Prank calls and the power of humility

October 18, 2010 | 39 comments

This post was originally published on January 22, 2009.

One evening in college some friends and I were sitting around in my dorm room, getting ready to head out to go to a party, when the phone rang. Caller ID showed that it was yet another telemarketer. Our number had been inundated with sales calls, and I was getting sick of it. We had some time to kill before we needed to leave, so I decided to have some fun with the telemarketer for my friends’ amusement.

I motioned for everyone to get quiet, clicked the speakerphone button, and answered the call. Immediately a middle-aged-sounding man began his pitch, announcing that he was with a local home services company and asking me leading questions about my carpet cleaning needs.

Doing a horrible imitation of an east Texas accent, I interrupted him to say, “I don’t believe in cleaning carpets.”

He paused. “Excuse me?”

“Sir, that kind of thing is against my religion, ” I said in a lecturing voice. The idea came to me to play the role of a religious zealot, to see if I could get the telemarketer to be the first one to hang up if I launched into a hellfire and brimstone lecture about how carpet cleaners were from the devil. Boy, wouldn’t my friends think that was hilarious — me, the consummate atheist, playing the character of a religious nut!

A bit hesitantly, he said, “Well, I’d never heard of that. What is your religion, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I’m a Christian, of course!” I replied, raising my voice with the first syllable the way religious girls on my college campus always did when they talked about their faith.

“Oh, OK, ” he said. “Where do you go to church?”

That one caught me off guard. I could not think of the name of a single church off the top of my head, so I stammered, “The, uhh, Church of the…Bible.”

“Ooooh, ” he gushed, “Is that Covenant Bible Fellowship out in Huntsville? With pastor Mike?”

“Why, yes, it is, ” I said. “Pastor Mike is just darlin’, isn’t he?” I was trying to get back to the hilarity of my planned lecture about the evils of carpet cleaning, but the telemarketer’s enthusiasm derailed me again.

“How long have you been a Christian, ma’am?” he asked, then quickly added, “I apologize for the personal question, but it’s just a topic near and dear to my heart.”

“Well, I, uhh, accepted the Lord into my heart, umm, ten years ago, ” I said, mimicking the types of things I’d always hear my born-again Christian classmates say. “I, uhh, walk with the Lord every day.”

“God bless you, ” he said. “Just…God bless you. That is just so wonderful to hear.”

I glanced at my friends. I felt my face getting red. This was not the triumphant wit-fest that I had planned when I answered the call.

“I’ve got to tell you, the Lord has just…” he paused, obviously getting choked up. “The Lord has just done so much for me. I was away from him for so many years…and I accepted him into my heart two years ago…and my life has just been taken places I could have never imagined.”

“Well, how lovely, ” I said. I scanned the room for the handset to the phone but couldn’t find it. We were stuck on speakerphone. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my friends shift uncomfortably in their seats.

“I’m sorry, ” he said as his voice cracked. “It’s just that my life was such a mess. I was an alcoholic. My marriage was practically over. I was so depressed. And the Lord…the Lord healed me, healed my marriage. I haven’t had a drink in twenty-five months and six days. I could have never imagined that my life could be this good again, and I’m just so grateful. You know what I mean?”

No longer feeling like such a comic genius, I abandoned the plan of playing the church lady role and just tried to get myself off the phone as soon as possible. I didn’t know what to say. This poor man didn’t know he was talking to a militant atheist, and that a bunch of her atheist friends were listening in. “Ah, yes…” I muttered.

“I’m sorry, ” he said again, “It’s just so good to meet people like you, to come across fellow Christians when you least expect it.”

I wanted to crawl under my bed and never come out.

“Listen, ” he continued, “Don’t you even worry about any of this stuff I was trying to sell you. That’s not what matters. I’ll let you go enjoy your evening. Could I just ask you to keep me in your prayers?”

“Umm, sure.”

