US 51 bypassed Minonk many years before we moved there, so not many travelers stopped at the church for assistance, and fewer came to the parsonage, which was a nondescript ranch-style house several blocks south of the church. That may explain why I chose the meditation topic for Christmas Eve 1986 without a second thought—finding room for strangers. The town had not had much practice with that theme, though the rough area economy, and the deteriorating and vacant housing in the rural community were preparing the ground for some changes. I preached it, a safe distance away from Bethlehem two thousand years ago. The late candlelight communion service was beautiful, of course. Families packed the pews and shared customary greetings at the benediction.
After the lights were out and the church doors locked, on that cold icy night, we drove home with our teenage children and prepared for bed, when the knock came at the door. I pulled my pants over my pajama bottoms, and went to answer, with some trepidation. There stood a man in dirty, disheveled clothing, with a canvas bag slung over his shoulder, asking if I could help him find a room for the night. He introduced himself as Goodman.
“Well, Mr. Goodman,” I answered without much enthusiasm, “You’ve come to the right place. I don’t know how you found me, and I can’t promise much, but we’ll find you a room.” I invited him inside, thinking of all those times I remembered when such an invitation did not turn out well. We had a sleeper sofa. The nearest motel was fifteen miles away. As Jan gave him something to drink and eat, I called that motel and found that they still had a room available for the night. At Midnight I found myself driving Mr. Goodman south to El Paso, listening to a hard-luck story, and trying to encourage a man to hold onto hope that things would get better for him. And wondering about the mysterious ways….
That was the only night that we had such a visitor knock on our door seeking shelter, in the eight years we lived at Minonk, and it was on Christmas Eve, when I preached about welcoming strangers.