I was really looking forward to my Friday off: after a pretty hectic start to the new year, I had a stress-free day with nothing planned! Unfortunately someone marred the middle of it with a really despicable act.
Cheryl, Michael & I decided to go to a movie today, and then grab a late lunch. The movie previews had just finished – and oddly enough, it had just announced something about taking your emergency calls out of the theater – when my cell phone buzzed. I had an emergency call from our church receptionist. Obeying the mandate I had just seen on the screen, I went into the lobby to call Mrs. Shirley back. She was very somber. She said that she had received an emergency call from a state trooper in West Virginia. He said he had gotten our church’s number from the scene of an accident, and needed to contact the family. As soon as I hung up with Mrs. Shirley, I was to wait for a call from him. I weakly told her “ok”, hung up, and began to wait. Doesn’t take long for a thousand thoughts to run through your head. One might think that a call from West Virginia would be odd – we live in Louisiana. But we have a son who attends seminary in North Carolina. He occasionally travels with his friends – in fact, I think he has friends in West Virginia. I know that troopers often inform family when a loved one has been killed in an accident. To my knowledge, we had no other family on the road; most likely it would be our son Paul. I felt numb. I waited. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I thought: “So this is what it feels like to get that call …”. Suddenly a lot of things really didn’t matter much: all the church committee meetings; the sermon I had labored over for Sunday. I wasn’t going to be there Sunday. Just like that, a member of my family had been taken away. There would now be an empty place; things would be different for the rest of our lives. I hadn’t checked my kids’ Facebook statuses yet today; did I have time to look – would I find that Paul had taken a trip with friends? My phone rang, and I answered.
The man on the line identified himself as a trooper in West Virginia. He said that he needed to contact me about an emergency. But then the call began to take a strange turn. He said that he had a family there with him, who claimed to be from Westlake, and said they knew me, but that I was from Lake Charles. He said this didn’t make sense to him. I told him that Lake Charles and Westlake were nearby. He said that this family claimed that they had been to my church, First Baptist Moss Bluff. And then he added something odd: he said, “Sir, you sound like you are Caucasian, but this family is black.” I thought, “What in the world?” Instinctively, I thought, this man’s accent sounded funny; like it was being put on. Part of me wondered then if someone was testing me; was this a bad joke? Surely not. I told the “officer” that we accepted all races of people in our church, and we had several African-Americans in our services in recent weeks. He then said that he would put these people on the line to talk to me. The connection was not that great, but the man who addressed me on the phone said that he and his wife had been in our services a few days before; that his wife had talked to me for several minutes in the lobby – did I remember that? I told him that I really did not remember such a conversation. I become a little more leery. The man launched into a story about how they had come up to West Virginia because of the death of a loved one, and had run into some trouble, and this officer didn’t believe that they had attended our church because they were black. I stopped him. This is not what this call was supposed to be about. The Highway Patrol had supposedly gotten my number out of a car in an accident and needed to contact the next of kin. This call was now going in an entirely different direction. They needed “help” from a pastor who might believe them. I stopped him and told him that I didn’t believe his story. I said, “You mean to tell me that of all the people you know in this country, you are calling ME to help you? You don’t even know me – and I do not believe your story!” He got really angry, and yelled, “What kind of pastor are you?” I told him that I was finished with this phone call, and hung up.
I called Mrs. Shirley back and related to her what had happened. She told me again that the “trooper” had said that our church number was the only one they could retrieve out of a car in a bad accident, and that they needed to inform the next of kin. There was a WIDE discrepancy in the story they had given her to get my number, and the one they told me when they called. This was a fraud, a cheap attempt to use a helpful church secretary to get some money out of what they hoped was a naïve minister – yet another variation on an ages-old scam. I tunred my phone off and went back to the movie.
I whispered a brief explanation to Cheryl, then just sat there as the movie played. I do not have anywhere near the ability to convey all that I felt while that episode unfolded. But it left me shaken and somber, and trying to relax, again. And not just a little bit angry, either! Such wickedness; to abuse people’s emotions to feed into their selfish scheme. And it wasn’t just me, either. Mrs. Shirley was incredibly upset; I could sense it on the phone. She had just lost her husband a year ago; I think she felt this every bit as much as I did. She later told me the Lord would judge those men. We do have to entrust them to Him. And also know that everything we are touched by, comes through Him first. He allowed this to come my way today. I guess I’m not too surprised. He has done a lot of “sifting and sorting” with me recently, and I have rededicated myself in a number of areas in my life as we have entered this New Year. And the Lord is working in our church in some special ways, too. We seem to be ready to “hit a wave” as our Education Minister calls it – we set an ambitious attendance goal for 2012, which we inexplicably HIT the first Sunday of the year! So there may be some spiritual warfare underway here, too. Well, whatever the case, so much for my “stress-free” day! Hopefully I learned, and responded the way I should have; I don’t know. I hoped to work through some of my feelings as I typed this blog. And I wanted to get the word about such scams out — it might help prevent someone else from falling prey to them. But I am grateful that my family members are all ok today. As despicable as it was, I am glad that a cheap scam was all that today’s “emergency” entailed. After all, some people DO get those calls, for real. It just wasn’t me, today. And for that, I am most thankful.