You listened to him, didn’t you? That’s ministering, and it takes an enormous amount of energy.
(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)
I can’t figure out what the noise might be. It’s loud, it’s right by my ear, but it’s not my alarm, instead my phone is—
Ringing? Yes, it’s ringing. Why?
In years past, when I worked as a stage manager, I kept my phone on at night. With traveling theatre companies, I had to be reachable in case of car accidents, in case of sickness, in case of fire, in case of whatever I couldn’t predict. Not that I could actually do anything about car accidents or sickness or fire at three in the morning, but I was the “first contact,” and often in emergency and semi-emergency situations, I got phone calls from actors or crew members who really just needed somebody with a stable, calming presence to reassure them, logically, that everything would be fine, even if the toilet really did overflow.
But then I moved from theatre into education, and I realized that from then on, there would be no middle-of-the-night emergencies. For one thing, my clientele was six years old and never called me. So I started silencing my phone at bedtime.
Isn’t it night right now? It’s dark outside…
The phone is still ringing. My hand reaches for it and I do what I never, ever do—answer it, without even checking to see who’s calling.
“Don’t hang up! Please don’t hang up. I just want to know what happened.”
I pause. I haven’t completely gathered myself. It’s late, and on top of everything else, I’m not even at home; I’m traveling this weekend, shadowing a pastor, so the bed I’m in is unfamiliar, as is the darkened room, not to mention the circumstances of this call.
“Please, please, just don’t hang up on me.”
“I won’t, I promise, just—who is this?”
“It’s Judy. It’s Judy, Robert’s wife.”
Scrambling, I wrack my brain, trying to find a Robert or a Judy in my memory. But there’s nothing, certainly nothing that would induce this level of panic, of desperation, of hauntedness.
“I’m so sorry, but I think you have the wrong number.”
“. . . I do?”
“My name is Emily. I live in New York City.”
What an odd thing to say. My name, that makes sense, but why did I tell her that I live in New York City? What significance could that possibly have right now?
There’s silence at both ends of the call. What you do, when you’ve established that you’ve called the wrong number, is you apologize quickly and then disconnect. But it’s too late for us to disconnect, and besides, I promised I wouldn’t hang up on her.
“Listen,” I say slowly, “whatever’s happening tonight…whatever you’re going through…I hope you’re going to be okay.”
“Thank you.” That voice. Still choked with tears, but I listen while she takes a deep, steadying breath. Then two.
“Okay,” she says. “Okay…okay. Good night.”
“Good night, Judy.”
She ends the call, and then I do the same. I don’t really have the words to pray for her, but I hold her in my heart for a minute before I go back to sleep.
(In the morning, I wish I’d thought to say, “Wait—do you want to talk some more?” But I didn’t. So I promise myself: I’ll remember her.)
This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.
If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.