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I was sitting in the back of a diner with some friends in Queens, NY in 1989. As I looked to the front of the restaurant, I saw an emaciated woman, who appeared to be reading a pamphlet that we were handing out on the streets.
Thinking more about my belly than her soul, I momentarily argued with the Lord about the wisdom in missing a meal to talk to a stranger.
That was dumb.
After relenting to whatever the Lord was doing inside of me, I went to the front of the diner and introduced myself to this woman. Her name was Pat Martinez. We chatted briefly. I asked if I could sit with her. She said she had nowhere to go so that it would be okay.
I think she was more intrigued by how I talked than anything else. She had never heard anyone, outside of TV characterizations of southerners, speak like me.
She was easy to talk to, and within a few minutes, she was sharing her life story. She was married, with a son. They lived day-to-day, never holding down a job, but always searching a way to scratch out a living. Part of the way she earned a living was prostitution, along with occasional baby sitting jobs.
She was a heroin addict.
I immediately liked her. There was a lot to like about Pat Martinez. As she talked, I began looking her over. She was skin and bones. She had a few tats, but the thing that struck me was the tracks down both of her arms. They were needle tracks. I asked her if I could rub them. She said that would be okay.
We talked at length about God and grace. I told her about our church meeting the next evening at The American Legion Hall. I invited her. She gave a courtesy nod to be polite, and after a while, I left. She stayed to enjoy some quietness in the air conditioning.
She eventually left for her apartment, where a man from the lower floors called and asked if she would sit his child for a few hours. He needed to run some errands and was willing to pay.
I learned what happened after our diner meeting later.
She was delighted to get the job and told her friend about the good turn of fortune. She shared with her our conversation, to which her friend said,
I’m not sure about this God thing, but maybe you should go to that church meeting tomorrow night. Maybe God is doing something in your life.
Our Wednesday evening meeting was the culmination of working the streets for three days.
The following night Pat came to our meeting and listened to a young man preach about heaven, hell, God, and the need for salvation. At the end of his sermon, he asked if anyone wanted to “make a decision for Christ.” Or something like that.
While he was inviting folks to the alter, I was mingling and talking with a few of the visitors who came to the meeting. Pat was one of those people. As we talked, I asked her what she wanted to do. I told her,
Pat, we chatted about these things yesterday. You told me you believed in God, heaven, and hell. You said there was no doubt you would go to hell. You do not have to do that. God can save you. Tonight! He is calling you to Himself right now.
Rick, you don’t understand. The things you’re talking about are foreign to me. You’re talking about heaven, God, salvation, peace, mercy, love, hope, grace, and light. That is not my world. I know darkness, sin, pain, prostitution, drugs, murder, filth. I cannot get–in my mind–to where you are.
My heart was sad as I kept my arm around her. I understood what she meant. I also knew there were no more appeals to make.
A few days later I did share my encounter with Pat Martinez with my New York friends. I asked them to check on her.
A couple of months after arriving home, one of my friends called and asked,
Do you want to hear some good news from New York?
Pat Martinez got saved yesterday.
God stirred my soul. Pat became my sister, and shortly after that, she began to engage my friends from New York as they taught her about Jesus.
It was a year or so later when my friend called again to let me know Pat had AIDS and was dying. At that point, hospice was already at her apartment, and she was deteriorating rapidly. Pat was partially coherent as she asked her church friends about that “guy from South Carolina.”
She wanted to see him.
Within a week, I flew up to meet her. Just before we entered her apartment, I told my friends that I am a crier. I often cry, especially when I see human suffering. I wanted to prepare my friends for what they were about to see.
I walked in and saw Pat in her hospital bed, I cried. After gaining semi-composure, I read Psalm 23 to her, thinking she may be familiar with that one. We both cried. I prayed with my prostitute friend, gave her a kiss, and left.
Never to see her again on this side of heaven.
Pat is one of the reasons I look forward to heaven. I want to see what she looks like now. I want to hear the rest of her story before she met Jesus. I want to give her a hug.
For now, there is this ever-present picture of an emaciated woman sitting in the front of a diner with her elbows on a table and a pamphlet in her hands as she was reading about God’s love. There is also this thought about an out-of-place southern boy who could only think about why these people don’t have grits.
Then I reorient my mind to the Bible; we’re all the same. We have the same problem and the same need. Pat made it home.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:1-9