“I’ll pray for you too. God bless you, ma’am. God bless you and have a good night.”

“God bless you too, ” I stammered, forgetting to use my fake accent, and hung up the phone.

I turned to my friends; they were all silent. None of them were religious, most were atheists, and we never hesitated to ridicule Christians in our conversations. But this time nobody said anything. Seeing such a rare display of vulnerability and innocent sincerity had left us frozen, unsure of how to approach that kind of pure humility. In the silence that ensued it was clear that though he was the one who didn’t get the joke, it was I who was the fool.

Someone eventually forced an awkward chuckle, and someone else mumbled something about the call not going as planned, and we all got up to collect our things to go to the party. But before I left I glanced at the phone and thought of that man on the other end.

I thought of the warmth and love that had exuded from his voice, how he seemed to posses a level of hope and joy that somehow seemed both childlike and wise. It was something I did not see very often, but I always had a deep sense of wanting to experience more of it when I did. I thought of how he’d reached out to me as if I were a long-lost sister, how he’d assumed that I too had experienced something so sacred and so profound that it left you changed forever, feeling so overjoyed that you couldn’t help but share your elation with the world, even on telemarketing calls. “Do you know what I mean?” he had asked after telling me of how this God of his had taken a shattered mess of a life and restored it to something beautiful and whole. And as I closed my dorm room door, for a brief moment I wished more than anything that I did.

photo by ozlady


  1. Margo

    What a great story! I have heard time and time again that it’s the example that we set more than actual words we say that turns thinking and hearts around. Even though all he had to use were his words, it was the sentiment behind them that you must’ve been so touched by. I bet he did keep you in his prayers, too. This is such a good lesson in humility, and it is so well-written, too. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Dbomb

      St. Francis said – Always be sharing the gospel, if necessary, use words.

  2. Leila

    I loved this the first time and I love it more now!! Thank you for this powerful post!

    • ~ Nona

      Leila took the words right out of my mou… oops, keyboard.

  3. Love2learn Mom

    What a great story!!! (And I love God’s sense of humor).

    • Sue

      That’s what I was thinking! The Lord is loyal and comes up with the greatest solutions, one’s I would never think about.

  4. Liesl

    I actually went a read this last week randomly! It’s a great post!

  5. Like Sunshine

    That actually made my eyes fill up. Thank you for sharing that is a really powerful story.

  6. Laura E.

    Wao!it´s a great story of how God prepares us to encouter with Him, gradually taking us to where He needs us to be to be able to see Him. God is Great! 😀

  7. Katie

    I read this and then my phone rang.

    What a humbling experience! God sure knows how to humble us just when we need it. What an amazing part of your conversion, I’m sure!

    I just finished a series on humility on my blog – it’s so good for me to encounter this one too!

  8. priest's wife

    I love this! So sweet

    I do wonder if the man got off the phone and then wondered- what IS that pastor teaching about carpet cleaning?

    • sandy


  9. Megan

    What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing!

  10. caitie

    Love, love, love this!!

  11. Nycee

    I feel it is only right to respond to this post because it is only God’s grace that brought realization to your thoughts of christian faith. It wasn’t long ago that I realized that only God can bring you through trials, give you guidance and direction.

  12. Gloria

    This just killed me. What a sweet man. I was the same type of college student (and loved prank calling)! And now I’m on the other side… The ones who are the most dead-set against God can be strong followers if they come around! Maybe it is the indifferent who are the hardest to reach.

    • Rebecca L

      Me, three.

  13. Sara @ Embracing Destiny

    Your last sentence was especially poignant. In hindsight it’s obvious that God was using a simple telemarketing call as a step on the path to acknowledging your longing for a relationship with Him. I love it when He does stuff like that. Thanks for sharing.

    I’ve been reading your blog for months, but this is my first comment. I’m not Catholic, but I grew up in a predominantly Catholic small town. As the saying goes, “Some of my best friends are Catholic.” Truly, you have helped me to understand some things about Catholicism that I never knew in all these years. I respect your authenticity (and your sense of humor)!

