I went to the bank the other day to cash a check. I was wearing a doo rag to keep the waves in place, you know what I mean? But because of the way my skin is set up I like to wear a beanie over the doo rag so nobody feels threatened when I go out in public. Little did I know that it would draw a different kind of attention.
I walked out the bank with my envelope in hand and the moment I reached my car, a black Chevy Tahoe pulled up behind me and a middle eastern man shouted, “Asa lama lakum!”
I turned to him and he waved me over. I stood there and looked around for the Muslim man he was addressing. But there was no one else in the parking lot. Was he talking to me? Did he think I was a Muslim because of my beanie? Or maybe Muslim people said this to everyone the way that Americans say, “Hey, buddy.” even though we have no intention of becoming buddies with you. But he was looking at me with a really strange look and I saw something unexpected in his eyes. It was like he’d seen me somewhere before. But he had bulging arms, a full beard, and a white dress shirt. I would remember if I knew a braulic Muslim man driving a Chevy Tahoe.
“I need your help,” he said, frowning at me.
“What’s the matter?” I asked as I walked up to his car.
“I’m with my family and we’re trying to get back home,” he explained. His voice was firm, but soft, like a guy who was normally tough and hated to be in this situation. “But we need gas money.”
And that was when I recognized that look in his eyes: desperation.
“Look, my family is here,” he gestured to the back seat and I saw a woman and a little girl looking at me shyly.
So many things went through my head in that moment and all of them were contradicting each other.
He’s in trouble. You have to help him.
He’s lying. This is a trap.
What would Jesus do?
You’re not Jesus!
But he’s got a family.
What if he’s a terrorist?
How does that make sense?
How does his story make sense?
I struggled to clear my thoughts to make a decision. My go-to was usually to frown and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash on me.” But I was literally holding an envelope full of money. So instead I just said, “I’m gonna use this.”
The man frowned. “Please, sir. We really need your help. I just need $20 for gas. Look…” Then he grabbed his finger and pulled off a thick gold ring with a black stone on it. “Here is my ring. I will give you the ring in exchange for gas money. Please.”
And just like that we were in the middle of a movie scene. I stared at the ring, that looked first of all, very expensive, and secondly, very exclusive–like it was either a class ring or some kind of family heirloom. And this guy was willing to part with it just so he could get back home with his family.
That’s a nice ring.
What is going on?
How much is that ring worth?
Who the heck cares? Get outta there!
I couldn’t think straight. Everything was happening so fast. But have you ever been in a situation where you felt deep in your bones that there was something you should or shouldn’t be doing? Like walking into an abandoned building at 3 a.m. and your body screaming to turn around and go back home? I wasn’t sure if I should give him money or how much I should give. But one thing I was sure of was that under no circumstances could I take that ring.
“You don’t have to give me the ring,” I told him.
“No, please,” he insisted. “Take it. Have the ring.”
“No,” I insisted back. “Keep the ring. I can’t give you $20, but I can give you $5. Gimme a second.”
I headed back to the car, got a few singles, then went back to the truck and handed them to the man.
He took the money gratefully, bowed his head at me, and said, “Asa lama lakum.”
I nodded back.
Then he paused, made sure I was looking him in the face, and said “God bless you.”
And with that he drove off.
You probably have so many questions and so did I. I would be lying if I told you that I felt completely at ease with what I’d just done. And as if I needed any more insecurity in my life at this moment, the security guard on duty called me over from the other side of the parking lot.
“What was that about?” he asked me.
“He needed gas money to get home,” I explained.
The security guard gave me one of those are-you-kidding-me looks.
“Lemme tell you something,” he said. “A guy driving a car like that doesn’t need gas money. You gotta be smart out here.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But he had a family. And its possible that he was in trouble…” But there was no point in explaining myself.
Maybe I had been scammed. Maybe this guy was some Iranian smuggler trying to get a stolen ring off his hands to the first unsuspecting Good Samaritan and I had unwittingly put funds towards his next operation. Or maybe he really had been struck with a stroke of coincidental misfortune and God had used me to get him and his family one step closer to home. I might never know.
Either way, it made for a good story.