I picked Jimmy up at a hotel that I’m sure is not rated by AAA with enough stars to earn my business. I would learn he was a con; he would learn I was a cop.
Looking Forward to Short Drives
One 110-mile drive from Moline to Dekalb, IL, was my only Uber drive on Monday. I usually only drive Uber three to four hours a day. That one round-trip took most of four hours.
My rider said about three words to me the entire trip. All of his worldly possessions were in bags and clothes baskets in the storage area of my car. He was leaving Moline in a hurry. He spent the entire drive on the phone, speaking in hushed mumbles to whoever was on the other end of the line.
A 110-mile drive provides a lot of time for conversation. I had hoped to spend the bulk of the drive communicating the gospel to the troubled young man in my back seat. That didn’t happen. But he did receive a gospel tract as he exited my car.
Tuesday, my time driving Uber began with a few Uber trips around the Quad Cities. It was shaping up to be an average morning behind the wheel. I didn’t mind. Though they are somewhat profitable, the last thing I wanted was another long drive. Besides, I had plans to spend a couple of hours engaged in stoplight preaching during the afternoon.
I had just dropped off Tyler at work. He was a hotel maintenance man. No sooner had I pulled out of the parking lot that I received a request to pick up “James” at the hotel next door.
I saw James in the parking lot and I made my way toward him. He was carrying a couple of duffle bags and smoking a cigarette. He opened the back door of my car.
“James?” I asked.
“Yeah. Jimmy.” He replied.
“Hi. I’m Tony.” I said.
“Do you mind if I finish my cigarette before we get going?” Jimmy asked.
“Uh, sure,” I answered
Jimmy took one long drag from his cigarette and then extinguished it between his fingers.
“Ah, forget it.” He said. “I just wanna get out of here.”
I hit the button on my Uber app to indicate I was beginning the trip. As the navigation updated, the app indicated that I had a 110-mile drive west ahead of me.
“Whoa!” I exclaimed. “Where are we heading?”
“North of Cedar Rapids,” Jimmy said.
It would be yet another four-hour round trip. But unlike the long drive from the previous day, this trip would be filled with conversation.
Jimmy the Con
I made small talk with Jimmy, as I try to do with all my riders. My motive is always the same. I want to find a way to naturally transition the conversation from small talk to the gospel.
I asked Jimmy what was taking him out to the Cedar Rapids area. He said he had a vehicle up there. His plan was to drive the car to Southern Illinois where his family lives. He waited two days at the hotel for a ride from his brother. His brother never showed. It might have had something to do with the heart attack his brother had a couple of days ago. Jimmy was tired of waiting, so he hired Uber to get him where he needed to go.
I asked Jimmy if he was originally from the Quad Cities area.
“No. I grew up in California,” he answered.
“Really? My family and I moved out here a few years ago from Southern California.” I offered. “Where did you live?”
“I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley,” Jimmy said.
“No way! So did I,” I said.
“I grew up in El Monte,” Jimmy offered.
“I grew up in Walnut,” I replied.
Jimmy told me he is on parole for a drug-related conviction. He was caught transporting illegal drugs. Good behavior and early release guidelines resulted in Jimmy serving half his prison sentence. His life of using drugs began at the age of 14. To that point, he had been a pretty good kid who was very active in sports. Smoking marijuana soon moved to methamphetamine and other drugs, but it was meth that did him in.
“I’ll be off parole soon. I’ve used a couple of times, but I haven’t had a single positive test. I’ve been straight with my parole officer. My parole officer told me that I’m one of the few that will make it off parole without any violations.” Jimmy said.
Jimmy told me about a girlfriend. In fact, I was driving him to her house.
“I served as a Deputy Sheriff in Los Angele County, for 20 years,” I said.
In my rearview mirror, I could see Jimmy’s eyes open wide.
“I stayed as a guest of Los Angeles County,” Jimmy said. He was referring to a stint in the Los Angeles County Jail. “I can’t believe I’m getting an Uber ride from a retired L.A. County sheriff’s deputy. Maybe there’s a reason I’m in your car.”
“Oh, I believe that,” I said. “But I believe it’s more than a con and a cop getting to meet each other on an Uber ride.”
“It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe”
During the beginning of our conversation, several times Jimmy mentioning praying to God.
“Jimmy, you’ve said that you pray. Do you have any particular spiritual beliefs?” I asked.
