It isn’t unusual for me to get hit by the Holy Spirit while I’m listening to a storyteller’s testimony during an interview. The stories I write for Good Catch Publishing tend to be a bit more compelling than the average Christian testimony. The storytellers are handpicked by their churches. The people often relate how God brought them safely out of multiple suicide attempts, severe alcoholism and drug abuse, long stretches in prison, horrific abuse during their upbringing — and the list goes on.
But this time, after Nathan finished telling me his story, I was so affected that I started telling him mine. Then, after we said goodbye and I hung up the phone, I dropped to the floor and started praying. And weeping.
Over the next few days, I began to sense God telling me to drive out and meet Nathan. This was a rather outlandish request since the man lives in Boise — a seven-hour drive from Portland, where I live. I wasn’t sure why, but because so many unusual things had already happened in the context of this project (I don’t normally collapse on the floor sobbing in prayer), God had my attention. I sensed a spiritual watershed in progress.
After finishing out a cluttered week, I looked at my calendar and found three free days in a row, a rarity for me. After texting Nathan (who enthusiastically agreed to meet with me), I packed a few things and went blazing out on I-84 so energetically that I neglected to wash my windshield, the better to enjoy Columbia Gorge — some of God’s most mind-blowing work. Even through the bug carcasses, it looked like eye candy.
I arrived in Boise and sat down with Nathan at Maui Wowi. It is a comfortable place with friendly staff and a substantial menu, including food. There are also private meeting rooms, one of which Nathan and I adjourned ourselves to with our beverages.
I knew Nathan had carved a few hours for me out of a busy schedule, so I asked him where we should start. Truthfully, I hadn’t really set an agenda.
Nathan made an expansive gesture with his hands. “Hey, you drove all the way out here. It’s your nickel.”
“Fair enough,” I said, and launched into my testimony. In retrospect, I wish I had spent a little more time. In the first place, Nathan himself had spent more than two hours telling me his story. But I was concerned both with brevity and also about “catastrophizing,” which a person can easily fall into when relating details of an unhappy upbringing and general adversity (both salient elements of my story).
After I was finished, Nathan drew me a picture, which I won’t describe other than to say it is a graphic representation of how to build strength into the Christian life and ministry. I still have the drawing. I’m planning to reproduce it in a colorful, artistic rendering and laminate it. I have never been presented with a more simple description of the Christian walk.
After our meeting, Nathan brought me to his house, where I was treated to dinner with his family. We were joined halfway through the meal by Nathan’s friend, Alan, who had volunteered to lodge me for two nights. Most of the conversation centered on what God was up to in our lives. Everyone had something to share.
Over the next day, I attended a wedding and a Bible study and met other members of Nathan’s church, including the pastor, Matt, who told me some of his story (he attended Bible school in Portland), then put his hand on my shoulder and prayed for me.
Finally, it was Saturday morning, and I was coming toward the end of the time I had set aside for the trip. But there was much more. It just so happened that, almost directly on the route home was Ontario, Oregon, the home of another storyteller, Joseph, whose story I wrote last October. The story was a heavy one. We ended up doing three interviews — the initial one plus two follow-ups. Joseph and I had spent at least six hours on the phone altogether. His wife, Kristy, had been by his side during each interview.
I have come to believe that the Holy Spirit does something special during all these interviews. I am always moved by the stories I hear. The testimonies continue ministering to me not only during the writing process but long after the books have gone to print. I am always amazed by the trust these people place in me, a person they have never met, often hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Joseph was no exception. Not only did he devote prodigious amounts of time for the interviews, he was responsive to my frequent e-mails requesting documents. At one point, I wrote to ask if he could reproduce a letter he had written to his father years before. When I went back to check my e-mail box, I found he had sent me a scanned copy of the actual letter!
Particularly after I had shared some of my own story with them, Joseph and Kristy treated me like family. They even invited me out to their house (“We have an extra room,” they told me.). Circumstances had so far not permitted me to take them up on their offer.
However, when my visit with Nathan came together, I quickly e-mailed Joseph:
I will be in your area the afternoon/evening of Saturday, April 5th. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you more notice, but this came together suddenly. I would really like to meet you and Kristy if there’s any way you can scratch a few hours together — even an hour over coffee would be great. Let me know.
I texted him to make sure he got the e-mail. Friday night, I got a text back:
Got your text and e-mail. Am working 4pm to 12am on Sat. and would love to meet you. Do you know what time you will be in Ontario?
The texts went back and forth. By the time I was about ready to leave Boise, Joseph’s pastor (Pastor Dave) was in the loop, as well as their daughter, Deborah and Joseph’s lifelong friend, Tristan, (who is in the story). All of them were planning to meet with us at a favorite local hangout called Jolt & Juice. I found out later that Joseph had just finished a double shift that morning at 8am. He had only had a few hours’ sleep when I came banging on their door.
The meeting was surreal at first. Contributing stories for these books is a relatively new development for me. It still feels strange to be asked to sign books and that sort of thing. When Kristy and Deborah asked me to sign several books for them, I found myself struggling to come up with something inspiring and erudite to write inside the flaps. But what really got to me was hearing them tell me how much they loved the story, especially Joseph, who said I had seen further into him than he had intended. (I don’t think he knows how great a compliment he paid me with that comment.)
The meeting was the best time I’ve had in a long time. We sat for more than two hours at Jolt & Juice, nursing our smoothies and talking about events in our lives as though we were old friends. There was much laughter. Then, at some point, they asked me to tell them my testimony, which I did willingly and with very little discomfort. Our common faith had laid a remarkable foundation of trust and calm.
Pastor Dave told me more anecdotes than I can recall about what was happening with the book. Copies of it were going out like free newspapers all over town. There was a gratifyingly dog-eared copy right on one of the tables in Jolt & Juice. Everyone at the church had been encouraged to hand them out liberally, and stories were trickling back in.
Pastor Dave told about how he had met a man of Middle-Eastern descent (Amir) while he was taking his car through a car wash where the other man worked. Amir was quite open and disclosed that he had been a member of a gang for several years. As if to prove it, he lifted his shirt to show Pastor Dave the nine bullet-shaped scars in his torso.
As Pastor Dave was leaving, he pulled a book off the stack he kept on his passenger seat and gave it to Amir. Then, a week or so later, he went back by the car wash to touch base. Amir greeted him with light in his eyes.
“I’ve been reading that book you gave me!” he said excitedly. After a bit of conversation, Pastor Dave got around to asking Amir a really forthright question.
“My friend, have you thought about praying to Jesus? He wants to be your Savior.”
This, of course, was the most dramatic story of the day. But I wonder how many other times this has happened with our books. From the moment I accepted the job as a freelance writer for GCP, I considered it a bona fide ministry. But I have to admit I didn’t really picture this kind of thing happening. I was floored.
Perhaps it is because Pastor Dave has seen this kind of thing happen with his church’s book that he has made himself an unofficial promoter of GCP. The gentleman (Nathan) I had just come from visiting in Boise? His church launched its book project after Pastor Dave sold them on the idea during a pastor’s conference. Just before our meeting broke up, Pastor Dave told me he intends to persuade 20 more churches to get their own books off the ground over the next calendar year. He had a mischievous grin on his face.