The phone rang the other day and although there was no name that popped up on the screen, I recognized the number because I had talked with this middle-aged woman only a few days previous to this; in fact, she had called several times recently so the number was easily recognizable. Ellen had just gotten word from our doctor that her Covid-19 test was positive and though I had not yet been tested I was feeling the same symptoms that had caused Ellen to get tested a few days earlier. So, when I saw the phone number, knowing who it was and feeling as raunchy as I did, my first impulse was to just let it ring.
It was a call from Mali, who, when we first met her, was a teen age girl who, with her mother, either came to our church on one of our church busses that we sent from our church to the near down-town Indianapolis neighborhoods, or with an aunt and uncle who were members of our church but have been deceased now for several years. Mali’s mother never drove and Mali, a developmentally challenged child and now adult, cared for with love by her mother with whom she has always lived, of course has been totally dependent on others for a ride to church and, consequently, she has not been in our services for years. She has though periodically called to share a prayer request, and it is pretty common for her to say before she concludes her phone conversation, “I love you, Pastor Slutz. You will always be my pastor.” She recently called the church, Thompson Road Baptist Church, trying to contact me; and one of our male members, doing security detail that evening, told me after the service that a woman Mali (not her real name) called during the service asking to speak to me. The gentleman informed Mali that the service was in progress but that he would pass the message on to me which he did at the conclusion of the service. In the course of her conversation with our security watchman, Mali said, “Pastor Slutz saved me when I was 15 years old.” Well, she has said that many times and, though I corrected her reminding her that only God can save a person and I was simply the messenger, I have not been able to succeed in getting her to say correctly something to the effect that “Pastor Slutz led me to Christ when I was 15.” Mali has the heart of a child and the Lord knows what she means so I just ceased trying to get her to say it with theological preciseness.
But, as you might guess, for a woman to call seeking to talk with Pastor Slutz and manifesting such love and appreciation, and the man taking the call not knowing the woman or anything about her, could be problematic! Mali does not know our current pastor, my pastor, Pastor Joel Stevens, a loving and caring under shepherd, or she would have the same tender affection toward him. And I know that Pastor Joel is not bothered by someone such as Mali reaching out to her pastor of old for help. We have that kind of working relationship. He is my pastor; He is the Senior Pastor of Thompson Road Baptist Church and I am Pastor Emeritus.
So, when the phone rang last week, and I recognized the unidentified number and was about ready to ignore it being about overwhelmed with the symptoms of C-19, Ellen, my dear help-meet, knowing also who it was that was calling, said, “You’d better answer that,” and at once I did. I had known Mali had said she was being tested for cancer and was supposed to find out, I thought, on the day the call was coming my way whether it was positive. I answered the call and Mali said, “Pastor Slutz, I have cancer.” I expressed my heartfelt sorrow for that news and reminded her of what we had rehearsed in our last phone conversation a few days earlier: “Mali, you can just grab ahold of Ps.23:1—the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” When I started quoting that verse Mali chimed in and quoted it with me.” Then Mali said, “I’m afraid, Pastor Slutz,” and she began to cry. I assured her that the Lord was her shepherd and then quoted another verse, Ps.55:3, and began to pray. I was barely into my prayer when I started getting choked up also and struggled getting words out. I was thinking not only of Mali who was fearful of what having cancer would mean to her (she had shared with me that she weighed only 108 pounds) but I was thinking and being rebuked in my spirit that I had almost not answered the phone when this dear soul needed prayer. I did not verbalize it in my prayer with Mali, but I surely did ask God to forgive me that I could be tempted not to answer the phone when someone needed my counsel, encouragement and prayer. It was a humbling lesson. Mali has called since and she will continue to call and this is one former pastor who will thank God that he can still have a ministry, forty years and counting, with a developmentally challenged teenager and now an adult in mid-life who is struggling for her life. I hope God helped Mali the day we prayed and wept together. I know He helped me.
“Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church…and the prayer of faith shall save the sick.” (James 5:14,15)