One Man Named Sailas

There is a man on the fringe of my life.

He’s been there since February 2.

On that day, I received  a phone call at work.  It was from India.  This was not the first time that I had received an unsolicited call from India.  Nor was this the first time I had received an unsolicited call from India, soliciting financial support for a ministry effort.  The internet is a marvel, and apparently it holds vast pools of contact information!

My defenses went up.  I “mm-hmm-ed” and danced whatever steps would help the conversation flow quickly.  Courtesy disallowed me from simply hanging up, so I quickly took my out when they offered to send me a few details by email.  I gave them my address, and faithfully, they sent what they had promised.  In typical Indian fashion, the note’s language was epistle-like from its outset:

Greetings to you in the Precious Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I received your kind test E Mail. Thank you very much.With my whole heart I am thanking you very much. It is blessing to me to write this Email to you because you are the Precious son of Lord Jesus Christ and you are doing Lord’s ministry. Here I am sending you my details for your kind consideration.

My Name is Sailas Grigery…

And so it began–the man on the fringe of my life.

He outlined his ministry efforts among a poor population in south India.  He mentioned his pregnant wife, his lack of food, and his desire for monthly support.  My inner cynic read this story-I’d-heard-before and moved on

Six days later, in reply to my non-reply, Sailas resent his message.

Another six days, and I responded.  I told Sailas that we receive many such requests and respond to nearly none of them.  However, he had caught me with a fresh income tax return and yet-unassigned gifts to give.  Lucky fellows with fortunate timing, both of us: For $100, he could stock his kitchen, and I could buy my way to freedom.

In the meantime, I had inquired of some ministry friends employed by sister churches.  Had a “Sailas Grigery” contacted them as well, seeking funds?  Nope.  Not one of them.  Apparently, he wasn’t blitzing every contact on a website somewhere.  Was it possible that Sailas was exactly who he claimed to be?  Did it matter if he was?

After receiving my gift via Western Union, Sailas wrote:

From the last two days I and my wife are suffering much to face our food needs. We don’t have any food items in our house and we are suffering much. I am not in a position to buy food for me and for my wife. At this critical position your kind help arrived. Really our hearts are filled with joy when we received your kind help. We find no words to express our gratitude you.

A hero I was, feeding the poor of India, from the coffers of the Canadian government.

And apparently, I wasn’t done.

Sir, My humble request to you is, Please help 50 dollars Every month to face my food needs.

My head tipped back, then nodded.  Smirking, my sigh declared, “I should have known.”  (For future reference, mark it down that $100 will not send you on your way with a clear conscience.)

After a week, I sent my reply.

It was warm, but it expressed my hesitancy to get further involved.  I might have simply declared my un-desire; however, image-preservation was apparently a priority that day, so I took the nobler road of sharing my concerns over how foreign dollars can often compromise the Gospel influence of Indian evangelists.  This was hardly as a stretch, as I know first-hand multiple instances abroad where foreign (Read: Western) dollars have divided native churches.  I could also imagine a scenario where an impoverished evangelist in an impoverished community might lose his place of genuine influence once he was enjoying income sources that his flock could never access.  From all counts, Sailas was an effective minister in his setting, likely more than I in mine.  That said, I still felt like an unwilling participant in our ongoing dialog.  Some of that was fueled by honest skepticism (which was shrinking with every polite and courteous interaction).  Some of that was rooted in common coldness (deeper rooted in me than I care to confess).

I attempted to help him brainstorm other ways he might find the support he needed.

That storm died before it broke as he responded nearly immediately that no such options existed.  He hoped that I might be one.

In a spirit of self-defense, I cannot be the only person who might have scoffed at that moment.  I might not even be the only one to regret picking up the phone back in February, providing my email, or failing to have Spam-filtered that first message.

But in a spirit of kindness, I had done all those things.  And they had landed me here, in a spot I did not particularly wish to fill.

So I went dark.  I gave no reply to that inquiry.  A week later, he resent his note.  A week later, he phoned.  My secretary conveyed my message that I had received his email and would reply.

