The Ministry

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


There was something really strange about the hitchhiker Tom picked up on that stormy night. The strange, scruffy man would quote the bible and talk about doing the work of the Lord.

Submitted: March 16, 2018

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Submitted: March 16, 2018

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Tom Peterson stared out into the headlight beam as he steered through the darkness. His windscreen wipers thwack-thwacked away the beating rain. What an awful night. He couldn’t wait to get home. He glanced at the clock on the dashboard. 10:17pm. After a long awful day at the office, he was finally on his way home. And it was Friday.

Out on the hard shoulder, under the glow of street lighting, stood a figure. He had his thumb jerked out in hope of a lift. Car after car whooshed past, ignoring his request. Poor sod, thought Tom, must be desperate to  be out hitching on a night like this.

He pulled over. The hitcher climbed in the passenger seat. He wiped his sleeve across his face. He thanked Tom for stopping. As he pulled out into the traffic Tom introduced himself.

‘I’m Jim Carpenter.’ the hitcher replied.

He was in his thirties. He had short cropped hair and a few days growth of beard. He wore a long dark overcoat over faded blue jeans. He had a kind of bohemian, student air about him. Tom could imagine him selling a socialist newspaper in the city centre.

‘I really appreciate you stopping, brother.’

‘Brother?’ Tom smiled.

‘We’re all brothers and sisters in the eyes of the Lord.’

Jim pulled a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket. He offered Tom the pack. He shook his head.

‘Mind if I smoke?’

Again Tom shook his head.

Tom wasn’t sure if it was the darkness playing tricks but he could have sworn that the cigarette had lit all by itself. He hadn’t seen Jim use a lighter or matches. He just started dragging on the now-burning cigarette.

‘Where are you headed?’ asked Tom.

‘I need to get to Eccles.’

‘That’s where I live.’

‘And that’s why you stopped.’

‘Well, no, I didn’t know that when I pulled over.’

‘The Lord knew.’

Tom said nothing. He couldn’t help thinking that things had suddenly gotten strange. This hitcher was such an odd fellow. They drove on in silence for the next few miles.

 

‘Do you live in Eccles then?’ asked Tom.

‘I don’t live anywhere in particular.’

‘Where are you staying?’

‘I’ll have a place sorted tomorrow. As for tonight, the Lord hasn’t told me yet.’

Tom spoke without thinking. Before he knew it the words were out there.

‘You can crash on my sofa, if you like.’

‘Thank you, brother.’

‘Are you homeless?’

‘That’s one word for it.’

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know.’

‘Don’t feel sorry for me. You’re forced to work a job you hate to pay a mortgage and I’m the tragic figure? I’m not the one chained down by property and possessions. The Lord will look out for me.’

Tom smiled at Jim’s unusual way of seeing things.

‘I don’t hate my job.’ Tom said.

‘Come off it. You’ve been there eight years and you’re still just a clerk. I’d rather be free.’

‘How do you know about my job?’

‘Just a guess.’

Tom pulled to a stop outside his house. He switched the engine off.

‘We’re here.’

He turned to Jim but his passenger was already standing on the pavement. Tom hadn’t seen him move. He was certain the car door hadn’t opened. He climbed out and showed Jim into his house.

As they went into the living room Tom spoke.

‘Have you eaten?’

‘I’m fine, thanks.’

‘Have you had anything to eat? Can I get you anything?’

‘That’s not the kind of nourishment I need.’

‘You mean you don’t eat?’

‘I seek spiritual fulfilment. My daily bread isn’t baked by Warburton’s.’

‘How about a brew?’

‘Go on, I’ll have a coffee.’

‘I’m afraid I’ve got no coffee in.’

‘Can you go and check?’

‘I don’t have any. I don’t drink the stuff.’

‘Humour me. Go and have a look.’

Tom sighed. He headed to the kitchen wondering just how he’d got tangled up with the strange hitchhiker. He opened the cupboard and stared in confusion. Next to the tea bags and sugar was a small jar of instant coffee. The jar was brand new and still had the wrapping around the lid.

Tom returned with a tea for himself and Jim’s coffee. Jim was perched on the arm of the sofa. Tom handed him the mug.

‘I had coffee.’ laughed Tom.

‘Of course you did.’

