Angels Living Among Us – Ricky’s Story

Posted: January 13, 2012 in Forged - victory & strength in hard times
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We’ve all said them… you know – those catchy, pop culture, one liner sayings – kind of like the one I was about to be confronted with in a manner I would not soon forget… God works in mysterious ways.

It was the thursday before Christmas.  I was home by myself; the beginning of a long awaited five days off.  Unfortunately, my wife was working though.  Working long hours, I decided to utilize the quiet and have some much needed ‘Jesus time’.  So, I spent the morning fasting, praying, reading, listening and worshiping.  Ah, it felt so good – very refreshing to my spirit! About 11, I received a phone call from my pastor, asking if I could stop by his office that afternoon to discuss a few things.  We set the appointment for 1:30p.

Leaving pastor’s office about 2:30p, I was headed out the main door when I noticed a man standing talking to our receptionist.  He was of average height and build, looked a bit ‘rough around the edges’, but seemed to be speaking very politely and non confrontative.  Being the outreach guy for several years at Stone Church in Yakima taught me that sometimes human behavior can be unpredictable, especially when it comes to people asking for help with basic life necessities.  The receptionist was by herself, so I thought to ‘step in’ and see if I could help in anyway, or at least take the ‘pressure’ off the receptionist.  Besides, after catching a quick glance at him, there was something that told me, he’s one of Brian’s kind of guys, as my wife ‘coined’ some time back.

I introduced myself to him.  He shook my hand, telling me that his name was Ricky.  He quickly continued giving me a brief synopsis of his situation – the same story he had just finished telling our receptionist. I asked her if anyone in the office knew about Ricky’s dilemma?  She told me no, as he had just finished telling his story when I came in.  Ricky was in need of help with a train ticket from Pasco to Spokane.  He had to check in with his “D.O.C” before Christmas, which only left tomorrow – else he was in ‘big trouble’ He told me a one way ticket was only $18.75, but he had no money.

Getting approval from our bookkeeper, I inquired about how he was going to get to the train station, as it was about a 20-minute trip via car.  Ricky pointed outside to his bike.  I looked at him a bit surprised and said, “Dude, you’re gonna be a human popsicle by the time you get to Pasco.” I estimate it was in the mid 20’s outside at the time.  He told me that he had no other way. So, I offered to take him.  He seemed thrilled and asked if I could take him and his bike to a friends house so he could just leave his bike with them instead of trying to haul it on the train.

Arriving at his friend’s house, Ricky got out, seemingly eager to see them. Ricky wheeled his bike down the driveway, where his friends met him. They spoke for a few minutes, shared hugs and just as quickly, we were down the road.

The problem we had was that his train didn’t leave Pasco until about 9pm and it was currently about 4pm.  What to do?  He told me that he didn’t have anything else he really needed to do before his train departed, but that he was hungry.  So, off to dinner at Shari’s we went.

For the next 90 minutes or so, we talked about life – past present and future. He told me about how both his parents were gone and specifically about how his dad had been beaten to death. He had a couple of siblings, but hadn’t talked with them in a long time. He was originally from North Carolina, but had moved to Spokane to live with a girlfriend, but the relationship didn’t work out, so, he was left ‘out in the cold’… literally and no way to get back to N. Carolina.  He had decided to visit a friend in the Tri-Cities, but had gotten stuck here with no money.  It was apparent (and some self admitted) that he struggled with a few ‘life issues’ and at 39 years old had found different ways to help himself cope with the subsequent loss, tragedy and hopelessness. I distinctly remember him tearing up as he told me that he had a 23 – year old daughter that he has never met. Very sad indeed.

I was appreciative that he would share his life with a ‘stranger’.  Though he did have challenges and difficulties in his life, he seemed genuinely optimistic about the future.  He shared with me his future plans and goals.  To anyone else, I am sure his dreams would seem dim and small, but for Ricky, even a little flickering light at the end of the tunnel was something to look forward too.  Hope is what kept his ‘light’ burning.

I shared with him that I was encouraged and excited for his future because regardless of his past, and even present challenges, God loved him and had a great plan for his life.  As he shared stories of his past and present, he would ask me if I had any problems or issues with what he was telling me?  I think he was just looking for a little acceptance, love and understanding from me… maybe specifically from someone in the ‘church’.  I couldn’t help but smile, as some of his stories resembled my own past as well.  I think we were both quite surprised at our similarities. Lord, you sure do have quite the sense of humor!

