Unlikely Hero

December 15, 2012

by Maria Fontaine

We often find ourselves in situations where we don’t feel like we’re on some great spiritual mission. We want to do something meaningful for the Lord, but the circumstances just don’t seem to facilitate that in the ways we might have hoped or expected. But sometimes an unlikely situation you find yourself in can unexpectedly turn into one of God’s setups, designed to change or better the lives of those around you. The results of those setups may make you into someone’s “unlikely hero” who they’ll never forget for your role in helping them to walk closer to Jesus.

Here is one such story:

Have you ever come across someone who seems like an enigma? It’s as if, depending on how you look at them, you see two different people. That was Gregg. Since he’d moved into our neighborhood two years ago, I’d been fascinated by this quality. On the one hand, he was your average guy, working the swing shift at a telecommunications company, but you always got the feeling that there was more to him than met the eye.

Several of my friends sensed the same thing. When you get down to physical details, there’s nothing really outstanding that you see to attract you in the usual way, yet you feel that attraction. There’s a sense of feeling almost safe when he’s around, or maybe it’s more a sense of feeling like something that surrounds him can engulf you in its protective orb when you’re around him.

At first there was a bit of suspicion when Gregg, as a newcomer to our small town, had gone around and introduced himself to most everyone in the neighborhood. Now Texas is known for its friendliness, but this guy wasn’t from Texas. He’d done a lot of traveling for someone his age, according to his story. His accent was odd and the way he would come right out and offer to help people just seemed a little too good.

Some local gossips’ tongues started wagging and a few started keeping a close eye on him, wondering if this stranger might have ulterior motives. He said he was a Christian, but didn’t seem too eager to head to one of the local churches. Still, he didn’t seem to care much what people thought. He just went ahead and helped people with whatever he could.

My girlfriends and I, being about his age, decided it was only decent to get to know him. Besides, I was still trying to figure out that other side of Gregg. With most people I could often feel them judging me by my clothes and my makeup and the way I walked and just about everything. But Gregg just seemed to accept people as they were and related to young and old alike.

The more I got to know him, the more intrigued I became. He wasn’t like the rest of us. Even though he enjoyed a lot of the same interests and we had fun together, there was something about him, a side to him that till that Christmas Eve seemed mysterious.

In all my years growing up in north Texas I’d only rarely heard of winter tornados, but the weather had been freakish that year: drought when it was supposed to be raining, fires when crops were supposed to be thriving. The usual storms hadn’t come, but here it was Christmas Eve, and instead of a clear, blue sky that promised a star-filled night ahead, the skies were filled with churning clouds.

The heat had never really broken from summer, and there was a tenseness in the air that you could almost touch. Everyone was on edge. The old folks in the neighborhood were looking more worried than most. Some of them could remember that long-ago winter when tornados had ripped through this area, leveling towns in a melee of horror and devastation.

Our little town was especially vulnerable, some said, and since there were a number of old folks living on their own and families with kids trying to get by in mobile homes, worry was running high. Everyone knew that their houses didn’t stand a chance of facing the brute force of a major tornado, and no one had basements or underground shelters where they could go at a moment’s notice.

What had started as a small discussion between several people in Gregg’s front yard had grown into a virtual outdoor neighborhood meeting as fearful mothers with their children in tow and worried husbands returning from work were drawn into tense conversations about reports that the national weather service was warning people that major tornados were likely in our area, especially through the night.

It started with Gregg trying to encourage a small group of people, but it soon evolved, much to Gregg’s amazement, into a gathering of several hundred. As the crowd grew, people kept asking him to speak louder, and someone grabbed a karaoke machine and brought it to him. At first Gregg seemed awkward and embarrassed at the way everyone was focusing on him, but they couldn’t help it. He was saying things that just seemed to still the crowd and lift the threatening gloom of the turbulent skies.

Then he started talking about experiences he’d been through while growing up when he’d faced dangers of different kinds, and how God had always kept him through them when he’d prayed. That other person that had been lurking on the fringes of Gregg’s day-to-day life was getting clearer by the moment.

