In Luke 10, Jesus tells an interesting story. “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and departed, leaving him half dead.” As the Lord paints this graphic picture, each of us feels a level of compassion for this helpless man abused by an enemy. If someone inquired whether or not we would be willing to help, we would say that we would in a heartbeat. After all, religious people are supposed to care about the needs of others. Jesus, however, exposes the hypocrisy of many in the religious world. “And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.” We often speak, sing, pray, and preach a good game, but when it comes time for authentic Christianity, we drop the ball.
There was one who did make a difference. “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee” (Luke 10:30–35).
The little phrase, “And went to him,” in verse 34 is a powerful admonishment. Most of us are more than willing to help the person who comes to church or sets up an appointment for counsel, or in some way fits into our plans and schedule. The real neighbor is one who makes the effort to go where the need is and minister as Jesus would.
I was preaching a revival meeting years ago in the little town of Ennis, Montana. After the Sunday morning service, a lady came by and shook my hand thanking me for the message. She said, “I wish you could come to my house for lunch today and witness to my husband. His name is Holly, and he is lost. We have a 10,000 acre ranch, and he works hard from sun up to sun down six days a week. He is a good man, but he is lost. I wish you could come and speak to him. Could you come for lunch?”
After getting permission from the pastor to have lunch with this family, I asked Mrs. Croy how I should get out to their ranch and at what time. She said that she would have one of her sons drive back into town and pick me up at two o’clock. I was already pretty hungry after preaching the morning services, but I agreed to be ready at two. Her seventeen-year-old son picked me up as scheduled, and we drove out to the O’Dell Creek Ranch.
As I entered the house, Holly Croy rose from his chair in the living room and greeted me. He was a rather quiet man, and I was struggling to begin a conversation. I noticed that the wall in the living room was covered with pictures of young children. I said, “My, you have a lot of pictures.” Mr. Croy responded: “Them are my kids!” I inquired, “All of them?” He said, “Yup, my wife and I got twenty-one kids! I’ve got 10,000 acres here and never needed a hired man—always had enough kids.” (I was starting now to understand why lunch wasn’t going to be ready until two o’clock.)
I sat on one end of that long table that stretched from the kitchen into the living room and Holly sat on the other end. His wife wanted me to witness to him—I couldn’t even see him! After lunch I carried my plate to the kitchen and thanked Holly and his wife for the delicious meal. I said, “Mr. Croy, I was raised on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, but I’ve never really seen a big ranch like this. Would you have time to show me around?” He jumped to his feet like I had offered him a million dollars and said, “Let’s go.”
For the next three hours, we drove over many of those irrigated ranch lands seeing his cattle, horses, hogs, and crops. As we returned to the house, I asked Holly if he would come to church that night and hear me preach. He responded with an emphatic “No!” When I enquired as to why he would not attend, he told me that all preachers were lazy good-for-nothing hypocrites. My heart burned for this man’s soul, and I wanted so desperately to reach him. But I knew that his experiences of the past had set his heart against God.
When the meetings ended, I asked the pastor if I could write Mr. Croy a letter and witness to him. With his permission, I sat down and bore my heart as best I knew how. I stated in that letter that I wished I had two lives—one to live as a preacher and one to live as Holly Croy’s hired man. I said, “Mr. Croy, if I could work for you I believe I could prove to you that not all Christians are hypocrites.” Each Christmas, Mrs. Croy would send us a card and inform my wife and I that Holly kept that letter in his wallet, and she would catch him reading it often.
Three years later I returned to Ennis for revival meetings. As Mrs. Croy came out after the service, I enquired about her husband. She said, “Nothing has changed. He’s still lost and doesn’t want to hear about it.” My heart yearned to see this man saved. I said, “I would sure like to see him while I am here.” She informed me that the next morning they would be branding cattle at 6:00 am and I should plan to come by.
Monday morning at 5:30 I pulled into the O’Dell Creek Ranch and found Mr. Croy and his boys already bringing the cows into a corral and beginning the process. They branded the old fashioned way. The metal brands were heated over a fire, the cattle were lassoed, and tackled to the ground and the brands applied. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do and did it with an amazing expertise. I climbed the corral fence and prayed for an opportunity. Suddenly, a young bull broke loose from the rope around his neck and charged in the direction where I sat. I leaped off the fence and grabbed him by the neck twisting him to the ground as I had seen the boys do in the moments preceding.
There I was laying in the manure of that corral face to face with a giant bull. Mr. Croy applied the hot brands to the flesh as the boys held the legs. That cow bellowed and the fluids shot from its nose and mouth all over me. Holly cackled with laughter and said, “Man you picked a big one to start with.” I responded with, “I think he picked me!” For the next ten hours, I wrestled cows and prayed that God would speak to Holly’s heart. Guess what? He came to church that night!
I wish I could say that Holly got saved under my preaching. Many years passed, and one day Mr. Croy had a heart attack and was literally between life and death. There in that hospital room, his wife had the wonderful privilege of leading her husband to Christ. Two weeks later, he was with the Lord.
One day in college chapel I shared this story as an illustration in a message. A student by the name of Ben approached me after the service with tears in his eyes. He said, “Brother Goetsch, Holly was my grandfather! I had heard the story, but I never knew who the preacher was that came out and branded cows with my granddad. Thank you.” Ben has now graduated, and he and his wife are serving the Lord. I’m sure glad that many years ago, I “went to him.”
Is there someone you need to go to today? Keep your eyes open because needy souls are everywhere. They won’t all come to church. We must go where they are even if that’s an old corral at the O’Dell Creek Ranch. According to Jesus, being a real neighbor is doing just that.