It’s mid-March in Atlanta, Georgia. The city is experiencing a massive dragnet for an escaped convict. Hours before, something had gone terribly wrong. During a court appearance, a man being held on a rape charge had overpowered the attending deputy and shot her dead. The man would shoot and kill three more times. The largest manhunt in Georgia’s history is on. He is still on the loose!
As Atlanta goes to sleep, the city is on edge. But the rest of the story is about to begin in the still of the night. It is here that two people will meet. Their close encounter of seven hours will be up close and personal. What transpires will change lives. It will save lives. Perhaps, even now, it will affect your life.
It’s 2 a.m. and Ashley Smith is up. She needs to go to the store. She is out of smokes. This isn’t a real noble start to a feel-good story. Nonetheless, here’s a lady with a bad habit that needs satisfying. Little does she realize she has a rendezvous with purpose. She is about to meet Brian Nichols.
Do you know who I am?
As Ashley returns from the store to the front of her apartment, she feels a gun being stuck into her ribs. It is the calling card of Brian Nichols—”the man on the run.”
Nichols is restless. He tells Smith, “I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt anybody else. So please don’t do anything that’s going to hurt you.” He then securely ties her up with an extension cord, masking tape and a blanket and places her in the bathroom. It seems as if her world is closing in, but she continues to gently reply to every request of the intruder.
As they continue to talk, Nichols seemingly becomes more relaxed and comfortable with Smith. Finally, he unties her and lets her remain with him in the bathroom away from the front area of her apartment. As they continue to chat, Smith tells him she is supposed to see her little girl, Paige, in the morning and asks if she can go see her. The answer comes back, “No!”
She begins to share her personal story a little more deeply. She shares how her husband had been stabbed several years ago and had died in her arms. Smith explains that if something happened to her, Paige, her 5-year-old daughter, wouldn’t have a mommy or daddy. She tells him how upset the child would be if she weren’t let go. It is then that Smith begins to see a change in Nichols. He comes back with, “Maybe, maybe, I’ll let you go. We’ll see how things go.”
We serve God by serving others
Again, feeling more comfortable, they both go back into the bedroom. Smith asks if she might be able to read. He says, “Sure. What do you want to read?” Smith reaches for her Bible and the current best-selling book titled The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. She turns to chapter 33, which is her study lesson for the day.
As Smith reads the first paragraph out loud, Nichols says, “Stop! Will you read it again?” The chapter begins simply but profoundly with the words, “We serve God by serving others.” Embedded within the chapter is the line, “If you only serve when it’s convenient for you, you’re not a real servant. Real servants do what’s needed, even when inconvenient. Are you available to God anytime? Can he mess up your plans without you becoming resentful? As a servant you don’t get to choose when and where you will serve.”
The chapter continues to talk about what you think your purpose in life is all about. What are you—what are your talents?
A not so pretty life
Smith continues talking to him through the night, always striving to gain his trust. She shares her story, which isn’t pretty. A troubled teen, she had had several problems and run-ins with the law. She had married a man who was a hard worker, but who liked hanging out with “the good old boys”—perhaps some of whom were responsible for his stabbing death several years before. Afterwards, she went to live with her mom, and left Paige to be raised by her aunt.
Now, things are getting a little bit better. She has finished a medical assistance course and she is seeing Paige once a week. She even shares her husband’s autopsy report. She tells Nichols, “That’s what a lot of people will have to go through now, because of what you have done. You need to turn yourself in. No one else needs to die, and you’re going to die if you don’t.”
Nichols looks at Smith’s family pictures and asks if he can hold them. He says, “Can I stay here a few days? I just want to eat some real food and watch some TV and sleep and just do normal things that normal people do.”
Early in the morning, Smith fixes the hungry man some pancakes. This leaves him overwhelmed—”real pancakes, with butter.”
You are here for a reason
But the conversation turns from syrup and butter, back to God and purpose and a reason for being. Smith confronts Nichols with the overpowering question: “Do you believe in miracles? You are in my apartment house for some reason.” She continues, “You know, your miracle could be that you need to be caught for this. You need to go to prison and you need to share the word of God with them, with all the prisoners there.”
