It was in a small town in England and at the time before there were cars, and people traveled using horses and carriages. The old barn keeper was just loosening the harness on the tired horses when he was startled by Jack, a young sailor. “Excuse me, sir. May I sleep in your barn tonight?” he asked. Startled by the voice, the old man turned around to see who it was who was talking to him. He was just bringing in some horses to bed them down for the night out of the freezing gusts of wind that were beating upon him.
The young sailor quietly stood there, tired and cold, waiting for an answer to his request. Suddenly the old barn keeper gruffly said, “No, I do not want anybody like you staying in my barn. You had better keep right on moving or you will be in big trouble.”
The young man replied, “But sir! I am honest and I would not take anything that was not mine, even if I were without shoes.”
But the old barn keeper would not listen. He hollered back, “I don’t trust you any further than I can see you! Now get out of here or else!”
Jack, sadly turned away wondering where he would go next. All of the places he had tried before had turned him away with the same kind of harshness. He felt dejected; nobody wanted to help him. They considered him a beggar, so sadly he turned away and walked back out into the darkness. Suddenly he felt a light tap on his shoulder. It was the young boy who had been helping the old barn keeper in the stable. The boy quietly said, “Wait!” Then he whispered, “I think I know where you can get help. Just go down this road to the first little shop you come to. Mrs. Smith is a widow, but I’m sure she will let you sleep in her woodshed. She is very kind and is always willing to help those who need it.”
Oh what warmth filled Jack’s heart as he replied to the young boy, “Thank you very much!” There was at least somebody who cared enough to help someone in need. Jack had come into port only two days before and when he reached the shore, somebody had robbed him of all that he had. Now he had to beg his way to London. Every time someone refused to give him food or shelter, it hurt him deeply.
Now, Jack’s heart was filled with hope. He quickly reached the shop, but the door was locked. Oh no, he thought. But Jack remembered the stable boy told him that she never turned anybody away. So he gently knocked on the door. The door opened and the lady on the other side said, “Good evening. Were you looking for me?”
Jack quickly answered, “Are you Mrs. Smith? I was told that you might let me sleep in your woodshed.” The door opened wide and she said, “Come in! You look as though you are nearly frozen. I don’t have much to share tonight, but won’t you join me for dinner? I was just sitting down to eat.”
As Jack shared this simple meal in a warm room with the widow, he told her about everything that had happened to him. He even told her about how he had narrowly escaped becoming shipwrecked himself. Mrs. Smith replied, “Well, Mr. Willis, how thankful you must be that God, in His providence, has spared you until this very moment. But remember that He who has saved your life at sea can also save your soul. The Lord has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of His people. Have you asked the Lord to have mercy on you?”
After giving thanks to the Lord for the meal, the widow spread some clean, dry straw in a corner of her woodshed. Jack lay down with a thankful heart and slept soundly all night. The next morning when he awoke he straightened his rumpled clothes as best he could. He then went to thank the kind woman for letting him stay the night and he would go on his way. But, to his surprise, the kind woman had prepared for him a warm breakfast. When they were finished, she also gave him a small sum of money to help him travel farther. As he left her house, she prayed for the Lord’s blessing to follow him.
Ten years went by and no one remembered what had happened on that cold windy night except one person.
The widow had grown older and now used a cane to help her walk, but she still had a heart filled with love for helping others. Even though she was not rich, she shared what she had.
One morning she received a very important looking envelope. She opened it and read it: “Dear Mrs. Smith, you are invited to come to London tomorrow. I have a message for you. But I want to give you this message in person. Please meet me at 11 a.m. at the Red Lion Inn. Thank you.”
Mrs. Smith had never been away from her own little town and some of her friends were very concerned. She was a bit afraid to go on such a long journey but she was willing to believe the best in everyone. She trusted that God in His providence would protect her from all harm.
So the following morning she took a coach to London and arrived at the great Red Lion Inn. Before she could become worried, two respectable-looking men greeted her and led her to a room. There in the room she was very surprised to hear somebody say, “Well, how are you doing? Don’t you remember me?”
She looked carefully at the stranger. “No, sir, I don’t believe I know you.” The reply came, “I am Jack Willis. Remember the begging sailor you took into your home about ten years ago? I had no money and no friends in a strange town, but you gave me food and a place to sleep that cold, wintry night and I have never forgotten your kindness. I am now captain of a large ship and I wish to give you something in return.” Turning to the other man, Jack continued, “This is Mr. Bates. He is a lawyer whom I have asked to pay you a sum of money each year at this time. This is to show something of my thankfulness to you for your kindness. But, especially, I want you to know that your warning words were used by God to speak to my heart. The Lord used your words and example to convict me of my sin. He has also led me to the only Source of salvation for such a sinner as I am—to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Mrs. Smith’s heart was filled with wonder and burst into tears as she was overwhelmed by all that she had heard. Giving thanks to God for His rich blessings and care for Jack in both body and soul, she returned to her own home. How thankful she was that the Lord had provided also for her! She now had enough money to help even more needy ones. For the rest of her days, whenever she listened to someone tell of their troubles, she always thought of God’s wonderful providence and grace as witnessed in the life of Jack Willis.
How does this story parallel with the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30–35?