“I’ve always been fond of WWII planes. I think I might have been a fighter pilot in a previous life.” He replied.
“What do you think is more important; Jimmy, what we believe, or whether or not what we believe is true?” I asked.
“What we believe,” he answered.
“How old are you, Jimmy?” I asked.
“I’m 40,” he answered.
“What if I told you I believed with all my heart that you are a petite, Asian woman who is a seamstress? Would it be true?” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
“That’s right,” I said. “No matter what I believe about you, you will always be a male white who is presently 40 years old and on parole.
“Now, what if on our way to Cedar Rapids I stop at a bank to make a withdrawal. I hand the teller a withdrawal slip requesting a million dollars from my checking account. The teller looks at the slip, her eyes open wide, and she checks my account on the computer. ‘Mr. Miano,’ she says, ‘You only have $89.50 in your account. I can’t give you a million dollars.’ I tell her that I believe I have a million dollars in my account and I insist on withdrawing it. Is she going to give me a million dollars?”
“No,” he replied.
“That’s right. In fact, if I keep insisting the teller give me a million dollars, what’s likely to happen?” I asked.
“You’re gonna get arrested for attempted bank robbery,” Jimmy answered.
“That’s right!” I said. “It doesn’t matter what I believe about my bank account. What matters is what’s true about my bank account. Jimmy, the same is true regarding God. It doesn’t matter what you or I believe about God; what matters is what’s true about God.
“God has revealed Himself to us in creation. He has written His law on our hearts (He has given us a conscience). And He has given us His Word–the Bible. His Word tells us that God is true, though every man is found to be a liar (Romans 3:4).
Taking Jimmy to Court
“While we’ve been on opposite sides, Jimmy, you and I have spent a lot of time in courtrooms,” I explained.
“That’s true,” Jimmy said.
“Let’s say you found yourself standing before a judge, having been found guilty of a crime. The judge says, ‘Because you have been found guilty, the just punishment for your crime is death.’ The judge orders you to be taken into an adjacent room, strapped to a gurney, and put to sleep like a stray dog.” I said.
“Lethal injection,” Jimmy surmised; his voice subdued.
“That’s right. But just before the bailiff walks you to the next room, the judge stands up from behind his bench. He takes off his robes of authority. He steps down and says to you, ‘You have been found guilty and you deserve to die as the just punishment for your crime, but I’m going to take your place.’
“The judge allows himself to be escorted into the next room where he is strapped to a gurney and put to sleep like a stray dog. And because of that, you are set free. What would you think of a judge who did that for you?” I asked.
“I would think he was a great man,” Jimmy answered.
Jimmy Hears the Gospel
“Jimmy, that’s a picture of what God actually did.
“Two thousand years ago, God the Father sent His Son to earth in the person of Jesus Christ–truly God and truly man, without sin. He lived a perfect life from cradle to grave, for some 33 years, a life you and I cannot manage to live for 33 seconds. As God in the flesh, Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law of God, in thought, word, and deed.
“Yet at a time appointed by the Father, before the foundation of the world, Jesus Christ–the God-Man–voluntarily went to a Roman cross where He died a horrible, bloody death He did not deserve in order to take upon Himself the punishment sinful men like you and me rightly deserve for our sins against God. He died; He was buried, and three days later He rose from the grave, forever defeating sin and death.
“What God commands of you Jimmy is the same thing He commands of me and all people everywhere. He commands that you repent and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. He will forgive your sin. You will be reconciled to the God you have spent your life offending through your sin and you will have the assurance of eternal life–not because you are good, but rather because of the goodness of God that would allow His one and only, perfect, precious, and priceless Son to die on your behalf.
“Does that make sense, Jimmy?” I asked.
“My mind is completely blown,” Jimmy said. I can’t believe I’m hearing this. I can’t believe this is happening. I think I was meant to ride with you today.
“I’m going to do better.” Jimmy resolved.
Jimmy Mows My Lawn
“That won’t help you,” I said.
“Jimmy, let’s say you were young enough to be my son and you lived next door to me. One day you knock on my door. I answer the door and you say to me, ‘Tony, I’m going to mow your lawn so I can be your son.’
“I smile and say two things to you. ‘I think it’s great that you want to offer to get me out of yard work. And I think it’s pretty special that you want to be my son.’ But Jimmy, if I’m honest with you, I’m going to tell you that mowing my lawn will never make you my son.”
“That’s true,” Jimmy said.
