My e-mail program started having problems. "Error occurred" kept appearing on my computer screen, not an encouraging sign since e-mail is my primary means of sending this weekly column to more than one hundred newspapers in the United States and Canada.
A quick call to the technical support department of my internet provider sent me on an international telephone journey to technicians who are supposed to know how to fix problems like mine. Starting with an overseas expert who quickly gave up on my difficulty, I was switched to Canada, Arizona and Texas for additional help. At each of these stopovers, I probed the needs of these hopeful helpers, ending each conversation with: Remember God loves you!
"God bless you," said the overseas contact.
"I try to remember that but sometimes forget," replied the Canadian.
"I've made some mistakes in my life," volunteered the man from Arizona, while letting me know he was interested in what I had to say. I mailed a faith building book to him.
The Texan was cheerful, friendly and most helpful of the four, but non committal.
My e-mail problems were finally solved by a friend not far from my office with some help from one of my computer-wise grandsons. But I didn't count my nearly fruitless telephone conversations with those supposed to be in the know wasted. Each of these contacts provided opportunities to share my faith with a person in need.
A sign on a shelf directly across from my desk says, "Blessed are the brief for they shall have lower phone bills," a good reminder of the cost of calling for one who loves talking to people, but the advent of telemarketing temporarily cooled my enthusiasm for phone calls.
How could these interrupters of my life know when I was eating, enjoying a conversation or involved in the most pressing work of my day? Why didn't they mind their own business so I could get on with mine? Then, one day, I realized that calling me was their business and my business was to find out about their personal needs so I could help them.
This change of perspective has enabled me to welcome these formerly unwanted calls, seeing each one as an opening to connect with a person who is simply trying to make a living and likely in need of encouragement and faith. Since my change of attitude, I've been amazed to discover what a few kind words can accomplish when spoken to a person who has been told off, cursed and hung up on.
Many of these formerly rejected ones have written to me, sharing their problems and asking for guidance in addressing them. How sad to have missed this opening to care!
Our Lord took time to talk to troubled people. Consider His compassion in taking time to talk to the woman at the well of Samaria who came to faith and told her friends about this One who loved her and them (John 4).
The next time your phone rings, consider it the sound of opportunity.
Let's make sure needy ones aren't turned off by a signal that we're too busy.
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org