My silence wasn’t consciously cruel; some was merely circumstantial.  I was away at a class for one of those weeks, my wife was seven months pregnant, and life was fairly full with our jobs and kids.  Emails from Indian strangers were hardly core concerns.

But Sailas’ persistence marked me, and it caused wondering:

Where was God in this scenario? What if Sailas’ story was legitimate, and by some bizarre chain of events, we had been put in touch with each other?  Were some of his needs to be met by our interactions?  Were some of my needs to be met?

I sent him another $100.  This time, I did so with a purer sense of charity than the buy-out I had hoped to gift myself the first time around.

By late April, I decided to Google Sailas.  I hadn’t done so earlier because, seriously: What were the chances that one small name from one immense nation would even show up?  So you can imagine my surprise when I found “Sailas Grigery” on a website that appeared to be run by his father.  It identified Sailas Grigery as his father’s only son and as a fourth-generation preacher.  There was even a photo of his grandfather preaching alongside J.C. Bailey (see left), a missionary well-known within my Canadian Church of Christ circles.  (Since then, it appears that Sailas has followed his father’s lead and set up a website of his own.)

Despite my ample amounts of skepticism, all hints of a scam were falling to the wayside.  Every veiled question I’d asked, every bit of subtle digging: All of it was handled directly and respectfully in Sailas’ responses.  At one point, apparently understanding of my questions, Sailas sent me photos of his congregation along with a letter of identification (the first of three pages is below), signed by 113 church members.

I wondered if I would be half as graceful if I were in a state of desperation with empty cupboards and pregnant wife.  Beyond the bizarre and random nature of our first connection, Sailas appeared to be steadily who he claimed to be.  Childhood Bible verses from Matthew 25 (serving or missing Jesus in the “least of these”), James 2 (sending the hungry one on with only well wishes), and Proverbs 3:27 (withholding good when it is in our power to act) replayed themselves most inconveniently.

Was I expected to support a family I didn’t even know?  Was I free to just “go on with my life”?  Why had this stranger found a firm place upon my consciousness that numerous others with needs had never attained?

Last week, I got another email.

Sailas wrote to express great concern over his father.  He had suffered a heart attack a week earlier, and doctors had found two blockages that require by-pass surgery.  Minus insurance or the $6000 required to cover the cost of the operation, Sailas compose this note:

Respectable sir, I hope you will understand our helpless condition . please pray for my father. Please tell your church about my father series  condition. We need your mercy and help.If possible to you please help me to take my father for By-pass surgery. I am not asking you to help me 6000 Dollars. But please pray for my father. Whatever  help you send it will be useful to my father’s surgery.  Our regards to you all. Please give reply.

Sigh.

Needless to say, I don’t have that money either.  And if I did, would I send it to a still-stranger known only via the internet?

There’s just enough slowness in my heart, created by commonsense caution cross-bred with plain old selfishness to paralyze me even in moments when God would desire response from His children.  That said, there is also enough tenderness in my heart, based upon God’s abounding no-questions-asked grace extended into my life, that I cannot find the freedom to simply “flip the channel”.

So this is my next step.

I am writing it, and you are reading it.  And in the process, your life is being added to the puzzle.  (You’re welcome. 😉 )

If you have read this far, then you are already engaged.

I told Sailas that I would use this avenue to bring his case before a cyber-community of God’s people.  With the Spirit of truth inside you, I simply invite you into an exercise in discernment.  If you sense God’s hand within this story–from a February phone call in my office to a last-week heart attack in India, then I ask you to carry out one or both of the actions below:

1) Give
I will gather funds from any who feel prompted to share what is theirs with Sailas Grigery and his loved ones.  I can be contacted through the comments section of this post if you wish to make a pledge OR gather further information.  Local friends can simply call me.  Those near or far could even transfer money to my Paypal account through my email: jsbandura ATSIGN yahoo.ca.  Whatever has come my way in the next 7-10 days will be transferred to Sailas via Western Union.

2) Share
If you think there is reason for more eyes to see this story, then widen its reach via your social networks and the sharing options below this post.

Grace and peace, my friends.

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