It was an unusually wet day in Lagos. The clouds and the wind conspired to conjure up that eerie feeling that something was going to go wrong that day but Steve muttered a thoughtless prayer under his breath, kissed his wife goodbye and rushed out of the door in hot pursuit of a business contract that was going to change his life. Steve had channeled his entire focus and resources to landing this deal and nothing was going to stand in his way today, not even the weather, the uneasy feeling he couldn’t shake off or his wife’s advise to postpone the meeting.
The engine of his 2006 Toyota Camry screamed in protest as he slammed down the accelerator and ate up the road like a crazed formula-1 driver on his final lap to win the grand prix. That inner voice of caution grew louder but Steve pressed on, determined to seal this seemingly elusive deal that was meant to change his life. His horn blared loudly and he cursed at other drivers who drove within the speed limit and seemed to not understand his sense of urgency.
According to the GPS navigation system on his phone, he was only 25 minutes away from his destination when there was a sudden loud bang and Steve’s car veered out of control. Luckily, he had taken a slip road off the Lagos-Ibadan expressway when his front passenger tyre exploded. The road was quiet and deserted so his vehicle did not collide with anyone or anything until he skilfully brought it to a halt. “This cannot be happening today of all days” he thought to himself. Steve angrily got out of the car and assessed the damage. It was then he realized he left his tyre-changing tools at home in his hurry to leave for the meeting. Why? Why? Why? What have I done to deserve this? God are You even up there? Unfortunately for Steve, there was no phone network connectivity where he was. He looked up at the darkening sky and saw the thick clouds forming in readiness for a deluge and wondered if circumstances deliberately conspired against him on that fateful day. He sank down on the floor by his car and buried his face in his hands in defeat but unbeknownst to him, a notoriously deadly gang of robbers were headed in his direction in search of a victim just like him.
Steve heard the sound of a vehicle slowing down to a halt a few feet from where he sat and a ray of hope lit up in his heart. There is a God after-all, he thought to himself. He quickly got up and walked towards the vehicle with eager anticipation. Four hefty, mean looking guys suddenly jumped out of the vehicle with machine guns pointed at Steve. Time seemed to freeze and flashes of blockbuster action movies ran through Steve’s mind but unfortunately for him, this was no movie flick and there was no escape for him. Within seconds, he was beaten up, robbed, and left for dead on the quiet slip road. With every passing minute, life ebbed away from Steve and he wondered if this was how it was all going to end for him. With his last ounce of strength, Steve cried out to God to send help.
As fate would have it, the Senior Pastor of one of Nigeria’s leading mega churches was driving by the exact same slip road about an hour after Steve had been attacked by the robbers. He was being driven in a 2015 Rolls Royce Wraith. His protocol officers, security team and entourage made up the 10-car convoy. The Senior Pastor was on his way to an internationally recognized crusade. He was a kingdom superstar so to speak. In fact, he was going over his sermon notes in his plush and luxurious Wraith, when the car came to a sudden stop. He yelled at the driver and asked what the problem was. He tried calling his security detail at the front of the convoy but there was no network connectivity so he angrily hopped out of his vehicle and stormed to the front to find out why they had stopped. On getting to the front, he saw most of his entourage gathered around a bleeding and dying man. What happened next shocked his entire team! He thundered in a loud voice and asked “Is this why you stupid people want to delay God’s work? Don’t you know I have an important assignment from God to attend to? If you don’t want to get fired, get back in your vehicles and carry on to our destination. This man’s life is in God’s hands. If he’ll live he’ll live and if he’ll die, he’ll die. I can’t get involved. Who knows what he’s done to be in this predicament”.
Steve heard every damning word coming out of this uncaring mega pastor’s religious mouth. This was a man he held in high regard and had no less than six of his books in his personal library. If he had the strength, he would have given this wicked man a piece of his mind but he was battling to live and had to conserve his energy. Hope drained out of him as the entire entourage got back into their cars and drove off at the command of their pastor.
It had been eerily quiet for the next 45 minutes. Death seemed to circle around Steve when he sighted a pair of headlights heading his way. Hope rose in his heart once more as he wondered if God had finally answered his cry for help. As the tour bus stopped beside Steve’s broken and battered body, he strained hard to see the name emblazoned across the vehicle and was elated to find that it was J-Star, Nigeria’s world-renowned worship leader! Coincidentally, Steve was listening to his latest critically acclaimed album in the car when his tyre exploded. With hits like “Love your neighbour” and “It’s all about compassion”, surely, J-Star would not leave him to perish on this God-forsaken slip road. J-Star got out of his tour bus and walked towards Steve’s body. He knelt by his side and assessed his wounds. He tried to communicate with Steve but he was too weak to respond. J-Star kept looking at his watch and was torn on the inside. Here was a dying man who desperately needed his help and on the other side of the coin was a 500,000 audience crusade that would take his international reputation to greater heights. As he battled with his conscience, Steve wondered what was taking him so long. He expected to have been transported into the tour bus by now but J-Star stalled. The worship leader, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and got off his knees. He looked down at Steve’s helpless body and said “I am on my way to do important work for God and cannot be distracted by the burden of looking after you. I need to create an atmosphere of worship in the tour bus so I can do the same at the venue. I promise to send help as soon as I can. Hang in there buddy…I’ll be praying for you”. With those words, J-Star got back into his tour bus and was off.
