"Mark, someone's at the door."
I rolled over. 1:00 a.m. "Are you sure you weren't dreaming?" I asked my wife. In response, she shoved me out of bed and told me to get going. I sighed, slipped on some pants and shoes, and made my way to the back door.
"Who's there?" I called out. Looking through the thick, wavy glass, I couldn't recognize the figure on the other side of the door.
"Sam,* town constable."
I opened the door and stepped outside. The humid Louisiana night made me feel like I was drowning. In truth, I'd been drowning for quite awhile. Six month earlier, seminary degree in hand, I had accepted a call to pastor a rural church. It was three "firsts." My first pastorate, my first time living in a rural setting, and the church's first seminary graduate. Everyone was still wary of the situation. People weren't too sure a "city boy" could cut it in a small town where everyone had grown up with everyone else. That pastor wasn't too sure, either.
"Preacher, I need you to come with me right now." No apology for waking me up in the middle of the night. No explanation of what we were doing. I tried to wake up a little more.
"Sam, let me take my car and follow you. It will put less pressure on you if you don't have to leave a situation to bring me home." Plus, I thought, maybe I could get away sooner and back to my bed. Sam nodded and started for his vehicle. After telling my wife I'd call her as soon as I knew something, I jumped in my car and headed down the dark road.
We traveled about a mile. Sam abruptly turned off the highway and parked in front of a mobile home. Several other neighbors stood a respectful distance from the trailer's front door, conversing in low voices.
"Here's the preacher," Sam announced to the small crowd. Everyone stepped aside, and even in the darkness, I felt as if a spotlight had just centered on me.
"Sam, what's going on?" I asked.
The constable nodded toward the mobile home. "A man by the name of Daniel is in there. He's drunk, has a shotgun, and is threatening to kill his wife and daughter. He's also threatening to kill himself."
"So, one of them asked for me?" I felt scared, but, in a crazy way, also a bit flattered. Someone thought I could do something helpful!
"Nah. This was my idea," Sam said. "Daniel told us he'd kill anyone who tried to come in and take his family away from him." Sam gestured toward the rest of the crowd. "We all figured you'd have a better idea of how to get the family out safely. I'm hoping he won't shoot a preacher."
You're hoping? I thought. My brain quickly shuffled through what I'd learned in seminary. I couldn't remember a course on how to keep from getting shot while calming down an armed drunk. Maybe they covered that in the Ph.D. curriculum.
I lifted up a prayer for wisdom and protection, and not in that order. Then, approaching the trailer and stopping a couple of feet from the front door, I called out, "Daniel, it's the preacher (there were only two pastors and two churches in the whole area). I've come to see how you're doing."
Long silence. I could imagine the barrel of a gun tracking toward the sound of my voice. The thin walls of that trailer wouldn't stop a shotgun blast. I stepped back a couple of feet.