While enrolled at the Memphis School of Preaching (at the tender, immature young age of 20), it was my privilege to fill in for Garland Elkins from time to time, when he would be out of town preaching meetings. He preached at the Stanton congregation, a small group of about 30 or so, about an hour from Memphis. He would often ask me to fill in for him on Wednesdays. Whoever filled in would just go and preach a sermon, and it was a win-win for both the student and the congregation–they supported the school, so they got to see some of what they were helping to accomplish, and the students got much-needed preaching experience and the privilege of association with some fine brethren.
On one occasion, I left with just enough time to arrive for the start of services (as I was wont to do), and I left with my car’s gas tank sitting virtually on empty (as I was wont to do). I got to the building with about 5 minutes or so to spare (and pretty much no fuel to spare), preached, and spent about 30 minutes or so talking with a few families after services. One man (whose name escapes me now) and his wife were the last to leave, along with me. I said goodbye as he was getting ready to lock up and proceeded to a tiny gas station just a few blocks from the building. I got out, pumped $5 of gas and headed inside to pay. I handed the lady my credit card, only to have my heart sink when she said, “We don’t take credit cards.” I had absolutely no cash (any intelligent person living in Memphis will not carry cash), and I had left my checkbook at my apartment. Furthermore, this was before everyone carried cell phones, so I had no way of calling for help, either. I naively stated to the lady at the counter, “This is all I have…I don’t have any cash or my checkbook,” to which she (rather unsympathetically) replied, “Well…you pumped $5 of gas!”
I remember so well thinking to myself, “What do they do to people who can’t pay for their gas? I can’t just siphon it back out and, even if I did, I barely made it here, so there’s no way I’ll make it home.” In an effort that I can only think now was to buy myself some time, I said, “Let me go check for change in my ashtray,” knowing full well that if I had even a dollar in there, I’d be quite shocked. She said okay, and I headed outside. As I walked, head hung low, toward my car, I nearly ran into the brother who I’d just left. His arm was extended, with a $10 bill in his hand.
I nearly reached out and hugged that man! I asked, “Brother, you are a lifesaver!” I exclaimed. “How did you know?”
“Know what?” he replied.
I explained my situation, and he went on to laugh and tell me that he’d just said to his wife as they were leaving that he appreciated my filling in for bro. Elkins from time to time, and that he felt it would be nice to give me some extra money for gas and, since he saw my car at the station, he thought he’d do just that (having no idea, of course, of the predicament in which I had landed). I thanked him numerous times for saving me and, to this day, I believe it was by the providence of God that this brother happened to arrive at the station that night to rescue me. This is one of many occasions in my life where I have to look back and think, truly, “The Lord has been mindful of me”!