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The Stranger on Siesta Keys


I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area. This was last night’s sunset on Siesta Keys.

A chance encounter or divine appointment? You be the Judge.

Yesterday morning I woke up on my day off. Not sure how I wanted to spend it, I went ahead and delivered some baptismal robes to a nearby church, who needed them for Sabbath. When I stopped   by my church to pick them up, my pastor reminded me it was my day off, and I should not be working. I promised him I would take the day off as soon as I delivered the robes.

My friend Adam, who I often hang out with on Thursday nights, told me he would be busy, so I thought this may be a good time to take a long day trip somewhere. I thought about St. Augustine, and a couple other places, but decided on Siesta Keys in Sarasota where I have not been in a while. My plan was to spend some time reading in God’s Word, prayer time, and sunset pictures. As I got ready to leave home, something told me to take my Bible. I thought I don’t need to take that along, I have it on my cell phone.  Still something said, no, take a regular Bible. So I did. I also grabbed the book “Bible Studies Made Easy” and thought maybe I will give it to the waitress wherever I eat.

I got to Siesta Keys early afternoon and went to an Italian place near the beach, that I have enjoyed many times before. After I left, I scolded myself for forgetting to give the waitress the book. I stopped at a park bench near the beach and spent some time reading, as I am now in Revelations, after reading through the entire Bible. I read Chapters 8-12, which gave me plenty to pray and mediate on, as I walked and prayed down the beach. I must have walked 4 miles. As I got back to my starting point, where I had parked, I felt very tired, and reminded myself that the Tampa Bay Rays had a divisional game tonight on TV. Maybe I should go home and watch it. Something said to stay and take sunset pictures as I had planned. I told myself, I already have hundreds of sunset pictures, and nobody really cares to see anymore. They all look the same. Still something inside me said, just stay with the original plan. Lay down on this park bench and rest a while, until the sun starts setting, then take pictures.

As I’m lying there, an older man comes up and starts talking to me. I turn to him, and he then realizes I am not who he thought I was. He became embarrassed and apologized. I told him it was no big deal. I sat up and he started talking to me. First he talked about his bicycle. I told him I hope the streets in Sarasota are more bike friendly than Tampa. He told me his bike was all he had to get around on. I told him I am often on my bike too. I wanted to identify with him the best I could. He glanced at my Bible and asked if I was a pastor. I could have said yes, since I am both a lay pastor and Bible Worker, but that really had nothing to do with why I had my Bible with me. I had my Bible with me because I am a Christian. I replied, “I am a Christian.” He then started opening up about his service in Vietnam, and his discharge. All the terrible things he saw over there, and he was specific. I know a lot of people claim to be vets, but a lot of people really are vets too. He told me how he has given up trying to overcome beer and cigars. I told him the same God who delivered him from Vietnam could also deliver him from those enemies too. He told me how when he returned nobody thanked him for fighting for his country. He told me how he likes to take trash bags and clean up the beach. I asked him if the beach could clean itself up. Of course he said no. I told him likewise, we can’t clean ourselves up either. Only God can. He was troubled, thinking God had given up on him, so I shared with him the gospel presentation. I shared with him the story of the serpent on the pole in Numbers 21 and how in John 3, Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” He said there was so much about life he did not understand. I told him he did not have to understand.  Just as the Israelites looked at the pole when bitten by a serpent, likewise when that old serpent the devil bites you, just look at the cross and you will be healed.

He told me his name was Frank, and  asked for prayer and I prayed with him. He took my hand and as I prayed his hand trembled as he cried. After our prayer I remembered the Bible study book I had failed to give the waitress. I gave it to him with my church contact info. I invited him to a church in his area. He told me he was homeless and had no address. He told me he likes it that way.  I made sure he knew how to get a hold of me.  I assured him God still loves him and has a plan for his life. God has not given up. He told me how glad he was that he met me. I felt he was sincere. He never asked me for money or anything. He even offered to pay for the book. I think the only things he wanted from me was hope.  As we talked, and he rambled after our prayer, I started thinking, if  Adam was not busy tonight I would have been hanging out with him instead. If I had not brought my Bible this man never would have asked or opened up about His need for Christ. If I had given the waitress my study book I would have had nothing to give this man. If I had gone back home to watch the baseball game, which I really felt like doing, I would not have been resting on this park bench when the man found me. And seriously, I had no clue why I was just resting on a park bench instead of driving on home to see the game, until now. I also smiled as I remembered my pastor telling me to take the day off. Seems like when I woke up this morning, wondering what to do, God already had a plan.

I saw the sun starting to set and told the gentleman, I wanted to take some sunset pictures. Also I felt as our conversation was now rambling, that my mission was over. I wanted to leave him with the impression of my mission and not our rambling. He very politely told me to go take my pictures and told me how happy he was to meet me, and thanked me over and over for the Bible study book. I reminded him how to contact me. I left to take pictures. As I was taking pictures, thinking about my encounter, I realized I had made a big mistake! After the sun was down, I went back looking for the man. I could not find him, but I did find his bike tied to the same tree. I grabbed a pen and paper from my car and left a note tied to his handlebar. The note read, “Thank you Frank, for serving in Vietnam. –William”

10 comments on “The Stranger on Siesta Keys

  1. Nothing is chance. I was doing errands today and went 15 minutes past town to a used furniture store to look at a small chest of drawers. I didn’t call first and they were closed. So I went 30 minutes out of my way and the kids and grand kids were on their way from the city, I had so many errands yet to do, and the house wasn’t cleaned. Then I “ran” into four people at different places and it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t go 30 minutes out of my way. God is amazing and your story is fantastic! Thanks William.

  2. It is significant how (i.e) a neglect to thank someone like Frank for his contribution in the Vietnam War moved him to lead to live a life of a hobo. It is also significant how God brought comfort to this soul by leading you to him. This encounter with you might change the course of his life. A new day has dawned on him. There are people who care and a God who inspires them. May God bless both of you.

  3. William!
    I too like the 7 people before me thought this was a fantastic story. I am certain you have had “hundreds” of very similar experiences in the past. YOU have experienced the hundreds, but the 8 of US only experienced that ‘ONE’ with you and ‘your’ interpretation. Your sunsets are somewhat parallel, the same ole’ 3 elements (the sun, the sky, the water). And as you could imagine…I’ve seen ‘thousands’ of sunsets myself.
    My very first impression of this particular sunset photo was…”.wow, this is a very pleasant and calming picture of Gods nature”. Looking at YOUR interpretation of this scene which was unconsciously done by you…by your decisions as to where exactly to place the sun, the reflection, the wave, which wave, etc.,etc. You have ‘made’ that sunset…”yours”. Through ‘your’ eyes and ‘your’ heart.
    You did exactly the same with ‘your’ story of that encounter on Siesta Key. It was an “inspired by God” encounter….told by an “inspired by God” heart. That story could have the same elements, as ‘hundreds’ and ‘hundreds’ of similar stories, but William, I assure you…IT WASN’T.
    The ‘sunset’ and the ‘story’ both….were uniquely presented by you and God.
    What a great team!
    You inspire us all to create a stronger team…by choosing the right captain!
    Thank you, on behalf of all those who feel the same way…but just didn’t tell you (for what ever reasons).
    Jim

  4. Pastor Bill, I am so thankful that youshared this love letter. So many of us think God uses other people. God is just waiting for our permission to use us. Frank is a child of God, and needed to be restored to his existing belief that God loves him. You were putty in the hand of God that day. Aren’t you glad!/ ME TOO!!!
    Chaplain Deadra

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