Date: Sunday, June 16, 2013 (Colorado Springs to Denver)
Time: About 2:00
Wait: Less than 10 minutes
Less than ten minutes with my thumb stuck out at Uintah Exit and a brand-new orange Hummer pulls off to the side of the road. It’s not your typical expected vehicle; I’m used to seeing all Hummers just drive on by. There’s a man wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, looks to be about in his forties, a genuine smile on his face.
Where are you going?, I ask. “Denver,” he says. I hop in.
We’re just barely taking off, and one second after take-off, he reminds me to put my seat belt on; I click it in and buckle up for whatever is in store.
We start with some small talk, and Ryan is curious about what I do, and then he takes a deep breath and tells me what he used to do. ” Well, I lost my job back in January, and I went from making 80,000 a year to 200 a month. It’s better now though– God found his calling for me. I’m a missionary now, and God spoke through me and told me to do this.” You mean you are one of the guys that ride around on bicycles in white shirts?, I ask him. “No, no,” he tells me. “That’s the Mormons.”
As we pass along Monument, the expected questions come about; I could feel them bubbling under the surface, could feel him waiting for the right moment. “So how is your relationship with God?” To me, it’s somewhat shocking to ask these questions just as you’d ask someone “What is your favorite cheese?”, but to each his own.
Ryan explains his story on how he found his path to God, as he puts it. ” Are you sure you want to hear a crazy story?,” he asks. Sure, I tell him, go for it.
” Well, when I was about five or six years old, my Dad was in the Army and was a drill instructor, he was super strict and sometimes abusive… so this didn’t help what happened, but I also had a neighbor that raped me when I was five or six. These memories were repressed… I didn’t remember them into my adult life, even when I joined the Air Force right out of high school in order to get away from my bad situation.”
“When I was in the Air Force, I got into heavy drinking. I used to get so drunk that I’d literally like… black out… every other night. One particular night, I somehow ended up in this recreation area on base and passed out in my boxers… and that night I got raped… the person got away, but all the memories from my childhood came flooding back to me, and after that experience, I tried committing suicide a few times… in the ’90s, I was experimenting with being gay, and really deviating from God’s plan and just corrupt in sin… it wasn’t till God spoke through me after my suicide attempts that I finally committed myself to him and stopped the way I was living.”
The story is so strange and tragic to me, that I find it surreal at first, but by the look in his eyes (as he’s taken his sunglasses off at this point), I can tell that his confessions are real. I have the most respect for this man for picking up a “stranger” and sharing his story.
The rest of the ride proceeds upon a series of questions regarding my relationship with God, and this one becomes difficult, because I’m trying to be nice and respectable without saddening him that I don’t necessarily believe exactly what he believes. The series of expected questions ensue:
If you were to die tomorrow, where would you go? What is the picture in your head of Heaven? What is repenting? Who is Jesus Christ? What does the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, and what did it represent? What is prayer?
I remain calm and take the shots– all done with good intentions. “Well, what kind of proof do you need that heaven exists?,” he asks me. I don’t know, I say, laugh and try to keep it casual through this deeply personal topic. Maybe some photographs of angels hanging out, drinking tea above the clouds, something like that.
Ryan’s approach to sharing his views are not aggressive, and he is laid back, and I much appreciate that. It’s more like he is Bible-Tapping rather than Bible-Thumping. A Bible-Thumper tries to tell you that they are better than you– the opposite approach Ryan takes, which is one of humility and respect.
Ryan laughs, and this breaks the ice a little bit. He grabs his well-worn Bible from the backseat and sets it into my hands, and has me look up various Bible verses. John 3:16… “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whomever believes in him shall not perish, but have Eternal Life”…
And after 40 minutes of schooling on God’s word, I do tell him that I am convinced that there is a God, but to me, there is no proof what is in store upon departure from this world. I have my own opinions, and I will reserve them, because everyone has their own opinions, and none are necessarily right or wrong in my mind– mankind has to have an answer for everything, and religion came about because people needed answers, for that comfort. It’s not comfortable to say that I really do not know (I haven’t been to the other side yet, nor has anyone else on Earth as far as I know); but this does not mean that I do not have faith in a God.
I tell Ryan that I do believe, without submitting to too many of his own– we find common ground in that we both believe. ” Well, I think it’s safe to say… you’re a born-again Christian,” he says, with a slight hint of force. I try to play it cool, and tell him that I believe, and leave it at that– there are too many problems that I can see through history and present with organized religion. Once again, this is just an opinion, and religion becomes an incredibly sensitive topic, and one I often try to avoid, unless with open-minded close friends– but I let Ryan lead the conversation out of politeness and respect.
So Ryan asks me if he can say a prayer for me, and I say of course. “Not trying to be weird or anything, and it’s kind of hard to pray while driving, but do you mind if I put my hand on your shoulder?” Sure man, no problem. Ryan then lets out an epic three-minute prayer, of much repetition and of some that I cannot remember.
“Well, before I let you out, just a few things,” he tells me. “Be careful, especially with you going to school and all– there are a lot of false doctrines and preachers out there. If you go to any church, and they mention that ‘we have this other book’ in addition to the Bible, look the other way and run as fast as you can…. there is a church somewhere in Texas that preaches that the more money you donate to the church, the better chance you have of sealing your fate in Heaven… well, that’s not true either– not what faith in God is about, so run the other way with that sort of thing too.”
Ryan sets me off in Aurora, and asks if he can take my picture. Sure thing, I tell him. I imagine it eventually being posted on some felt board at church, above some type of slogan with the likes of ” Sharing God’s Word With Strangers.”
I thank Ryan for the ride, the gospel message, and for sharing his incredible and strange story; like Jim Morrison said, “People are strange, when you’re a stranger.” This quote is entirely relevant to the hitchhiking experience, and I’m grateful for having met Ryan, but know that chances are, we’ll probably never see each other again– yet the experience and his message stays clear, despite our differences.
Ryan tells me that he’s off to some kind of community center to talk to a kid who recently tried committing suicide. ” The devil worked his way into him, but God aint’ done with him yet,” he tells me. He punches the coordinates into On-Star, we bid farewell and go our separate ways.