in spite of the what if’s

(Published in Adventist Review, 2003)

Backpack slung over his shoulder, Raymond, a blue collar factory worker, rides the Singapore transit bus every day. All week long his routine is the same, broken by moments when he tucks a few dollars in the envelope that stays in his backpack.

Every time we make plans for Singapore something comes up; the last time it was SARS. But now we’re finally vacationing in Singapore. And we’re invited to share our Nepal experiences with a small group on Friday night. As the meeting begins, a simple, unassuming young man walks in. Introducing himself as Raymond, he remains strangely quiet and intent while we speak.

After a week’s work, Raymond welcomes the Sabbath with Friday night vespers. This evening there are visitors from Nepal. He listens with great interest and sympathy–about children stunted in growth from lack of protein, about the imprisonment of those proselytizing, about patients who walk for days to get medical care; about God watching over His children.

Vespers is over and we are walking to the bus. As always it was a temptation to slip in a pitch for money. But we didn’t. Just shared experiences and left the finances to God. Looking over my shoulder I see Raymond trying to catch up with us. Tagging along, he is very curious, asks questions, says he will pray for us. His enthusiasm is a bit unnerving! We say goodbye and go our separate way.

Raymond thinks about the envelope in his backpack, wondering if the contents should go to help Nepal. Tossing and turning in bed over his dilemma, he finally decides to give the money to Nepal IF he runs into the Klines in the Union office the next morning. The Klines were staying at the guestroom on the third floor and he attended the church on the first floor so the chances of running into them were pretty good. The next morning Raymond arrives early and is on the lookout for the Klines

Jetlagged, we wake up late Sabbath morning. We have mission story at a church 20 minutes away by bus so we get dressed in a hurry and rush out the back door, avoiding the people gathered by the church downstairs. Of course we have no idea that Raymond is at the other door looking for us as Gideon looked for water on his fleece. We stay for potluck and visit with church members. It’s getting late and someone offers us a ride, saving us time and a long bus ride back.

Church is over, so is potluck. Yet there’s no sign of the Klines. Thinking that perhaps his feelings about giving them the money wasn’t really from the spirit, Raymond picks up his backpack and heads towards the door. And what do you know! The Klines walk in!

Walking into the Union office I see Raymond. I can’t quite figure out the look on his face. As if he has a secret to tell, he pulls me aside. Then he takes out an envelope from his backpack and says that he’s been carrying it around for a very long time, adding to it every now and then.

“The Lord wants me to give this for His work in Nepal” he says simply.

“God bless you for responding to the Holy Spirit,” I respond. “Can I have your mailing address to send you a receipt?”

“I don’t need a receipt when the money is where God wants” replies Raymond. When I insist, Raymond scribbles his address on the envelope, hands it to me, and leaves with a quick goodbye.

I count the money. Once again I’m stumped by Providence. I ask my family to guess how much was in the envelope. Considering what they’ve learned of Raymond, they begin to guess—10 dollars. 100 dollars. No one goes over 200. But inside the envelope is 2000 dollars. A lot of money for anyone, let alone a factory worker, to save—and give away!

Now what if our Singapore plans had been foiled again? What if Raymond had skipped vespers that weekend? What if we didn’t get the ride that brought us to the Union office just in time to meet Raymond? What if we had entered the back door while Raymond was leaving through the front door?

So many what-if’s could have deprived Raymond and us of our experience. But God’s plans prevail in spite of the what-if’s. Be it here where I am or way over there where you are, God brings you and me opportunities together for His glory.

 

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