“Information, please”

{Special note to those under the age of thirty;  At one time, you could call “411” and get a live person, who would actually give you a phone number, without charge.   How cool is that?}

When I was working as an information operator for AT&T in 1982, I was instructed that after giving out a phone number, I should never say, “God bless you.”  Yes, thirty-five years ago, this was forbidden language which could potentially offend a customer.  Operators were periodically reviewed by different supervisors every few months.  Of course, they did this without our knowing it.  Since I was defiantly using “God bless you” as my usual sign-off, each time I was reviewed, I was reprimanded and instructed that I should instead use the dull, bland, “Have a nice day.”

I was not interested in wishing a nice day to people.  Instead, I persisted in using “God bless you.”  That is, until the day the head manager discovered to her dismay, that I had been warned about blessing customers on four separate occasions.  She firmly told me that if I persisted in my defiance, I would be fired.

“Okay,” I caved in, ” I’ll comply.”

Which I did.  Until the day came when having tendered my resignation (I was quitting to become a full-time LAMP Missionary in Brooklyn’s inner city), I was working my last day as an operator.  Since the worst thing that could happen to me would be my being fired (ha!) I  returned to my old, forbidden practice…. and blessed everyone who asked me for a number.

Merrily, the day went on like this.  With an hour to go in my ‘stellar’ career at AT&T, a call went like this;

“God bless you,” I said, after supplying a number.

“Did you say ‘God bless you?'” a young woman asked.

“Yes, I did.”

“I’ve never had an operator say that to me!”

“And probably, you never will again,” I should have said.  What I did say at that point, I don’t recall.  However, the call continued, as the woman opened her heart.

It seems that she had had a genuine conversion experience some years before.  Jesus had come into her life, and she had embraced the power of the Gospel of grace.  I was delighted to hear this.  However, recently she had stopped going to church and reading Scripture.  It clearly bothered her.  She used a classic Evangelical term;

“I’ve back-slided!”

For the next hour, we proceeded to dialogue about faith, doubt, and the mercy of the Good Shepherd.  The Holy Spirit used me to encourage her; that she could come back to the faith.   I can’t remember exactly what we said, but I do recall that our conversation was lively, mutually respectful, and filled with joy.  What I didn’t know at the time… I was exercising a Spiritual Work of Mercy known as “Counseling the Doubtful.”

Me as St. Paul teaching on the Spiritual Works of Mercy
Me, as St. Paul, teaching on the Spiritual Works of Mercy

A few times during our talk, the woman (whose name I never learned) marveled that she was talking about Jesus Christ with a telephone operator… and for a long time!

This fact was obvious to one  of my fellow operators.  She was within earshot, and knew that I was conversing with a customer and not exercising the usual restraint.  I whispered to her, “It’s my last day… let them fire me.”

The five o’clock hour arrived, and I had to inform my new friend that it was quitting time.  And not just for that day, I informed her, but for good.  I told her that I was being called into full-time ministry, and that instead of giving out phone numbers, I looked forward to sharing the Gospel in Brooklyn.

This woman, a ‘straying sheep’ if you will, was very grateful both to God and to me, for what was a truly informative, “information call.”

Jesus knew which operator needed to take her call

One take-away from this story; Jesus knew which operator “had her number.”

When I pulled my headset out of the jack for the last time and turned it in, I walked out of the office with a lightness to my step and a wide smile on my face.

You just never know how far a simple “God bless you” can go!!!