It is now 9 a.m. Nichols asks, “What time do you have to leave?” Smith replies, “I need to be there by 10. So I need to leave at 9:30.” Smith appeals to him to turn himself in. But he replies, “Is there anything I can do while you’re gone—like hang your curtains or something?”
With that, Smith leaves her apartment, gets into her car and at 9:30 a.m. makes a cell phone call to the police. Shortly thereafter, Nichols surrenders peacefully.
Today, Ashley Smith is in high demand. Not for making pancakes, but for telling how she lived through an incredible hostage situation. Movies are in the making, books are being written, and her technique for talking to assailants is being analyzed by professionals who deal with hostage crises.
Man or monster?
What exactly did she do? First of all, she looked at Nichols as a man, not a monster. What Smith seemed to do was break through fear and indignity by asserting both her and Nichols’ humanity and identity. Here were two “lonelies.” One life of pain with a purpose met another life of pain going down a dead-end road and said, “Hey stop, and take a look. There truly is something going on here with you.”
Smith recognized a man who needed a meal and someone to talk to. She incorporated the principles of the Sermon on the Mount described in Matthew 5:39-44 Matthew 5:39-44 39 But I say to you, That you resist not evil: but whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also.
41 And whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two.
42 Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away.
43 You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
American King James Version×:
“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
The story is a reaffirmation that there is no perfect time or perfect person with whom to share God’s grace. We are reminded that so often God uses broken things to point the way to wholeness. Have you ever considered, as Vance Havner so eloquently put in words, that “it takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength”? Yes, God allows broken people, ordinary persons like Ashley Smith, to see the man through the monster.
Long ago, Jesus commented about a man from Samaria who made a difference. He took care of a stranger. The story reminds us that he was in a dangerous neighborhood (the thief-infested road to Jericho), just like Ashley Smith. We are not acquainted with his background other than the fact that he was a foreigner. Jesus chose to mention nothing of his religious pedigree or understanding, but simply commented on his thoroughness and care for the unfortunate.
The man acted upon what he knew, and it is that for which Christ holds each responsible. What did the Samaritan do with the rest of his life? Did the injured man, once healed, go foolishly up the same road he had come down? We don’t know. That isn’t the point of the story. Yet the world goes away reading the story and calling “good” the man only identified as “the Samaritan.”
“We have heard that God is with you”
What will Ashley Smith do with her newfound fame? Time will tell. What will Brian Nichols do in prison? Time will tell. But for the moment it is a story with a lesson. A story of coming to understand life’s great purpose. A story as old as the Psalmist musing, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalms 8:4 Psalms 8:4What is man, that you are mindful of him? and the son of man, that you visit him?
American King James Version×). A story about the great purpose being worked out here below in this bit of mud called man.
Ashley Smith learned a bit about living life with a purpose. One day she, Brian Nichols and all the world will learn the full dimension of God’s purpose for creating life on earth. It is a story not fully told nor understood in today’s world.
It reminds me of a prophecy found in Zechariah 8:23 Zechariah 8:23Thus said the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.
American King James Version×that speaks of inquiry and renewal when all nations and peoples will recognize a need to change and go a different way. The prophet tells us, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”
Yes, there is a time yet ahead when people are going to want to get up close and personal with godly people who are under the direction of Jesus Christ in establishing the Kingdom of God on this previously troubled planet.
It will be a time when all humanity will be shown the fullness of God’s way directly out of the Scriptures. The depth of God’s love, mercy and abiding commandments will be spread to one and all. God declares in Isaiah 11:9 Isaiah 11:9They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
American King James Version×that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
But just a thought here for all of us when opportunity comes: Before over-analyzing people and their problems with all our good answers and quick solutions, we may simply want to talk, share a meal with them and give them some food for thought. Right now a lot of people are “grabbing the sleeve” of a lady in Georgia. Why? Because perhaps Ashley Smith best echoed the sentiment of “this is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21 Isaiah 30:21And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk you in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left.
American King James Version×) when she simply reminded Brian Nichols—”you are here for a reason.” WNP