Ma’am, this is church

A stranded preacher’s Sunday morning lesson

The Garden of the Gods is a National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs, Colo. — Dorothy Nickel Friesen The Garden of the Gods is a National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs, Colo. — Dorothy Nickel Friesen

We loaded up our car with suitcases, an ice chest and hiking shoes last July as we finished nearly a week with our children and grandchildren at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp in Colorado. We ate hearty suppers, lounged at Eagles’ Nest, played games, read books, took side trips to scenic spots and relaxed. The mountain air revived us.

Then we started our homeward 500-plus-mile drive to Kansas. We drove down the mountain road, onto highways, then gradually into city ­traffic, honking horns and “normal” life.

We were about to leave the east side of Colorado Springs when our car started swerving. The dashboard tire gauge showed a rapid loss of air in a rear passenger tire.

Richard guided the car to the edge of the highway. We stopped with an obvious flat.

Daughter and backseat passenger Melissa got on her phone and began locating nearby tire businesses. But it was Sunday morning. Most shops were closed.

An overnight delay seemed probable. We unloaded our suitcases, ice chest, shoes and coats in the ditch and found the spare.

A Jeep pulled up behind us. A large German Shepherd sat in the front seat with the driver. Friend or foe?

A man, probably in his 40s, physically fit, walked up as I stood in the ditch and said, “Looks like you folks need help.”

Melissa, still on the phone, looked exasperated as each number had no response.

“You are lucky,” the man said and shouted at the dog in the cab to be quiet. “There’s a Tire World just a few miles down the road, and I know they’re open on Sunday. Let’s get that spare on.”

With that, he was on his knees, loosening the lug nuts while Richard dragged the “donut” out of the trunk.

Grabbing tools, he asked where in Kansas we were from.

“Well, you’re not going to make it to Newton today. You’ve got a few more hours in wonderful Colorado.”

When the spare was about in place, I ventured a quip.

“So sorry you’re missing church this morning.”

He turned to me and said, “Ma’am, this is church.”

I was a humbled preacher.

As we loaded our belongings back into the trunk, Richard took a $20 bill and handed it to our new friend.

“When we go to church, we give an offering. Here’s ours this morning.”

The repair guy tried to refuse, but he took the cash and said, “Here are the directions to the tire place. I wish you folks a good trip home and to your church.”

I got a hug from him with the words, “Good to get to know you.”

I think I met Jesus that Sunday morning in Colorado.

Dorothy Nickel Friesen of North Newton, Kan., is a retired pastor and conference minister.

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