One of the awesome things our similarities presented was the opportunity for me to share with him all that Jesus has done and continues to do in my own life… even in the midst of my own past and present struggles. It was very apparent to me that Ricky and I meeting and spending time together was no coincidence.

We left the restaurant still with a few hours remaining until the ticket counters opened at the train station.  What to do?  I decided just to go for a drive… the long way to Pasco.  I remembered a cool synchronized Christmas lights show and asked him if he’d like to go.  It was dark by the time we pulled into the parking lot across the street.  I tuned the radio station to the frequency displayed on the sign and we both sat in silence watching the 20 minute program.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him bobbing his head to the rock music as we watched thousands of lights flowing to the music. He liked it! “Wow… this is better than fireworks,” he said.

The show ended and we headed for Pasco.  It was about 6pm now.  I didn’t think the train station opened until about 8:15, so didn’t know what to do for the next couple of hours.  I at least wanted to find the station, as my cell phone battery had died about 30 minutes before. After some driving around, I stopped at a mini-mart to use the bathroom and get something to drink. I offered to get him something, but he said he was good. As I headed into the store, I could see him adjusting the seat back.  When I came out and got back into the car, he was asleep.

I drove to the train station, parking in an open stall. I noticed that the lights were on in the station.  The lobby must be open, I thought. With the car running in idle, I glanced over to Ricky and he was quietly sleeping.  For a few moments, I silently watched the movement of his chest, up and down, as he breathed.  I can remember just looking at his body wondering how long it had been since he had peaceful sleep. I just sat there for a few moments with the car idling praying for Ricky.  Shutting the car off woke him up.

Noticing the lights on in the station lobby, we headed in.  The lobby was completely empty except for one gentleman on the phone.  The ticket counters were closed, but there was a kiosk along one wall. Ricky told me that he had already made a reservation and handed me his confirmation number. Paying for his ticket with my credit card, I offered some snacks for the trip to Spokane.  He refused and said that he would be okay and would just wait until 9pm for his train. It was then that I recognized a deep love in my heart for him and I didn’t really want to leave.  I was grasping for a reason to stay. I had enjoyed our time together and didn’t want it to end.  But there was wasn’t much left to say as he seemed eager to get his ticket and get on that train headed for Spokane.  I looked Ricky in the eyes and told him, “Well Ricky, I guess there’s not much else I can offer you but Jesus.” We had talked about Jesus and His desired work in our lives over dinner. Ricky jseemed to listen intently.  Knowing he already had my phone number, “Ricky, “ I said, “When you are ready, call me.  You know where to look me up.  Please stay in touch with me.  I am here for you if you want to chat, have questions or need some prayer.” I reminded him that God loved him and had a great plan for his life. Ricky shook my hand, thanked me and gave me a hug. He grabbed his few belongings and walked away.  I left the train station feeling encouraged for him.  I had a thought that I would hear from him or see him again someday.

It was about 3 ½ hours later that a West Richland police officer came ringing my doorbell.  The officer asked me if I knew a Ricky Mash. I told him I did, but that I had just met him this afternoon and dropped him off at the train station a few hours prior.  It was then that he informed me that there had been an accident and Ricky had been hit and killed by a train about 100 yards from the Amtrak station. Time seemed to instantly stand still as my mind grappled to comprehend what I was just told.  How could that be?  I just saw him a few hours ago!

How does someone get hit by a train?

What was he doing out on the tracks?

Did anyone see what happened?

I was frozen in place as ‘bomb’ of questions exploded in my head.

“I am sorry sir,” the officer said breaking my ‘time freeze’.  I invited him in as he began to ask me questions about how I knew him, do I know any relatives, friends, etc., did I know of any reason why he would have been out on the tracks?  With my mind still numb, I tried to answer him the best I could.  I was having a difficult time grabbing a hold of the fact that Ricky was dead.  I almost didn’t want to believe it.  He called the Pasco police to try and get more details of the incident, but it was still too early for anything to be said.

I gave the officer the address of the house I had taken Ricky too to drop off his bike.  Listening to Ricky’s story over dinner, they were the only ‘family’ he had.

The officer tried to encourage me and reassure me that it wasn’t my fault.

He left and I stood in our entryway for a few moments almost wanting to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t having a nightmare. But, I knew I wasn’t.  My wife sensing something was wrong asked me if I was okay.  I told her that the man I had just spent five hours with had been hit and killed by a train.  We both just stood in the kitchen shocked.  My wife did her best to console me, but I knew I just needed to be alone for a bit to sort my thoughts out.  I spent some time praying, asking God to help me to understand the meaning to all this.  It just didn’t make any sense at all. Was there some reason that I just spend five hours with a man who was going to die soon after I left him?  Lord, as confusing and mind boggling as this is, there has got to be something good you can redeem from this tragedy.

The next day, I drove to the home of Ricky’s friend to offer my condolences. As I pulled into their driveway, I realized that I had given the police officer the wrong address – right street, but wrong house number.  I remember thinking, ‘I am sure they figured it out.’ I recognized Ricky’s friend from yesterday as he came to the door.  He recognized me as well. “I am sorry to hear about Ricky,” I said. He looked at me with a confused look.  “What about Ricky?” he replied. It quickly became very apparent that the police had not found them and they didn’t know.  His friend’s wife came out – “Did Ricky get hit by a train?.” She said that she saw it on the news and although there were no names given, she had a ‘gut’ feeling. “Yes,” I said. “That was Ricky. I am so sorry.” Obviously, the atmosphere quickly changed.  We talked for just a short time as I told them all I really knew.  I could tell they were grappling trying to make sense of it.  I understood completely! They wanted to go to the police station right away.  I gave them my phone number and ask them to stay in touch with me.  A very sad day indeed.

Through the holidays, many opportunities came to share Ricky’s story; at church, family and work – I was even given the honor to conduct Ricky’s memorial service the week after Christmas.  As I prepared for his service, I was nervous, but couldn’t help but feel that there had to be something more to this crazy story.  It wasn’t over.

The next day, the memorial service went well, considering the circumstances. After his friends had shared their memories, stories and farewells, I had an opportunity to share my own heart – my own experience with Ricky:

It is very apparent to me that Ricky had some awesome friends in all of you and to each of us, he was a unique and special friend as well.  As his friends, I believe each of us were placed in Ricky’s life for a reason.  Hebrews 13:2 – Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! 

Like you, I first met Ricky as a stranger, but he quickly became a friend. As some of you may know, I had a unique connection with Ricky. Our relationship was not a long one, as I just met him for the first time last Thursday afternoon when he came into Life Church in Richland asking for help with a train ticket to Spokane… (I continued sharing the rest of the story)…

I left the train station that evening with a sense that I would someday see Ricky again.  And it is that that I am holding onto.

As the days went on after Ricky’s death, I could help but be reminded about how fragile life can be.  We just don’t know when it’s our time. I can remember when I was a young man, barely out of high school – I was (or at least I thought I was) invincible. Today, I stand here in your presence, many years later and can tell you that I no longer think I am invincible. Experience has taught me that truly life is brief. This short time with Ricky has reminded me that it is never too early or too late to tell someone dear to me that I love them.  It is never to early or too late to forgive someone who has wronged me or to say I am sorry to someone that I’ve wronged. It’s never too early or too late to do my best to encourage, to share, to laugh and to cry.  But, above all else, it’s never too early or too late to acknowledge God’s love for me and the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ on the cross for my sin.  As I had shared with Ricky over dinner, regardless of our past or our present struggles, God’s desire for us is simply this – to believe and trust in His son Jesus Christ and to love one another deeply.  God loves us and above all else desires to be in relationship with us. I can tell you from personal experience that often times, it is the things we struggle with in our day to day lives that can and often are what pushes us away from the one who can help us – Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11 verse 28, Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and bare heavy burdens, for I will give you rest.”

So today, in the midst of our grief over the loss of a dear friend and the struggles we face every day, may we find encouragement, strength and salvation not in the things of this world, but rather, may we find the peace we seek in the love God has been offered us through His son Jesus Christ.

The service ended with an offering to those who were there, to respond to the call to begin a new life in Jesus.

Although Ricky’s sudden death was heart wrenching for all who knew him, I believe that God has and will continue to use his story to touch many lives.  I know he has mine.

Ricky, may you rest in peace my friend.


You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You. Isaiah 26:3

A link to the news article about Ricky’s death:



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