This past weekend, the Mesa missionaries were in California for the LA Congress. I was blessed with many wonderful conversations and encounters throughout the course of the weekend, but one specific encounter really stood out to me. At the end of Saturday, we were getting ready to leave to get dinner. It had been a long day, and we were all tired and hungry. We were heading towards the car, but I needed to meet up with one of the staff members before we parted ways for the evening. I could tell the group was getting a little frustrated as everyone wanted to leave. They went ahead to the car, while Maria and I ran back to meet Erin. Then as Maria and I were walking towards the car, we were crossing a big parking lot that was almost empty. All of the sudden I heard, “Excuse me, girls, can you help me?” I looked up to see this little old lady walking towards us. She told us that she was lost and needed help. Maria and I looked at each other and said, “Oh gosh, we are from Georgia. We have no clue where we are. We don’t know if we will be of much help, but we can try.” So she introduced herself as Sister Joanne, and we later found out that she has been a Sister for over 50 years. She told us that she didn’t know which parking lot she parked in. Not knowing much, we suggested that she talk to one of the parking attendants. He wasn’t that much help, and she still didn’t know where to go. She mentioned that she hoped we could help take her back to the convention center where she might be able to find directions. The poor woman had apparently been wandering around for so long that she didn’t even realize she was in fact right outside the convention center. Knowing that everything was closing down for the day, we told her to come with us, and we would help her. We explained that we were with a group of missionaries. We called the others to give them a heads up that we needed to help someone find her car. There is no way to adequately describe the events that ensued over the next 30-45 minutes as we drove around looking for her car. It was one of those things that you think is going to be really quick, and it turned into this big fiasco. We were outside of a huge convention center with many parking lots. We were also right across the street from Disneyland, which also had many parking lots. Poor Sister Joanne was so turned around and confused. She kept trying to remember what street she had crossed in the morning to get to the convention center. Finally Maria asked her if she had her parking ticket. I don’t know why we didn’t think of that earlier, but thank goodness for Maria’s suggestion or we would have been driving around all night. We found the lot, and after circling around it several times, we FINALLY found her car. At this point, it was dark outside, and we were an incredibly far distance from where we first found Sister Joanne.
I know I just told that story with an incredible amount of detail, which probably didn’t seem necessary or important to you. But it was important to me when it was all happening, because it wasn’t quick and easy. It felt like this series of events that you didn’t know when it would ever end. And several things struck me. First of all, I knew without a doubt that God had set up a divine appointment for us to meet her. If Maria and I had gone with the rest of the group, we would have never found her. We were the only people around when she saw us. I have no idea how long she would have been walking around, plus it was getting dark. I just felt like so many things had to happen in order for us to have this encounter. In fact, I felt like some things had to go “wrong” in order to have the perfect timing. The thought of what her night would have looked like if she hadn’t found us was really upsetting to me. And out of all the many and great ways that I saw God working and moving this past weekend, our encounter with Sister Joanne stood out to me the most. She kept asking Maria and me if we were ever girl scouts, as she told us we were doing our good deed. She was so incredibly appreciative and thankful for our help. In fact, she tried to give us $50 when we found her car. She repeatedly told us we were her salvation for that night, as we were greatly helping her. Sure, it was nice to hear that, but it also made me sad. I was struck by the fact that our world is so full of evil that it is truly hard to find good, honest people who can help you in a time of need. It made me sad that it was such a big deal to help someone in need. And yes, the simple question for directions did turn into a half hour event, but still, it shouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
Then I thought about the circumstances. We were outside of the convention center, hosting a large Catholic conference. We learned she was a Sister. It was easy to trust and offer help. It was easy to see how God’s hand had so intimately planned that meeting. But what if the time and place were different? Would I have been as willing to help? Are there moments in the course of a regular day where the Lord provides opportunities for me to help those in need, and I don’t recognize them? Not that I was out seeking ways to be a good servant that night, but I was definitely more conscience of it, considering the work I had been doing all day. I definitely think that over the past few months, the Lord has been teaching me a lot about recognizing opportunities to help others, but I know He continues to call me deeper. And from my experience that night, the Lord continued to shed light on what it means to be missionary. Helping those in need is not just about going out and doing some community service project. It is helping a stranger who is lost and can’t find her car. The Lord constantly provides opportunities for us to serve Him, and my encounter with Sister Joanne made me realize that I need to be more in touch with the opportunities He provides for me. I am so thankful that we met Sister Joanne. I am thankful that we were able to help her, not so that I can say I did a good deed. I am thankful because it breaks my heart to think of her wandering around at night looking for her car. And most importantly, I am thankful that God made it so abundantly clear to me that He had planned our meeting and how it served as a reminder to me to look for those opportunities every day.