“But, Jimmy, what if you were my son?” I asked. “What if I came home from work one day to find you mowing the lawn, knowing that no one asked you to do it. You see me; you come over to me and say, ‘Dad, I don’t want any money. I didn’t wreck the car. I didn’t flunk a class. I don’t have any bombs to drop on you. I’m mowing the lawn dad because I love you.’
“Jimmy, that would make most grown men cry.”
“Yeah,” Jimmy agreed.
“Jimmy, when you die and stand before God, your good deeds will not help you. God will see them as nothing more than an attempt to bribe the judge. It would be like walking into court and telling the judge, ‘Your honor, I washed the windows on your Mercedes and here’s 20 bucks. I think you should just let me go.’
“You can’t work your way into God’s family. You will never do enough; you will never be good enough; you will never clean up your act to the point of earning or deserving God’s love and forgiveness.
“But if, by faith, you receive the free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus, God will take your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. You will want to live in such a way as to please God. You will want to keep His commands–not to earn His love and forgiveness, but because you are so thankful for the love and forgiveness He has freely given you, through faith in Jesus Christ.
“Does that make sense?” I asked.
“Yeah. The idea of mowing the lawn helped a lot.” Jimmy said.
“I Hated You, Jimmy”
“I live the first 23 years of my life thinking I could impress God enough to get into heaven,” I explained. “I married a church-going girl. I became a deputy sheriff. ‘Surely God would want someone like me,’ I thought. “But I was wicked, Jimmy. I didn’t want God. I wanted the benefits of knowing God.
“Two things happened the day after I cried out to the Lord and asked Him to save me. The thought of cussing like I once did repulsed me. I didn’t want to talk that way anymore.
“Thirty years ago, before consent decrees and cell phones, we had a different way of doing things on the sheriff’s department. When I worked in the jails, we operated with the allusion that we were in control. There were maybe 12 deputies controlling 1,200 inmates. All we had was a flashlight and a key block. So, we talked and acted in ways that would convince the inmates we were in control.
“If an inmate gave us lip or disrespected us in some way we would pull him out of his dorm after the evening count and re-educate him. Oh, we made sure not to leave any marks. But we also made sure the inmates knew who was in charge. We called it ‘court.'”
“The night after the Lord saved me, I was sitting in the compound. After the count, two deputies approached me and said, ‘Come on, Tony. It’s time for court. We’ve got a couple of guys to deal with.’
“I got up out of my seat, just like I would have any other night. But then I sat back down. I remember saying to myself, ‘Tony, what are you doing?’
“The deputies turned around when they noticed I wasn’t walking with them. When they saw I hadn’t gotten out of my chair, they said, ‘Come on, Tony. Let’s go.’
“I remember saying to myself, ‘Don’t say it. Don’t say it.’ But I couldn’t help myself. I said, ‘Guys, I became a Christian last night and I don’t think God wants me to do that anymore.’
“The deputies laughed because they knew me. They knew what I was like.
“I told them, ‘No. Seriously, guys. I became a Christian last night. I don’t think God wants me to do stuff like that anymore.’
“God had changed my heart, Jimmy.
“I hated people, especially inmates when I worked the jail. Jimmy, I hated you! I hated people like you. But God changed my heart. He saved me. I can say that I love you, Jimmy, as my neighbor. I don’t want you to perish in your sin. Turn to Christ and live while God has given you time,” I pleaded.
A Quick Stop, Then Goodbye
We still had a way to go before reaching Jimmy’s destination. The remainder of the ride was pretty quiet.
When we entered Cedar Rapids, Jimmy asked if I would stop at a grocery store. He wanted to buy flowers for his girlfriend. Uber riders pay for additional stops when they order their rides. Jimmy hadn’t. But, it was on the way, so I agreed. While Jimmy was in the store, I gave Mahria a call to let her know where I was and how long it would be before I likely got home.
Jimmy got back in the car with a bouquet of flowers in hand.
“Thanks,” Jimmy said.
“No problem,” I replied.
We drove another 15 minutes or so to Jimmy’s destination–a small neighborhood that seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere.
As Jimmy got out of the car for the last time, I handed him a gospel tract.
“Jimmy, don’t forget our conversation,” I pleaded.
“I won’t,” he said.
I backed out of the muddy driveway and made my way home.
It was a long, 110-mile drive back to Davenport, but I’m pretty sure I smiled most of the way.
Pray for Jimmy’s salvation.