ATHENS, Texas—The man who threatened to sue Henderson County for placing a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn in Athens, Texas has had a shift in perspective, dropped the lawsuit and now plans to move to Athens with his wife and cat.
Patrick Greene, an atheist cab driver from San Antonio, 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 found out, she called her pastor, Erick Graham, to see if he had heard the good news.
“I got a call from Jessica Crye,” Graham said. “She said, 'Did you hear that Patrick Green dropped the suit?'”
Crye told Graham about the taxi driver's detaching retina and asked him 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 initially accept the offer of the church to pay for his eye surgery, but 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 anymore. “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 has never had a Christian treat him the way the Athens Baptists treated him. The so-called Christians that Greene had encountered had refused to pay their fare in his cab because they did not want to give their money to the devil and 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.”
Green 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 Wal-Mart, where 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 [Jessica] 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. Graham, however, said he believes God is working in Greene's life.
“He just really softened when he saw the Christians were helping him,” Graham said. “He asked if I will lead Bible study with him. I think God has gotten his attention.”
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.
They said they expected the Christians to only help them if and when they decided to convert to Christianity but were surprised by their unconditional gifts. Crye said Jesus has called Christians to love their neighbors and 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.”
Yet Crye still prays that Greene and his wife will come to a saving knowledge of Christ.
“He may never come to know Christ and I'll be very sad about that, because I know where he'll go,” Crye said. “But I've done everything I could to get [him] the information. It's up to God to do the rest. My conscious is clear because I've done everything I could to help him.”
Crye said for her, it all began with the Holy Spirit gently spurring her to help.
“It was a little nudge sitting at my kitchen table,” Crye said. “I would encourage people to listen to those little nudges, because you never know when that little nudge will lead to something big.”