Patrick Greene, an atheist cab driver from San Antonio, had said he found the placement of the nativity unconstitutional and intended to use the legal system to force a judge to order its removal -- that is, until he began losing his vision because of a detaching retina.
With surgery on the horizon, no health insurance and a job that he could no longer maintain with his deteriorating eyesight, Greene realized he needed to focus his energies and finances on life's necessities, leading him to withdraw his lawsuit.
When Jessica Crye, a member of Sand Springs Baptist Church in Athens, Texas, found out, she called her pastor, Erick Graham, to see if he had heard the news -- not only about the dropped suit but about Greene's health. Crye asked Graham if their church could help him. Graham's answer was simple.
"Sure we can help him," Graham told her.
Graham said he didn't need to take time to pray about the matter or to mull it over because Christ had already provided an answer.
"We don't need to pray about it," Graham said. "We've already been given the command to do it."
Crye began to organize an effort to send support to the Greenes, and Graham explained to the church that they had an opportunity to show Greene the love of Christ.
Greene did not accept the offer of the church to pay for his eye surgery, but eventually agreed to let the church help him with bills and rent, which were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain with medical costs stacking up and no job to bring in income.
Greene said when he agreed, he and his wife never thought the church would actually follow through and send money.
"My wife said, 'We'll never see that,'" Greene said. "Two days later, a check for $400 came in the mail. We are totally flabbergasted."
Donations have not ended there, though.
"The money continues to come in for him as it's been made more public," Graham said, explaining that Greene then asked them not to send any more. "But I can't keep the people from giving. The money keeps coming and it's not ours to hold onto."
In the meantime, Greene has changed his mind about accepting help in funding his eye surgery, saying the Christians from Athens have worn down his resistance to outside help. He even set up a website http://gofundme.com/i5htw) to receive donations, publicly thanking Graham, Crye, and the Sands Springs church family.
Greene said in his entire life, he never has had a Christian treat him the way the Christians in Athens treated him. (Athens is the county seat.) The so-called Christians that Greene had encountered had refused to pay their fare in his cab because they did not want their money going to the "devil." They also had also refused to lease him apartments because of his disbelief in God. But they had never loved him, he said.
"No Christian at all that we've ever met in our lives, had ever been nice to us," Greene said. "No Christian has ever done anything for us. Our own families have totally forgotten our existence, and strangers -- Christians and atheists all around the country -- are helping us. One of the things Jesus said to was love your neighbor as yourself. These people are acting like real Christians."
Greene said he and his wife have received enough money to get caught up on rent, bills and taxes and that the surprise of the Christians' generosity and selflessness has not worn off.
"We are literally still in a state of shock," Greene said. "I feel like we're in the Twilight Zone."
Shock or not, though, the Greenes are moving forward, with plans to make Athens their permanent home with the help of Sand Springs Baptist Church and others who have heard about Greene's story and wanted to help. In Athens, where the cost of living is lower than in San Antonio, the couple has found an apartment within walking distance to Walmart, meaning they will not need to drive anywhere to get their groceries.
Greene said when he gets to Athens, he plans to become friends with the very people he once fought against.
"I've already invited and her family to dinner," Greene said. "I want to get together with everybody. We are not isolated anymore."
Though Greene has not changed his beliefs, Crye said Greene told her he would come to some of her church's services when he and his wife move to town.
So taken by the generosity was Greene and his wife that they purchased and gave a star to Henderson County for the very nativity scene they sought to remove.
The Greenes said they expected the Christians only to help them if and when they decided to convert to Christianity and were surprised by their unconditional gifts. Crye said Jesus has called Christians to love not just their neighbors but also their enemies -- and to love both without condition.
"That's what God called us to do," Crye said. "It's very against our nature to one, love people, and two, to love them unconditionally. If we're not, the world is not seeing what Jesus is like. They're seeing that view that Patrick has always seen."
Sharayah Colter is correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, online at www.texasonline.net.
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