  14. Christine

    Amazing the stepping stones God has placed in your life to lead you to Him… I’m sure this call was one of them!

  15. Danielle Cook

    Prank calling such a childish thing. I like how you made it fun and turned it around!I also like how you can have atheist friends and not judge them or force religion upon them. Keep up the good work.

  16. Margie

    I have vividly remembered this post since the first time it was published. Love, love, love this story.

  17. Debbie

    Wow. What a story. Thank you for sharing this blessed moment in your life. Praying for you and that man right now.

  18. Kathleen's Catholic

    Excellent post, Jennifer! I posted it on my Facebook page. God bless!

  19. sjmarotta

    I think you were trolled.

    • Carol in Miami

      The Lord works in mysterious ways. He is an awesome GOD!!!! I hope you’re keeping him in your prayers as he had requested.

  20. Eva

    While I love your blog and think that you have created a lovely community, I just want to clarify something. I am an atheist, but I never run down, laugh at or criticize Christians (for their faith, that is). When I read that you and your friends typically poked fun at Christians, I am keen to point at that people shouldn’t demonize all Athiests. I may not believe in God, but I am ethical, principal led, respectful and caring. My lack of faith comes, not from a lack of consideration but from a deep searching. Just like yours, from what I can tell, but I have come to the opposite conclusion. Which is a sadness for me, I should emphasize, but the truth none the less.


    • M. Burns


      Have you read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”? Or have you ever gone to a Catholic mass or Eucharistic Adoration?

      Have you tried prayer? Faith is a gift God freely gives us (and wants very much to give us). Intellectual searching can only get us so far. Although I too searched and researched, I also asked God to let me know He is real, believing that if He is real, He would want us to know Him, and if He is not, then there would be no “reply.”

      If you always seek truth, you will find Him, because He is Truth! If you seek goodness and kindness, you seek Him, because He is Goodness and Kindness. The challenge is just realizing that it’s Him we have found.

      One last thing, Catholic discernment teaches that things that are of God bring the kind of peace to our lives that only He can give (there is more, but this is a comment/reply not an editorial so must be brief). God is a God of joy, not sadness. You are in my prayers.

      • Eva

        I started Mere Christianity, but to be honest I did not persist. I will read it again. Thank you for your heart felt reply- I appreciate the sentiment.

  21. Javier (JCA)

    Ha, ha, ha! A very funny article. Fortunately now the telemarketer is usually a recorded voice, making it more difficult to us to fall into temptation.

  22. Marvin

    Great Post Jennifer!

  23. Holly

    This morning I was reflecting on Mary’s humility vs. Satan’s pride with the help of St. Louis de Montefort. It is the humble servants of God that trip up the proud and, like this man, often without even knowing it. After reading this post, I started to weep. It illustrated so clearly how the battle for souls plays out in the world around us. Thank God for this moment in your life where a small crack of humility entered in your soul and that you eventually turned over the rest to God. Imagine how heaven rejoiced when you did.

  24. Victor

    God does work in mysterious ways! Now if I can dry my eyes, I’ll try reading what some of your readers think about it.

  25. JD

    So… you decided to fake being a Christian, and then were outwitted by a salesman who pretended to be a Christian back at you in response? I guess that’s one way to find humility.

  26. Levi

    How many years ago is this,when you were in college? Did we have caller I’d back then?

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      It was 1996, the first year I ever had caller ID. We still didn’t have it at my house yet, but A&M had recently started offering it at the dorms.

  27. Levi

    You can delete my comment. I am sorry to doubt, but will keep it to myself.

  28. Pete

    That is a paraphrasing of Paul’s road to Damascus moment. Try harder next time, groups atheists do not identify themselves as such.

  29. Laura

    It’s a very moving story… the good news is that now you can pray for him as you promised 🙂

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