A Good Samaritan Opportunity

I am blessed to live in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains and work as a National Park Volunteer at Clingmans Dome. I spend as much time as I can in the Smokies enjoying my love for nature and photography. I love the time I spend in the park and the opportunity I have to interact with park visitors. One thing I have learned as a volunteer is to watch out for visitors who might be in difficulty. It is not uncommon to find distressed visitors at Clingmans Dome, due in large part to the effects of high altitude. Looking for someone who might be having an issue has become almost second nature to me.

It was a chilly and rainy day at the Dome yesterday, though it was not too terribly cold. We were in the clouds all day so we didn't have nearly the volume of visitors we might have on a clear day. Frankly, there wasn't enough activity to require the service of three volunteers and two GSMA employees. I felt prompted to go ahead and leave before the scheduled end of my shift at 3PM. I rarely leave the Dome at 3 when my shift is technically over and I've never left early. Departing the mountaintop yesterday around 2:30PM was out of the ordinary.

I drove down the steep, curvy mountain road slowly as visibility was poor. I came around a curve and noticed a man across the road to my left. He was doubled over, holding on to his knees, and quite wet. He didn't look like the people I typically see who choose to run or walk up the Dome Road, he looked like he needed help. By the time I saw him I had driven past the man, but there was no traffic so I backed my car up, rolled down the window, and asked him if he was OK. He looked up at me and I knew he was not OK. He explained that his truck had broken down, he couldn't get a cell phone signal to call for help, and was walking to look for help. I invited him to get into my car, explaining I was a park volunteer and would do what I could to assist him.

I thought his truck was perhaps a mile or two down Clingmans Dome Road but no, he was many miles down US 441 towards Gatlinburg. He'd walked up to Newfound Gap. No one he spoke to was willing to listen, let alone lend a helping hand so he walked on. At the junction of US 441 and Clingmans Dome Road he saw the sign that said 20 miles to Cherokee and 7 miles to the Information Center and Store at Clingmans Dome. Having never been to the Smokies before he could not have known the terrain. Seven miles sounded better than 20, so he made the right-hand turn and kept on walking--up hill almost all the way. By the time I found him he was still 3-4 miles away from the Dome parking area. I'm not sure he would have made it. I estimated that he had walked 6-7 miles looking for someone, anyone who would help him.

The man was driving a commercial truck to Cherokee, NC and had taken US 441 on the instruction of his boss. He had no idea that commercial trucks with trailers like his were not permitted in the park. I drove him to the pullout where he left his truck so he could retrieve a few things, then went on down to the Sugarlands Visitors Center. There I identified myself as a volunteer and located a Park Ranger who could assist us. Once our business with the park was done, I drove the man into Gatlinburg, pointed out a few places where he could find needed information, a warm meal, and a place to stay. I handed him a bottle of water, wished him well, and went on my way.

I fought my way through traffic in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville on the way home -- a route I almost never take, especially not on a Friday afternoon. As I drove I thought about the man and what had just happened. Was it a coincidence that I happened to be driving down the Dome Road when I did? I think not. Was it a coincidence that I stopped when many others drove on by? I think not. Then my thoughts turned to the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. You know the story from the tenth chapter of Luke--a man was robbed, beaten, and left to die in a desolate location far from any town or habitation. A priest, then a Levite passed by and did nothing. Finally a Samaritan, a people despised by the Jews, came by and stopped to help the injured man. The humble Samaritan didn't do anything huge, but he did something. I didn't do anything huge either, but I did something because I followed a prompting. I can't explain why, but I know one man is grateful I stopped.

We will never know when the Lord puts an opportunity in front of us. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had serve and learn from this good man. It wasn't what I had planned to do, I was going to find and photograph river otters. The Lord had something else in mind. I'm glad I was on the Lord's side instead of my own. It was just another life lesson from a day in the Smokies -- one I doubt I'll ever forget.


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