The Stranger on Siesta Keys
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A chance encounter or divine appointment? You be the judge.

Yesterday morning I woke up on my day off. Not sure how I wanted to spend it, I went to deliver some baptismal robes to a nearby church which needed them for Sabbath. When I stopped  by my church to pick them up, my pastor reminded me it was my day off, and I should not be working. I promised him I would take the day off as soon as I delivered the robes.

My friend Adam, who I often hang out with on Thursday nights, told me he would be busy, so I thought this may be a good time to take a long day trip somewhere. I decided on Siesta Keys in Sarasota where I have not been in a while. My plan was to spend some time reading in God’s Word, in prayer, and in taking sunset pictures. As I got ready to leave, something told me to take my Bible. I thought I don’t need to take that along, I have it on my cell phone.  Still I was impressed to take a regular Bible. So I did. I also grabbed the book “Bible Studies Made Easy” and thought maybe I will give it to the waitress wherever I eat.

I got to Siesta Keys early afternoon and went to an Italian place near the beach that I enjoyed many times before. After I left, I scolded myself for forgetting to give the waitress the book. I stopped at a park bench near the beach and spent some time reading in Revelations, since that’s where I am after reading through the entire Bible. I read Chapters 8-12, which gave me plenty to pray and mediate on, as I walked and prayed down the beach. I must have walked four miles. As I got back to where I had parked, I felt very tired and reminded myself that the Tampa Bay Rays had a divisional game tonight on TV. Maybe I should go home and watch it. But I was impressed to stay and take sunset pictures as I had planned. I told myself, I already have hundreds of sunset pictures, and nobody really cares to see any more. They all look the same. Still something inside me said to just stay with the original plan. Lie down on this park bench and rest a while, until the sun starts setting, then take pictures.

As I was lying there, an older man came up and started talking to me. I turned to him, and he realizes I was not who he thought I was. He was embarrassed and apologized, and I told him it was no big deal. I sat up and he started talking to me. First he talked about his bicycle. I told him I hoped the streets in Sarasota are more bike friendly than Tampa. He told me his bike was all he had to get around on and I mentioned that I am often on my bike too. I wanted to identify with him the best I could.

The man glanced at my Bible and asked if I was a pastor. I could have said yes, since I am both a lay pastor and Bible worker, but that really had nothing to do with why I had my Bible with me. I had my Bible with me because I am a Christian. I replied, “I am a Christian.” He then started opening up about his service in Vietnam, and his discharge, all the terrible things he saw over there, and he was specific. I know a lot of people claim to be war veterans and have never actually been to war, but the way he gave specific details indicated he was for real.

He told me how he has given up trying to overcome beer and cigars. I told him the same God who delivered him from Vietnam could also deliver him from those enemies too. He told me how when he returned nobody thanked him for fighting for his country. He told me how he likes to take trash bags and clean up the beach. I asked him if the beach could clean itself up. Of course he said no. I told him that likewise, we can’t clean ourselves up either. Only God can. He was troubled, thinking God had given up on him, so I shared with him the gospel presentation. And I shared with him the story of the serpent on the pole in Numbers 21 and how in John 3, Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” He said there was so much about life he did not understand. I told him he did not have to understand. Just as the Israelites looked at the pole when bitten by a serpent, likewise when that old serpent the devil bites us, we must look at the cross and we are healed.

He told me his name was Frank and asked for prayer, and I prayed with him. He took my hand and as I prayed his hand trembled and he cried. After our prayer I remembered the Bible study book I had failed to give the waitress. I gave it to him with my church contact info. I invited him to a church in his area.

Frank told me he was homeless and had no address, and he likes it that way. I made sure he knew how to get a hold of me. I assured him God still loves him and has a plan for his life. God has not given up on him. He told me how glad he was that he met me, and I think he meant it. He never asked me for money or anything. He even offered to pay for the book. I think the only things he wanted from me was hope.

As we talked, and he rambled after our prayer, I started thinking, if Adam was not busy tonight I would have been hanging out with him instead. If I had not brought my Bible this man never would have asked or opened up about His need for Christ. If I had given the waitress my study book I would have had nothing to give this man. If I had gone back home to watch the baseball game, which I really felt like doing, I would not have been resting on this park bench when the man found me. And seriously, I had no clue why I was just resting on a park bench instead of driving on home to see the game, until now. I also smiled as I remembered my pastor telling me to take the day off. Seems like when I woke up this morning, wondering what to do, God already had a plan.

I saw the sun starting to set and told Frank that I wanted to take some sunset pictures. I felt as our conversation was now rambling and that my mission was over. I wanted to leave him with the impression of my mission and not our rambling. He very politely told me to go take my pictures and again told me how happy he was to meet me, and thanked me over and over for the Bible study book. I reminded him how to contact me and left to take pictures.

As I was taking pictures, thinking about my encounter, I realized I had made a big mistake! After the sun was down, I went back looking for Frank. I could not find him, but I did find his bike tied to the same tree. I grabbed a pen and paper from my car and left a note tied to his handlebar. The note read, “Thank you Frank, for serving in Vietnam. –William”

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The Stranger on Siesta Keys — 5 Comments

  1. God's Blessings with you today William, I always enjoy your posts and in particular this story about you, God's Plan and Frank. I prayed for you both just now. For you because of the work the Lord has you doing on His behalf and for Frank, that the seed you planted will grow by the leading and nurturing of the Holy Spirit. What seemed like a day without real ambition, the Lord had His plan and the way that it unfolded for you and which you now share with us, is a true blessing for you, Frank and as encouragement for us reading your about your witness; Praise the Lord and give glory to His name! May The Lord continue to use your talents and leadership to touch the lives of those within your community and strangers just like Frank. It reminds me of a passage from the parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV):

    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    God richly bless you William as you go about The King's work.

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  2. Thank you, William, for demonstrating how easy it is to witness for God when we just allow Him to use us, using simple tools, such as a Bible and a helpful little book such as "Bible Studies Made Easy."

    I pray that your post will inspire many more to carry such "tools" with us in order to be prepared to be used by God. Of course, we can all talk to strangers who appear to be open, but having a little book handy will extend the influence much farther and make it more lasting. And I believe that's why God inspired our pioneers to start up a publishing ministry.

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  3. Thank you both for the encouragment and most of all your prayers. Inge, it is certainly my prayer that others will be equiped and ready to share Jesus anytime, anywhere. I have blown opportunities before, but God's grace I was prepared this time. God's grace can prepare all of us for these divine appointments.

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  4. Through your story, William, I can see what real Christianity is and who will be in Heaven. I can also see through you how far I am from Christ which you probably will be uncomfortable with but Paul didn't think so of himself for he said, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Cor 11:1 NKJV). I have seen this image of Christ before in other people and now I see it in you.

    I remember an incident at one camp meeting where I was with some friends. One of their daughters entered the conversation and made the remark that she couldn't understand why one of her friends treated another girl so well (apparently that girl was not very nice). I found myself leaving the camp meeting that year thinking to myself, "Forget about all those nicely prepared sermons, I saw Jesus that day in someone who loved the unlovable."

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  5. Thank you very much, I have friends abroad that love my post. I shared your post. How Jesus uses people to help one another and through his Grace we seem to over come our difficulties at least for the moment. I pray for the unfortunate people all over the world, Women, Children and Men, facing life threatening that they face daily. So always say a prayer for the unfortunate. They wish they had what we have, they wish they had to eat what one throw in the trash, water to drink that we throw away. God bless!!

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