staying. We would go there and get ice cream, but mostly we went there to use a pay phone to call home. I had a cell phone but it was difficult back then to get service many places. We were in a little town up one of the hollers in coal mining country, so the pay phones were our best bet.
Since there were several work crews from all over there working on people’s homes, just the way we were, the bank of 4 pay phones were usually busy. It didn’t matter that we had to wait our turn, it was just a time of fellowship and reflection on what our trip was really all about. We swapped stories with other work teams about our unique experiences we each had encountered. We were all a world away from our homes, back in Texas and other states.
One day while waiting, there was a young mother of several children, mostly under school age, that was using one of the phones. She made numerous calls, to family members or perhaps close friends trying to raise funds to make past due car payments. The repo-man was waiting across the parking lot. He had given her the chance to try to catch the payments up before he hooked on and towed her car away.
With every phone call came a desperate plea, “but if I don’t have my car there is no way I can get to work and If I don’t work how will I feed my babies.”
With each phone call you could see the rejection in her face. Finally with no one else to call she sit down on the curb and cried. The repo-man approached her to do what he had to do, ask for the keys.
Before he reached her I stepped toward him and inquired as to how much was needed for her to keep the car. The amount was just less than $500.
I gave the Repo-Man the money, he gave her a receipt and he got in his truck and drove away.
When the lady realized what had happened she was overcome by emotion and she hugged me. She was one of two very happy people there that day. I was happy because I knew I had made a difference in her’s and her children’s life.
I had also made a impact on the work team I was there with. Ours was a small group of high schoolers, numbering only four. They had all witnessed the event.
The young mother wanted my address so she could send me the money. I wrote my contact info down for her. She then started to give me hers. I told her I didn’t need her information. Soon afterwards she loaded up her kids and drove away.
The teenagers couldn’t understand why I gave a complete stranger that much money, but more than anything else they didn’t understand why I didn’t get her contact information.
I told them that when I decided to help her it was done from my heart and I didn’t expect to be repaid. The only reason I gave her my contact info was so if one day it would make her feel good to repay me, she would be able to. But never in my lifetime would it be necessary for me to try to collect the debt.
For the rest of that trip they would reassure me that I wasn’t going to get my money back. When we got back home they continued to ask me if I’d heard from the lady in West Virginia. The answer was always the same. “Not yet. I guess she just hasn’t had the money to spare”.
I saw one of those young men recently (more than 30 years later) now a successful engineer with a nice family. The first thing he said, “did you ever hear from the car lady?” My response was the same as it always was. But I think he understands now why I did it.
I was more than 99% sure that I would never hear from that young woman. What miracle was going to happen in her life where she could repay the money? The only miracle I was hoping for was that she could make her car payments in the coming months and feed her kids.