by Dwight A. Moody
Gregory P. Stallworth will retire in December from a 31-year career with the federal government. Mike Carrigan could retire if he wanted to, from his position as chief administrator of the Premier Medical Group of Clarksville, Tennessee.
How these two men met this past weekend is a story worth telling, worth hearing.
Gregory is Director of Equal Employment Opportunity and Civil Rights on the base of Ft. Campbell, that 102,414-acre installation that straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee line. The base is famous as the home of the 101st Airborne Division of the U. S. Army. They have a demonstration team known as the “Screaming Eagles”.
But Gregory is also a minister, pastor of the Montgomery Elizabeth Baptist Church, near Cadiz, Kentucky. The one-acre of land on which the church building sits was given to a group of freed slaves in 1894 by the family whose descendants still farm the land that surrounds the church.
That’s not all.
Gregory is, well, a prophet, a sign-carrying, traffic-stopping evangelist with a public ministry to strangers. He was on his post this past Saturday when Mike was driving by, on his way to a round of golf, a welcomed respite from his role in the county-wide response to the COVID pandemic.
“I saw a black man in a suit in the middle of the highway island where K-Mart used to be,” Mike later wrote. “It was very warm and humid and sultry. He was holding a sign that said REPENT and also referencing 2 Chronicles 7:14.”
We all know that verse as well as we know Psalm 23 or John 3:16. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
“Self has become the center of everyone’s universe,” Gregory explained to me later. “God is near. We should seek to please God.”
It is a ministry Gregory pursues every other Saturday morning, squeezed between his week-long work solving disputes on the base and his Sunday morning call teaching disciples in the church.
“I saw him,” Mike wrote. “I drove by because I could not stop. I had this compelling feeling that I should go back.”
He drove down Madison Street all the way to Memorial Drive, turned right and drove to Richview which brought him right back to the intersection, a total distance of perhaps five miles. He parked in the Ruby Tuesday lot and navigated his away through the weeds and across the three lanes of traffic.
“I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye,” Gregory said. “People stop occasionally, to offer water or speak a word of encouragement.”
“That sign looks heavy,” Mike said to Gregory as he took his place in the median. “Can I hold it with you for a few minutes?”
“I was astonished,” Gregory recounted. “It was such a compassionate thing to do. The sign is heavy.”
“Have you ever thought of attaching the sign to a pole and resting the pole on the ground?”
That was my question, days after the incident and while talking to Gregory on the phone. “Yes,” he said, “but I don’t want to make it easy for me. Holding that sign above my head reminds me of the discomfort our savior suffered when he hung on the cross. It stretches my muscles and strains my whole body.”
The two strangers—Gregory and Mike—standing in the median of the highway exchanged names, prayed together, and held aloft that sign that said REPENT.
“We determined to have lunch together,” Mike explained later. “I believe a new godly relationship has been formed by God.”
Gregory did not say anything to me about food when we talked on the phone, but I said, “The next time I am in Clarksville visiting my friend Mike, I will give you a call.”
What I did not express was my hope that the three of us might have lunch together.
“It was just a beautiful, serendipitous, God-given moment,” Mike wrote in his last sentence. Gregory would say the same, I am sure. And as the one who read the report written by Mike and heard the narrative spoken by Gregory, I certainly say the same—a divine moment carried along by the evangelistic faithfulness of a man serving both his country and his God and the common compassion of a man invested in the spiritual and physical well-being of all people.
“I will heal their land,” the promise from 2 Chronicles 7:14 declares. And God will, if more of us will repent of our selfish ways and act with the courage and kindness that Gregory and Mike displayed last Saturday morning on a highway median in Clarksville, Tennessee.