“You know,” he said with a quality that hadn’t been there before in his usual quiet nature, “I know that if we unite in prayer, Jesus is going to keep us. I know we’re going to see a Christmas tomorrow morning that will be one of the best we’ve ever had, because we’ll realize how important He is. He’s going to help make this Christmas one that we’ll all be counting our blessings for and thanking Him that we've been under the shadow of His wings.”

The tension in the crowd began to drain away, and someone asked him to do the praying. The words he said were so simple. They weren’t eloquent like some preacher or charismatic like some evangelist. But something about them and just the fact that he was there, like a lightning rod that was drawing in God’s power, helped to soothe folks’ hearts, at least for the moment.

When the prayer ended, Gregg found himself surrounded by a crowd of tough cowboys, humbly waiting for him to tell them what to do. “I got four kids and we ain’t got a place in our house, not even a closet where we can hunker down. What are we going to do?” one of the biggest guys questioned desperately as he towered over Gregg.

“Yeah, my family’s in a trailer. It won’t last two seconds if one of them tornados comes near it. There’s no shelter close enough to run to once we see one of them things come our way,” said another as several others echoed his concerns.

This unlikely hero was momentarily quiet, but then his face lit up, “Hey, everyone!” he shouted. “We need to do what we can do, and I know God’s going to do the rest. Who’s got a place where they can put up some of these folks who don’t have anywhere that’s safe? And we need to assign some teams to pray through the night! Jesus will keep us, but we have to do our part to help one another!”

People began volunteering spaces in their homes, sleeping bags, cots, and everything else they had, and as the evening settled in, though they didn’t know what the night would bring or if they’d still be there in the morning, no one in our neighborhood was left alone to face the unknown.

Around midnight, the winds began to rise and then suddenly dropped into deadly silence. A hush settled in each home as the wail of the warning sirens heralded a string of tornados. One huge one was bearing down on our small town. It looked like the end of life as we had known it, as the deafening roar, like some monstrous freight train, swept across the plain. The tornado was on its way, with the force of a massive hurricane concentrated into an area about two miles wide, bringing a fury that we all knew would leave nothing but shattered buildings and lives in its wake.

But then something happened.

One of the mysteries and wonders of God’s power is that what seems inevitable doesn’t have to be. For reasons that are still baffling to many, the tornado lifted off the ground as it reached the edge of our town, its curling, twisting tongue in all its fury was drawn back up into the sky as if there was a huge, impenetrable bubble covering us. The thunderous roar was still echoing in our ears as this minion of death and destruction flew overhead, leaving our little town unscathed. It settled back to earth only a half mile east of us to carry on in its path of havoc.

It was like standing in front of imminent death and for a moment wondering if that was it. Are we dead? The silence that engulfed us was almost deafening. It took a few minutes for people to get up and with almost wondrous awe begin to touch one another to make sure they were still real. Joyful hugs followed, and cautious peering from windows, half expecting to see little or nothing left. Then came cheers and shouts as people ran from their houses into the last vestiges of rain as the tornado seemed to even suck the clouds away in its wake.

Our Christmas began early that year. No one felt like sleeping. Some were on their knees thanking God for deliverance, and others were silently looking around them at all that they had barely noticed or valued until a few hours before, when it was about to be wrenched from their lives.

The old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone [or nearly gone],” came true in more ways than one that Christmas.

And what about Gregg? He was still Gregg. No flaming evangelist, but a life changer in his own quiet way, ready to be the reminder that we have a Rescuer, not out there somewhere far away, but a friend close at our side, whose hands are more than big enough to cover and shield those who look to Him.

Sometimes I shudder to think of where I would be if that ordinary guy with such a deep faith hadn’t come to our little neighborhood to live, to just be one of us and to convince others of what he obviously knew from experience: that with God, nothing shall be impossible.[1]

[1] Story by Pat Wallace.