Pastor Bob’s office clock chimed four times. Standing, he locked his desk, then stood to leave. A sudden, urgent rapping on the outside door interrupted his ritual. He strode toward the door, supposing he would find a homeless person seeking assistance.
Six months earlier Pastor Bob had left rural South Dakota for inner city Chicago seeking adventure and fresh challenges. The interruptions had been constant at first, and often dramatic. He had promptly organized a city-wide ministry to the homeless. Although the building that housed his congregation composed an entire city block, the congregation had dwindled to less than a hundred. Most drove in from the suburbs out of fierce loyalty to God and the First Baptist Church. An endowment funded the church, but its days were numbered.
The well-dressed man at the door was not what Pastor Bob expected. “How can I help you?”
The man glanced both directions, then pushed past the puzzled pastor. “I need to make a confession.”
“This is a Baptist church, sir, not Catholic…”
“You’ll hear me out, won’t you?” It was said with such authority that Pastor Bob merely nodded his head as he motioned toward a chair.
The visitor loosened his tie and removed his sunglasses, slipping them into the pocket of his white shirt. “The boss wants me to do someone in. I’ve done some bad things, but I draw the line at murder.”
“Well, now. I can’t say I’ve had any experience with this sort of thing.” Pastor Bob’s heart skipped several beats when the man slid his hands into his pockets. The locked desk contained his only weapon –a can of mace left behind by the previous staff. “Listen, I can give you spiritual guidance if that’s what you’re looking for, but I can’t put my congregation in jeopardy.”
“I won’t trouble your congregation. I’ll stay out of the way. There’s plenty of space here. You won’t even know I’m around.”
“Call me Johnny Ray. My Grandma was Baptist and she prayed for me relentlessly. Guess that’s why I’m here. I don’t mean any harm. I just have to lay low or they’ll take me out too.”
That was the beginning of an unspoken “arrangement” between the two men. Johnny Ray remained holed up in the First Baptist Church, while Pastor Bob feigned innocence. Soon after the service began each Sunday morning, Johnny Ray slid into the back pew. During the benediction he slipped out again.
Pastor Bob kept the kitchen stocked with ready-to-eat items. He scanned the paper carefully each morning for any mention of mob activity. The mace was moved from his drawer to his pocket, and all exit doors were secured twice daily. Otherwise, life at First Baptist Church remained unchanged.
Weeks turned into four months since the day Johnny Ray first pounded on the church door. Then one Sunday the back pew remained empty. Pastor Bob felt a pang of worry mixed with a tinge of relief.
Soon the pastor’s worries turned to a more pressing issue. The church had to make a decision. The remaining endowment funds could be used to move the church to the suburbs, or the church could continue for another year before dissolving. Both scenarios made Pastor Bob cringe. Without the First Baptist Church the homeless ministry would not survive. While moving to the suburbs might secure his job, he may as well move back to South Dakota. He was certain that both his opportunity for adventure and his newfound sense of purpose would be greatly diminished. “Please God, Show us another way,” he prayed.
The annual business meeting began with a surprise announcement. “The following letter was sent to the trustees of First Baptist Church,” the chairman explained. “Dear Sirs, Pastor Bob Dolan saved my life. I have turned from my sinful ways and placed my trust in the Almighty God. I am forever grateful to him and to the First Baptist Church. Therefore, I have deposited five million dollars into your endowment fund.
In Christ’s name, J.R.”
The small crowd let the meaning soak in for a moment, then broke into spontaneous rejoicing. Their stunned pastor was dumbstruck, especially when he read the headlines on page six of the next day’s Chicago Tribune. “Inside sources report five million dollars missing from mafia-controlled bank accounts.”
The following Sunday a bearded man slipped into the back pew. His final exit was made during the benediction with a tip of his hat to Pastor Bob.
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