"I want to grow in grace. I want to grow in truth. I want to know you are watching my every move. Now that You found me, now that You've saved me, begin to teach me, begin to change me." The Swift, Today
This song was randomly playing on my iPod at the end of a late summer night. I was taking the Gene Snyder exit off of the South I-65 as a woman I barely knew was waving her hand at me. She and her husband had borrowed a truck to drive fifteen hours to Louisville, Kentucky to pick up the most important person in their world. It was close to midnight and I was crying. The words "now that You found me" affected me like never before.
The week previous we received a phone call late in the evening. I didn't typically answer the church line in the evenings, even though we lived in the church, since I took the evenings off.
The man on the phone spoke with a heavy Spanish accent. He and his young wife had just come into town and were looking for a church to be involved in, and he needed a job. We spoke for a while and I asked him to call me back the following morning. He did and I subsequently sent him to see David, a friend of mine who managed a local convenience store. David wasn't able to employ him, but was able to help him get some help and get them into an apartment. They had been sleeping in their car in a Walmart parking lot.
They came to church the following Wednesday and seemed like a very nice couple. She spoke very little and he was very outgoing and pleasant. My wife and I invited them to join us for supper the following Sunday evening. They came and we had a wonderful authentic Mexican meal and made small talk.
During the meal my spirit was troubled. It wasn't anything I could put my finger on, just a hunch that something wasn't right. I asked the young lady what her last name was and, of course, she gave me his. So, I asked her what her maiden name was and after a stumbled pause she told me. My wife made mention of her middle name, and she confirmed it. Her husband seemed a little nervous, but smiled his way through the questioning.
After supper we went to a bookstore and had coffee. The young man and I spent a couple of hours talking about following Christ and especially about the book of James. James' insistence on the importance of what we do and not just what we say was the main topic.
The overhead speaker pronounced an end to our evening. We said our goodbyes and headed home. I couldn't shake the feeling that something was definitely amiss, but not because of their words or actions. I really believe it was the leading of the Holy Spirit.
That night I sat on the edge of my bed for a few minutes before I flipped open my laptop, went to Google, and searched "missing persons." The search led me to a website called MissingKids.com, where I typed in the young lady's name. She wasn't a nineteen year old newlywed from Tennessee. She was a seventeen year old runaway from South Texas!
I turned my screen toward my wife and she sat up in astonishment. We were both shocked. I sat for a few moments before calling the pastor of our church to let him know about the situation. We decided the best course of action, even at that late hour, was to call all of the churches we could find in this South Texas town and ask them if they had a family in their congregation with that particular last name who had a runaway daughter. After about thirty minutes of phone calls we found a pastor who knew the girl and her family. He gave me a couple of phone numbers.
A Spanish speaking woman answered the phone. I explained to her where I was from and asked her if she knew the young lady. She exclaimed excitedly that she was the girl's aunt. The girl had been gone for two months and they had been praying for her discovery and safe return.
She gave me the girl's parent's number and told me to call the following day at noon. Not wanting to wait, I tried the number that night but couldn't get a hold of anyone. The next day I received a phone call at around 11:00 AM. The woman sounded tired and scared, but hopeful.
She told me that they were in Alabama and were on their way to Louisville. I assumed they had already been in Alabama and had heard the news and were heading this way, when in fact, they had received the call at midnight the night before and had left Texas immediately.
The father told me that when he received the call he said, "What do I do? They have found my daughter in Kentucky, but my car won't make the trip."
His friend, without hesitation, handed him the keys to his truck and told him to go get his daughter. They had already traveled eleven hours, on a blind phone call, before they had even spoken with me. That's the love of a father and mother.
I gave them directions to the church and they arrived around 8:45 PM. They were exhausted. I could see the worry in their eyes, and though I didn't know them, could feel the weight of two months of fear on their shoulders. They had come out of desperation and unconditional love.
I was able to make contact with a member of our congregation who was a police officer. I told him the story and asked him for help in reuniting this family. He had me call the police department and have a police car meet us at a convenience store in the vicinity of the apartment where the couple was staying. The parents and I headed there immediately and waited a very tense thirty minutes before the officers arrived.
Official reports were run, and the necessary confirmations were made before we headed to the apartment. It was about 10:30 PM when my friend held the outer lobby door open while the other officer knocked loudly on the worn wooden door. Someone inside called out and the officer responded, "It's the police."
When the door opened the officer held up the missing person poster that the girl's mother had brought in her purse (I wonder how many times she had looked at that photo and wept in prayer for her daughter) and asked if the minor pictured was in the apartment. She was, and after a few moments that seemed like forever, my friend motioned the weary parents inside.
I think if this was the last thing I was ever to do in the name of Christ I would feel complete. When this young girl saw her parents for the first time in two months, and these parents found their baby girl, the floodgate opened up. They wrapped their arms around her in unconditional love. No words were exchanged, just tears of joy and thankfulness.
I stood there watching the Word of God unfold in real life. Not a story or a parable, not a theory or a concept, but in flesh and blood. I saw the love of a father, the heart of a mother, the joy of being pursued and found by someone who cares for you so profoundly and deeply that they rush out into the darkness of night, not counting the cost, because of love, just like Jesus.
The officer had the man seated on the floor. He was confused and scared. When I stepped into the room after the girl's parents I saw a look of recognition in his eyes before he hung his head in shame.
The parents didn't care to press charges so we left the man there, sitting on the floor in a corner of the living room, wearing only a pair of black shorts and socks. Before I walked out of the mostly empty apartment I asked the officer if I could speak to him. With his consent I walked over and knelt down. I brought up our conversation from the previous night about how our lives are more about what we do than about what we say. I let him know that perfection is unattainable and that's why grace is available. He thanked me and told me he was not angry with me for my actions and that he was actually glad it was finally over.
We drove south into the night as I lead them to their exit. The interstates in Louisville are always busy and we got separated. They caught up with me just as I was taking my exit. The girl's mother had her window down and was leaning out of the truck waving as her husband honked the horn. It felt like a dream or the climax of a beautiful movie. In the final moments of our brief encounter I saw the love and the providence of God in all of the minute details of the previous week.
I cried and sang along with the girl and her parents and the lost and found all over the world who sing this song: "I want to grow in grace, I want to grow in truth, I want to know you are watching my every move. Now that You found me, now that You've saved me, begin to teach me, begin to change me."
2009. Armando Heredia
Armando serves as co-pastor of Tapestry in Granite City, IL and is an artist and author.