Jim made himself comfortable on the sofa. Tom flopped into the armchair.

‘You seem to know a lot about me.’ he said. ‘What is your story?’

‘I am just a man.’

Jim paused for a moment.

‘I just live as God wants me to. I follow his teachings and hopefully in return he leads me in the right direction.’

Tom nodded. If anyone else would have been saying these things he would have just marked them down as a born-again crackpot. Jim was different. There was something about the way he spoke that made you pay attention. Jim explained that by living by God’s word, by trying just to be good to people and live a decent life he hoped to find fulfilment. Tom smiled and tried to keep up. Finally Jim shrugged.

‘I suppose, basically, all I’m saying is, why can’t we just be nice to each other and all just get along.’

Tom couldn’t help thinking that he might have had a point.

He showed Jim to the spare room. Tiny room held little more than a single bed and a bookcase.

‘It’s a bit small.’

‘It’s fine, brother, thank you.’

Jim dropped to the carpet. He sat cross-legged on the floor. He pulled a dog-eared book from his pocket. The faded gold print on the red cover said The New Testament.

‘A bit of bedtime reading?’

‘Never too late in the day for the Gospel.’

‘Really?’

‘Have you ever read it?’

‘Can’t say I have.’

Jim waved the book.

‘On these pages are the answers to all of life’s problems.’

‘See you in the morning.’

 

The next morning as Tom breakfasted on tea and toast, Jim sipped a mug of coffee. Tom asked what the stranger’s plans were in town.

‘There’s a place in the town centre called the Rainbow Rooms.’

‘The community centre? That place isn’t used any more.’

‘Great things will happen there.’

 

An hour later with they went to the community centre. The small, square building had crumbling brickwork and cracked windows. It looked like it was waiting for demolition, a rotten tooth in an otherwise healthy smile. Tom pointed to the faded sign over the door.

‘Community centre? The community binned this place off a long time ago.’

‘It’s perfect.’ said Jim.

‘What do we do now?’

Jim placed a palm flat against the flaking paint on the doorframe. He muttered to himself for a moment, eyes closed. The he turned to Tom.

‘The woman who owns this place will be here in a minute.’

 

A woman in her fifties walked towards them. As she neared she slowed and eyed them warily. Her grip on her handbag tightened.

‘Can I help you?’

Jim smiled.

‘Good morning, I was wondering if you would allow me to use the centre.’

‘What would you do with it?’

She stared at the scruffy man in his long dark overcoat.

‘I’m starting a religious group. Your premises would be ideal.’

‘I’m sorry, I don’t think so.’

‘I simply want to spread the word of the Lord.’

‘You don’t look the Christian type.’

‘I have read the good book and nowhere does it say that His followers have to be clean shaven and wear suits.’

The woman smiled, her resistance crumbling slightly.

‘Karen, all I’m asking is to use this place to do good things.’

‘Come on,’ she jangled her keys. ‘I’ll show you inside.

The Rainbow Rooms community centre turned out to be a large hall. The room reminded Tom of his childhood scout hut. There was a musty smell in the air. The centre clearly hadn’t been used in a long time. Jim looked around the dusty room. He smiled and stared, a dreamy glint in his eye.

‘This is the place.’

‘I can let you use it for seventy pounds a week. All damages to be paid for.’

Jim turned to face her. He rubbed the stubble on his jaw.

‘Hmph. There’s the rub. I won’t be asking my congregation for money.’

‘But I have overheads.’

‘A true church should be free. Salvation should not come at a price.’

‘I have to pay the bills on this place.’

‘You give money to charity every month, don’t you?’

‘Yes, I do.’

‘You give money to a faceless organisation and trust them to do good with it. All I’m asking is to use the hall to preach God’s word. The hall isn’t used right now. Destiny has other plans.’

He held her gaze for a long moment.

‘Karen, please.’ he whispered.

‘Okay.’ she said.

Jim’s face lit up in a broad smile.

Tom couldn’t quite believe the enigmatic stranger had talked her into letting him use the hall for nothing. He smiled and imagined how Jim would do on Dragon’s Den.

 

Tom called by the community centre the following weekend. The room had been cleaned and was now lined with rows of plastic chairs. A dozen people had gathered to hear Jim speak.

