Transit operator Linda Wilson-Allen is an angel to those who ride the 45-Muni bus line in San Francisco. Her remarkable story of treating her job as her ministry was featured on the front page of San Francisco Chronicles in early Sept. A church with roots stemming from the founders of Stanford University thought her testimony was so transformative invited her to give a testimony and a blessing of prayer to its congregation, many of whom are the social elites in the nation.
Pastor John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC), said that she is a testament to God's ability to work through those who are called to be a blessing to this world whatever their occupations are during the weekend sermon delivered from Sept. 21-22, 2013.
Prior to welcoming Wilson-Allen on the stage, Ortberg read a passage from a book "Oh, the places you'll go!" written by the famous American intellectual and poet Dr. Seuss. With a similar rhythmic style, the pastor explicated the meaning of the Latin phrase missio Dei, the mission of God, which started with God calling Abraham to leave his comfort zone and "go" to a place where He will make his the source of blessing to all nations. This very first calling required Abraham to trust in the Lord despite the uncertainties.
God gives one more command to Abraham, said Ortberg, and it's the word bless, which was not just for him alone, but for him to give out. "To bless means to add life, to enhance life...to make life abundant," he said, explaining that "God's project is to bless, and human beings are blessed to be a blessing."
The pastor then said that the problem with rich people is that they don't know they are rich. Blessing others is "not optional. It's why you were made. If you don't do that, I don't care how much money you make or how high you think you have climbed; you've missed the reason you were put on this planet, and you can do it anywhere," he pointed out.
Then, Ortbeg introduced Wilson-Allen, a mother of six, and quoted the article from San Francisco Chronicles. "She loves the people on the bus, knows the regulars, learns their names. She will wait for them if they are late, and then make up the time on her route. She would get out of the driver's seat of her bus to help seniors." Her simple gesture of kindness has touched Ivy, a woman in her 80s. Wilson-Allen saw Ivy was struggling with grocery bags and got of the driver's seat to help carry the grocery bags onto the bus. Now, Ivy would let other buses pass the bus stop so she can ride on Wilson-Allen's bus.
Another woman named Tanya was touched by Wilson-Allen's kindness. When it was almost Thanksgiving, Wilson-Allen saw Tanya was a stranger and was lost, and said to her, "You're out here all by yourself. You don't know anybody. Come on over for Thanksgiving and kick it with me and the kids," Ortberg quoted the article. Now the two are like sisters, where Wilson-Allen would visit Tanya in Atlanta, and Tanya would visit her in SF.
The riders gave presents to Linda, including scarves and a rabbit fur collar. The article says Wilson-Allen may be the most beloved bus driver since Ralph Kramden on "The Honeymooners."
Ortberg then asked the congregation to think about "what a thankless task driving a bus can look like in our world: cranky passengers, engine breakdowns, traffic jams, gum on the seats. You ask yourself, 'How does she have this attitude?'"
"Let me tell you how," he said.
"Her mood is set at 2:30 a.m. when she gets down on her knees to pray for 30 minutes," the Chronicle said. "'There is a lot to talk about with the Lord,' says Wilson-Allen, a member of Glad Tidings Church in Hayward." When she reaches the end of his bus route, she will always say, "That's all. I love you. Take care."
Wilson-Allen then took the stage and gave her testimony and explained how the Lord has changed her life "from the inside out."
"My prayer life is my communication with him. He works on my attitude...those things for him to reflect in my life," she said. "He could be working on my patience, or it could be someone less fortunate than I am, to give them some shoes, or whatever the case may be...That's where my kindness comes from."
Ortberg then asked her whether she prays when she's driving at work. She replied that her work is "ministering to God's people."
"God will show you things. He will show you the senior who's having a hard time getting up on that coach, and how to take it in there real gentle and set it down right in front of her. He'll teach you the one who's in the back who might not have all their fare, and he'll say, 'Maybe they just pay what they can.' He'll teach you these things. He just shows you."
Wilson-Allen had been living on welfare when she first came to know the Lord. She came from a family of drug-addicts, drinkers, smokers, said her life changed completely. She said she had to first surrender all of her doubts and devote herself to prayer and blessing others in the way that , "Light has to shine in darkness sometimes....So my light shone until the Lord blessed me."
In addition, she said she would pray for her children. "The Lord blessed me to cover my children under the blood of Jesus, to curse generation curses," she said. "As I began to pray and surrender those things to the Lord, I covered my children." Then, she was invited to pray for the congregation.
Ortberg said, "If you are blessed and called to be a blessing, then the next obvious question would be - have you been blessed?" He asked the congregation to count their blessings, which he categorized into eight areas - finances, education, friends, having a home, transportation, forgiveness of sin, a spiritual gift, and presence of the Holy Spirit.
But where and who should those who are blessed go and bless?
"When Jesus first started his ministry, he quotes the prophet, 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,'" Ortberg said.
"To people without, to people who have not, to people just eking by on the margins, to people who are thought to be unblessed, who are thought to be the financial losers. Jesus was constantly seeing the poor, remembering the poor, championing the poor, serving the poor, giving to the poor, blessing the poor, loving the poor...the spiritual rejects, the spiritual losers, the spiritual excluded, the spiritual outsiders.
"Are you going to people far from God? Do you care about them? Do you have a heart for them?" He asked.
In the following weekend, Ortberg said that after service a man came up to Wilson-Allen and was weeping in tears and said that tomorrow, Monday, September 23, would be the one-year anniversary of his son's death.
"Linda's eyes got like saucers, and she said to him, 'I lost my son. My son died, and tomorrow, Monday, September 23, is the anniversary of the death of my son.... God brought you here to be healed," said Ortberg as he recalled that "electric" moment when she prayed for the man while a dozen more others witnessed the meeting. "He just put his head on her shoulder and sobbed, and she prayed healing into his life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
"She then backed him up and looked at him and said, 'Now do you understand this is just the beginning of a journey for you? What you really need is the church. ' He said, 'Yeah.' Then she said, 'Do you have a church?' He said, 'Well, that's important.' She said, 'No, do you have a church? Are you part of a church home?' He said, 'You know, that's a really key thing.' She said, 'No, I'm asking you, do you go to church?' He said, 'Well, not really.' Then she turned to me and said, 'Pastor here will get you into a church,'" Ortberg recounted the conversation.
Concluding his rhythmic message, Ortberg exhorted the believers gathered for service that day to "go" and to "bless."
"My patients are my ministry. My clients are my ministry. My neighborhood is my ministry. My store is my ministry. I'm just going to go through every day and reach up to Jesus so that the power of the Holy Spirit is in me all the time, and then be a part of a little community here where I have people I can know and love and care about and serve for and who can help me grow, and then I'm going out. I will go out and bless. Oh, the places you'll go," he said.