Back in 1961, on this day in history, a song called “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by a group known as The Tokens topped the Billboard Chart pop list and became a wildly popular song.
And that brings me to a story I’m sure I have never told you.
Back in the Fall of 1985, Nona was pregnant with our first child (Christy) and I was the student pastor at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh. I was sitting in my office when I received a phone call from a friend who ran a local Christian bookstore. He called me because he knew that part of my story included a Jewish background. He had received a phone call from a man who had just rolled into Raleigh by bus and was wanting to talk to somebody about how to become a Christian. He said that he also was from a Jewish background.
So I dropped everything that I was doing and rode 15 minutes downtown to the bus stop where I met Alan.
Alan was not in good shape emotionally, psychologically, or financially. His story went something like this: He had grown up in a Jewish household but had drifted away from his religious roots. He had married and then struck it big in the music industry. He was the lead singer for a group called The Tokens who had popularized the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” back in the early ’60s. He sang the opening part of the song for me and he was quite good. Since then, he had lost everything, his wife had died, he was drifting around the country by bus, he was suicidal, and as a last resort called the Christian bookstore as he was passing through Raleigh – who called me.
I listened to his story and then shared the gospel with him which he readily embraced. And then, because he literally had no where else to go, I invited him to come stay at our house. Now a wiser man would at the very least have asked his pregnant wife if this was OK, but alas wisdom was not one of my better virtues. I was 27 years old, naively compassionate, and trying to do what I thought Jesus would do.
Alan stayed with us for six weeks. We introduced him to our church where he was baptized. We found him a job at McDonald’s. And we gave him a place to lay his head and a chance to try to heal.
About week five Nona and I had a weekend out of town that we were obligated to and Alan went to stay with our friends Paul and Macon. Paul and Macon worked alongside us with students at Providence and had gotten to know Alan. Paul was a lawyer and is currently serving as a judge on the North Carolina Supreme Court. A very smart guy. As they spent time with Alan that weekend some things came up in their conversation that didn’t add up. So he started doing some research. Now keep in mind that this was before the advent of the internet. By the time we got back into town he was convinced that not everything about Alan’s story was true.
So we sat down with him and confronted him with the inconsistencies. And then he told us the real story. The Jewish background – true. The singing career – not true. The wife – not true. The down and out part – true. He had fabricated the singing and wife part of the story as a way to gain our sympathy thinking that if he was just a drifter that no one would give him the time of day. He said that his conversion was genuine. He even went before our church and confessed publicly to the lies.
We believed him. We forgave him. We invited him to stay and make his home in Raleigh and grow in his faith at our church. But his feelings of guilt about the lies made him want to leave. He said that he had people out in Colorado so we bought him a bus ticket and sent him on his way. And so I said goodbye to him at the same place that I met him.
This would not be the only time that I invited a stranger into our home. But that is a story for another day. I will leave you with this thought: Asking the question “what would Jesus do” is always a good question to ask. Sometimes people will take advantage of your desire to please God but don’t let that keep you from asking the question again and again.
Never ever forget that you are very loved!