New York State Parole Officers are required to make many random home visits in their assigned precincts. Many visits were ‘surprise’ visits during curfew hours, 9pm to 6am. Unlike most of my fellow officers, I chose to work alone in the field and, moreover, walked through the neighborhoods block by block. Although the Harlem precincts were quite rough at the time, I grew to know and love the community.
However rewarding my lone and lengthy excursions, there were also a few hairy moments to remember.
One early morning, a little past 5am….
It was a cold and dark winter morning, I hopped off the bus and started my scheduled visits, block by block. Except for a few figures huddled inside doorways, either selling drugs or loitering for warmth, the streets and sidewalks were empty. I walked into a side street, between two major avenues and, halfway in the block an eerie feeling came upon me. I noticed a large hooded man across the street, picking up his pace, following me. There was no once else to follow!
I looked ahead towards the avenue which was well lit. “Lord, let me get there”. However, this man sped up, crossed the street diagonally towards me. A flashback of being jumped as a youth shot a warning inside me…As he walked between two parked cars to the sidewalk, I neared the street light. He slowed his pace and looked at me, his countenance clearly changing…
“Hey, I remember YOU! You were my Parole Officer a long time ago!”
“Really?” I did not remember him!
“Yeah! I remember you, you invited me to your church!”
“Oh, well did you go?” I asked this possible mugger.
“Actually, I did go once, a long time ago…but things just fell apart…” his voice drifted. No doubt that “things just fell apart” since he was roaming the streets for no good reason. “Well, maybe you need to go back to the church, remember where it is? 51st and Broadway…Start praying, call out to the Lord. He’s the only one that can change your life…”
“Yeah, I know…” with that he turned and walked away…and I, somewhat stunned, headed towards the avenue, the sun now rising.
I call upon this memory often, it refreshes my trust in God’s protection and His “order to my steps”. I am fairly certain of that ex-convict’s initial criminal intent as he eyed and followed me – but I believe the Lord had an appointment that morning. At just the right moment, that man saw my face in the light and remembered me, and God stopped and redirected him. Of all the scenarios that flew to mind, I did not imagine what God had in store.
That morning also brought life to the truth…”He who plants and he who waters are one in purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers…” (I Corin 3:8-9) If I indeed invited this former parolee to church it was after counseling him in the Lord and sensing a receptive heart to know God. What happened during the subsequent years is unknown but serving God under His direction and calling is never futile – the Lord of the harvest will yield His intended fruit.
I pray for Lord’s encouragement upon us all, may we seek and anticipate His possibilities everyday…appointments – even unlikely ones – where we might water the seed within someone’s heart or refresh someone’s damaged faith and even more, sense a unity with the Lord of the harvest as He causes the seeds to grow.
“The rain and snow come down from the heavens
and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
producing seed for the farmer
and bread for the hungry.
It is the same with my word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”