“If I saw you hitchhiking, I’d smile and return your thumb’s up, just for you doing such a great job of being a positive roadside influence.” Jarod Kintz
Lauren and I are in Austria this week. Someone here told us this has been one of the hottest days in Vienna in recorded history. But yesterday we decided to take a day trip to the Wachau Valley. We took a river cruise up the famous Danube River. We left from a old Austrian town called Melk and were suppose to go to the first stop and back but for some reason one of the workers told us to transfer to another cruise ship with a group of people and so we got stuck going up the Danube even farther to a town called Dürnstein (about 18 miles from Melk). We wanted to see the Melk Abbey before it closed at 7:00PM so we ‘hiked’ a ton in the blistering heat and finally found the bus stop only to find out that we would have to wait over an hour for the next bus.
It was 6:30PM at this point. My wife REALLY wanted to see the abbey and when she got overwhelmed the tears came and super-husband kicked in so I decided to do something that I wanted to do for a good while, hitchhiking. This was a perfect opportunity. As most of our readers know we have done CouchSurfing in almost every place we have traveled too so we really weren’t that intimidated doing this. I pulled out the black Sharpie and wrote “MELK” (I wanted to put MILK) and the first car that saw us pulled over. Success! All in all it was pretty cool because this 29 year old guy had just come back from Vienna and he decided to take the long and scenic drive home so he drove along the Danube with a ton of old abbey or fortress ruins passing us as we drove by. It was a glorious drive and experience. We didn’t make it to the abbey by 7:00PM but we had a great time talking to another theology student who was a tour guide for the abbey on the way to the train to go back to Vienna. Lauren got her tour but it was of the Wachau Valley, not the abbey, which she said turned out better.
But this experience reminded me of the uninvited hitchhiker I came across in Miami…
In the summer of 2005 I had an experience that rocked my world. I had just left my friend Xavier’s house. I told him that I'll call him when I get close to my home. I lived in Cutler Ridge, by Southland Mall. As I was about to get off Exit 12 on the Florida Turnpike, I called Xavier. While we were talking, I pulled up to the intersection of Caribbean Blvd. and 107th Ave., right behind Goldfinger South, a strip club; and there was a red light. As I was waiting I saw a homeless man, or so I thought, who threw up his hand for a ride and I waved him off and shook my head because it was 12:30AM and I was all alone in my jeep. So as I got into my conversation with Xavier, I had forgotten about the homeless man. All the sudden, my car door flew open and the homeless man had invited himself into my jeep.
|My in my Jeep|
I looked at him and he told me to take him home. He was a tall Hispanic man in his late thirties, who probably weighed about 200 pounds, looked like he was on drugs, and wasn’t going to take no for an answer. By that time, he had locked his side of the door, just to make sure nobody would try to open the door from the outside and take his place. I didn't say anything to him. I just put my cell phone down and drove when the red light had turned green. He started to tell me where to turn and it turned out to be in the direction of my house. I was still in awe that this man had actually got inside my car. I was afraid to look at him while I was driving because I was afraid he wouldn't like me looking at him. I really felt like a taxi cab driver, except I didn't think I was getting any money for taking him home.
Anyways, we were coming up to my house so I decided to stop in the middle of the street on Caribbean Blvd. and 101 Ave and I asked him to get out, and he told me to just take him home. After pleading with him for a minute, making up excuses and telling him I work in the morning, a car was coming from behind us and he told me to just take him home, but this time he said it loudly and with more anger. I gave up and just listened to him. He told me to go to the light and make a right turn. I made a right turn from Caribbean Blvd. on to Anchor Road and drove to the first stop sign. He asked me if I smoked marijuana. I told him no and started to tell him that I’m a Christian now and don’t need cheaper joy.
Immediately after I told him that, he started to scream at God. He said and I quote, “I hate you so much God!” In that moment I started to think to myself, I'm the closing thing to God that he could physically touch so this may not end well. I turned off the car at the stop sign and just stayed quiet until he was done yelling at God. I started to pray. I knew something intense was going to happen, for the better or the worse. You could just feel this man’s anger.
As soon as he got done screaming at God, he looked at me and asked me if I was a Christian again. I told him yes and he got real quiet. After a minute of silence, I decided to break the silence and I asked him what his name was, he told me that his name was Juan. After Juan had told me his name, he saw my bible on the floor of the passenger's seat and picked my bible up and looked at the cover of the bible and quoted 1 Corinthians 2:9, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." I checked the cover of the bible to make sure that 1 Corinthians 2:9 wasn't on the cover.
Simultaneously, a car pulls up next to us and it just happened to be my friend from middle school who I hadn't seen in about four years (I promise you this happened). His name was Laz. I noticed his face and I said what's up and he asked if everything was ok. All the sudden, Juan started asking me if Laz was a cop and I told Juan that Laz wasn't a cop but he didn't believe me so he started to scream at Laz and told Laz to get the hell out of here. I thought they were going to fight, but since God is sovereign, I asked Laz to drop his pride and leave, and Laz did.
After that happened Juan calmed down and I asked him how he knew 1 Corinthians 2:9 by heart and he told me that he used to know the Lord when he was younger. Juan told me that he did the Lord wrong. I asked how he did the Lord wrong and then he took a deep breath, whispered in my ear and told me that he has killed people. As he said he had killed people before he reached over with his hand and put his finger on my throat and he cut my throat with his fingernail, just enough to leave a mark.
In that moment, I didn't know what to think or do. I was so scared but I didn't show it on my face. Then Juan asked me if I was afraid. I wanted to say yes, but the Holy Spirit didn't let me say yes and I told him that I wasn't afraid. Juan then asked me why I wasn't afraid and I told him that I have Jesus and He's my protector. Then for some strange reason I asked him if I could pray for him. Amazingly, Juan said that I could so I grabbed both of his hands and started to pray for him. While I was praying I started to cry and so did he! Now, I was crying because I didn’t feel like it was time for me to die. I don’t know why he was crying.
When we got done praying he asked me if I felt alive and I told him yes and he hit my chest and asked me again if I felt alive and I told him yes and not to hit me again please. He was high on Jesus! He started to sing "Amazing Grace." Then he just unlocked the door and got out of my car and came around to my side of the car. Juan told me that the only thing that he is living for is Christ and he told me that he loved me and then he gave me a kiss on the cheek and walked away. I never saw Juan again. After that, I turned on the jeep and wiped my tears, I decided to pick up my cell phone and call my family but when I saw the screen of my cell phone, it said Xavier on it. So I picked up the phone and said hello and the first thing Xavier said was, "brother, I was praying for you the whole time."
I would have never thought that Juan and I would have ended up crying, praying, and understanding each other by the end of the night. I was so scared the whole time but the Holy Spirit didn't allow me to show my intimidated emotions when I was with Juan. But, when I got home I woke up my parents and told them what happened while tears ran down my face. I believe if Xavier hadn't been praying during that time who knows what could have happened. But God is faithful and He answers prayers. I thank God that Juan came into my life, even if it was for one night, because he helped me learn to trust God because sometimes in some situations He’s the only one we can trust. So I'm trusting God that He'll answer my prayer about Juan, that God protects Juan and uses Juan in the future to preach the gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria,