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home : opinion : perspectives

7/27/2017 9:00:00 AM
Information, please

At one time, customers could call "411" and get a live person who would give out a phone number for a residence or business, at no charge. 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."

Even 35 years ago, this was forbidden language which could potentially offend a customer.

Operators were periodically reviewed by different supervisors every few months. 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 bland, "Have a nice day."

I persisted in using "God bless you" -- that is, until the head manager discovered to her dismay that I had been warned about blessing customers on four separate occasions. She told me that, if I persisted in my defiance, I would be fired. "Okay," I caved in. " I'll comply." And I did, until the day came when I had tendered my resignation 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 getting fired, I  returned to my old, forbidden practice and blessed everyone who asked me for a number.

With an hour to go 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.

She'd 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, she had recently stopped going to church and reading Scripture.  It clearly bothered her.

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. I didn't know at the time that I was exercising a spiritual work of mercy known as "counseling the doubtful."

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 was obvious to one of my fellow operators who 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 -- not just for that day, but for good. I told her that I was being called into full-time ministry and I looked forward to sharing the Gospel in Brooklyn.

This woman was very grateful to God and to me for what was a truly informative "information call." Jesus had known 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 never know how far a simple "God bless you" can go!

(Mr. Smith attends Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in Schen­ectady and blogs at http://turntowardgod.com.)

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