Jim, still wearing the long black overcoat, was standing at the front of the room. He gave Tom a wink as he took a seat. Jim read from his bible. He preached about God. He explained that his message was very simple. People should be good to each other. If everyone looked after each other then God would look after them. All the problems and stresses in the world today could be solved if the human race could just get along with each other. If people gave just a small fraction of the money they spent on designer clothes to the poor and needy then poverty and hunger would vanish overnight. At that point one man called out.

‘It’s not that simple.’

Jim waved his hands as he replied.

‘It really is. If everyone agreed to be kinder, more patient and understanding, then the world would be a better place. If those in charge, those controlling the superpowers, put their fascist egos aside and worked together, then we would have peace. Peace and love, that’s all I’m talking about.’

‘All you need is love?’ someone else shouted.

‘Exactly. I don’t know why people have such an issue with the concept. It’s a basic idea but when you come out and say it, people really don’t like it.’

A while later as the congregation filed out Tom went over to Jim.

‘You’re making it happen, mate.’

‘The Lord is making it happen.’

‘Of course, yeah.’

Tom looked around the sparse room.

‘You could do with some crucifixes and statues in here. That would finish the place off.’

‘I have no need for trinkets. Heaven has no gift shop.’

 

Every time Tom visited the church the congregation had more than doubled. It appeared that Jim’s simple message of peace and love was striking a chord. Tom had also been hearing rumours about the new religious group. There was talk that he was faith healing and performing miracles. Some religious groups and locals were up in arms. Whatever Jim was upto his message, although popular, was also upsetting some people.

 

The next time Tom called by the place was packed. The audience murmured with excitement and applauded as Jim entered. Then the hundreds fell silent as he started to speak. His sermon was on the same lines as previous talks. The crowd called out in agreement.

Then at the end of the sermon Jim asked those with ailments and in pain to make their way to the front. Tom felt sick as the crowd formed an orderly queue.

‘What are you doing, Jim?’ he whispered.

With a manic, almost demented glint in his eye, Jim would lay his palm on the person. He would offer up hushed prayers, eyes closed tight. He worked his way down the line of people.

Over an hour later the audience left. They spoke of the miracles they had witnessed. Tom was disgusted. He approached the preacher.

‘Good evening, brother.’

‘Jim, what is all this?’

‘The Lord’s work.’

‘Pretending to heal the sick?’

‘That is your interpretation.’

‘You shouldn’t give people false hope. It’s not right.’

Jim said nothing.

‘I don’t know what your racket is, but this is messed up.’

‘There is no racket.’

‘Is it about money?’

‘Have I asked anyone for any money?’

‘Then what? Do you get some kick out of pretending to be the Messiah?’

Jim simply shook his head.

‘And it’s not a wise move, either. In case you haven’t heard, not everyone is happy with your little church. A few groups disapprove of your activities. The local newspaper even called you a charlatan.’

‘I am doing God’s work.’

‘I can’t handle this. If you want to trick people like this then I want no part of it.’

Jim nodded, sadly.

‘We all have our paths to walk, brother.’

 

One month later, Tom was on his sofa watching the local news. He gasped at the top story. A man had been stabbed to death. The ‘local religious leader’ had been murdered on the doorstep of his church. The reporter stated that there had also been several accounts of James Carpenter healing the sick.

Tom stared at the screen. This didn’t make any sense. How could this have happened? Jim had always had this sixth sense. He had known things that there was just no way he could have known. He had been able to predict and foresee so much. Had he really been unable to see the attack coming that would end his life?

Tom grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

The street outside the community centre was packed. Worshippers held candles and sang hymns. Others prayed. There was such a charged atmosphere. People were talking of Jim’s message of peace and love. He heard one woman say that the church would be continuing. They would be carrying on with Jim’s work.

Tom noticed a man walking away down the street. He recognised him instantly. It was Jim. He may have had his back to him but Tom was sure it was him. Tom pushed his way out of the crowd and followed him. His long dark overcoat swayed on the breeze as he walked quickly through the night. Tom called out. The figure kept moving. He turned a corner. Tom rushed after him. When he got around the corner Tom stopped and looked around. The street was empty. Tom was alone in the darkness. There was something lying in the middle of the road. Tom picked it up. It was a small red bible.


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