Wineskins Archive

January 9, 2014

AfterGlow: Unlikely Angel (Sept – Oct 1996)

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by Phillip Morrison
September – October, 1996

He could empty a pew faster than anybody I ever saw. Grossly overweight, dirty, constantly emitting the unmistakable odor of sweat (perspiration is much too dainty a word), he was an unwelcome guest in our respectable church. His ample, hairy belly always poured over his pants while pushing away his unbuttoned shirt. Most of us couldn’t decide whether it was our sense of sight or sense of smell that was more offended.

But it was his habit of throwing both arms up and over the back of the pew that caused people to scatter. Sunday after Sunday I watched people flee, even give up their favorite pew rather than sit near this loathsome character.

Imagine my embarrassment when he cornered the visiting evangelist in the church lobby. As I tried to make apologies, the evangelist said, “You don’t understand. I was talking to him because I wanted to! We grew up in the same small town, went to the same school, the same church. When we were in the same boys’ training class at church, everyone thought he would become a famous preacher and I would be a nobody. I wonder what caused him to fall so far.”

Those were kind words from our guest preacher, but I was still uncomfortable. I learned to tolerate our Sunday visitor, and even to be grudgingly grateful for his spiritual interest, but I never got used to the sight or the smell.

Months went by and nothing changed. Until one morning when the headline on a small newspaper item leaped from the page and forced itself into my consciousness. Our visitor had been stuck by a car the previous night and killed instantly. He had no possessions, no home, no friends. Efforts were being made to contact relatives in a distant state.

For three decades I have been unable to drive his image from my memory. Some days I can even see and smell as vividly as if he had me cornered again at church. And for three decades I have tried to avoid dealing with Hebrews 13:2. Was he really just a repulsive vagrant, skillful manipulator, master of every artful deceit? Or, was he an angel, sent by God to teach me how little I knew about compassion?

I don’t know the answer to my own question, but I do know this: God used equally unlikely messengers to get the attention of self-righteous people. Today you’ll not find me with my nose up in the air and my haughty disposition intact. You’ll find me looking for angels in unlikely people and places. Wineskins Magazine

Phillip MorrisonPhillip Morrison was, for many years, managing editor of Wineskins Magazine and wrote the column “AfterGlow” opposite its inside back cover. He was also the former managing editor for Upreach magazine, and worked as a fund-raising consultant and conducted study tours to Bible lands.

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