It was at this point that Steve lost all the fight in him. He decided that God had abandoned him to die and so there was no point fighting anymore. With the brake lights of the tour bus vanishing into the horizon, Steve shut his eyes and prepared to meet his Maker. Like a stage play production on cue, the heavens opened and torrential rain poured out of the skies with such vehemence. It was as though God was angry at what He had witnessed on that obscure slip road to Ibadan.
Thomas struggled up the slip road against all odds. There had been traffic warnings earlier in the day due to the weather forecasts but for whatever reason, good-natured Thomas felt compelled to make the trip to Ibadan that day. He had never used the slip road before but an accident on the main route caused a serious congestion that inspired him to exit the motorway at the exact same slip road where Steve lay unconscious at this point. He almost collided with Steve’s vehicle when he hit the brakes real hard and came to a halt. Thomas was from a tribe that were considered to be outcasts in the Eastern part of Nigeria. All his life, he had struggled to be accepted for who he was but was unsuccessful in breaking free of society’s label. However, everything changed the day he met Christ, exactly 4 months to the day. He was still a baby Christian in every sense of the word but his honest and transparent relationship with God meant that he was sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, although he felt these were just random thoughts coming into His mind. Thomas stopped to catch his breath and thank God for saving him from colliding with Steve’s vehicle when he caught something in the corner of his eye. Another random thought came to his mind: “DON’T JUST DRIVE ON, STEP OUT OF THE CAR AND TAKE A CLOSER LOOK”. Thomas wondered where such a crazy thought came from because after all, this was a deserted part of town and robberies are never far away from such places. Besides, it was raining cats and dogs outside. He shrugged off the thought and tried to start his engine when it hit him again, this time, much clearer than the last. Thomas shuddered as he felt a Presence in his car. Thomas sensed this was no ordinary thought. He decided to take a step of faith and obey. He got out of the car into the pouring rain and ran towards the figure. He was shocked to find that it was a man bleeding to death. Thomas quickly checked for a pulse and found he was still alive. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around Steve and used all his strength to lift him up and place him in the backseat of his car. Thomas was filled with compassion for this stranger and felt and urge to pray passionately for God to save his life as he drove frantically towards town to seek help. Steve remained unconscious the whole time.
Thomas was not familiar with that part of town. He had also left Lagos earlier in the day to attend the crusade at Ibadan. The crusade had been much publicized and he was looking forward to hearing the word being preached by one of the country’s leading pastor’s. He was also excited at the prospect of seeing his favorite worship leader, J-Star, perform live. Little did he know that in Steve, his path had crossed with these two individuals. Thomas kept driving in the dark stormy night, praying and asking God for help. The random thoughts were flooding his mind at an increasingly frenetic pace in the form of directions. You could say they were intelligent guesses but somehow, Thomas followed his thoughts and ended up in front of the only 24-hr hospital in that part of town. He rushed into the reception area and got the attention of the medics who responded excellently and transferred Steve to the Intensive Care Unit for medical attention. Thomas was told that emergency surgery would have to be performed on Steve but the hospital needed to know who would be financially responsible before proceeding with treatment. When Thomas was told how much it would cost, he knew it was going to be a sacrifice on his part. It was getting rather late and he had to leave for home if he was to get back safely. Thomas weighed the cost in his mind and put himself in Steve’s shoes. As he battled with his thoughts, a scripture came to mind: Luke 6:31 – “Think of the kindness you wish others would show you; do the same for them”. Thomas decided to trust God and believe that he was on that road on that dark stormy night to save Steve’s life. It wouldn’t make any sense to back down at the finish line. He pulled out his Visa Card and made the payment for the procedure. Just like that, his entire savings for the past 6 months were sacrificed on a total stranger but nothing could compare to the sense of fulfillment and joy in Thomas’ heart, knowing that a fellow human being, who God found precious enough to send His Son to die for, was going to live because of him. He got back into his car and breathed a sigh of relief before saying a prayer in thanks to God and turning up his J-Star CD to worship God on his drive back home.
Meanwhile, the crusade went better than expected. The mega pastor worked up the crowd of 500,000 with a powerful sermon on how we are to love our neighbours sacrificially. J-Star melted the hearts of the crowd by belting out tunes about the love of God from his latest album. The obscure outcast, Thomas, got back home safely that night. He may not have performed in front of 500,000 people. He may not even get the gratitude he deserves from Steve when he regains consciousness. He may never be repaid for the medical bill he covered that night but rest assured, heaven bore witness to what he did. He displayed true love for his neighbour. The God kind of love.
Could Thomas be any more like Jesus who died as an outcast to pay a sacrificial price to show us God’s love and asked for nothing in return? When we love God by loving our fellow man, we are being Christ-like. The world may see you as a weird outcast when you love people but never mind, God sees your heart.
1 John 3:18 – My little children, don’t just talk about love as an idea or a theory. Make it your true way of life, and live in the pattern of gracious love.
What type of neighbour are you?