HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The women were on the side of Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Hattiesburg with flowers, balloons, and a homemade sign when Andy Waites passed them on his way out of town.
“I can’t explain it, but I had this overwhelming need to turn around,” he said. “God took my mind off of where I was going and turned me around. I don’t want to sound hocus pocus or cheesy, but he literally said, ‘Turn around and see if you can help those people.'”
Louise Williams and Jessica Portis were there mourning the Saturday night deaths of Jamia Odom, 26, of Port Gibson; and Jalaya Williams, 5, of Hattiesburg.
Odom took classes at the University of Southern Mississippi and was known for her pickup basketball skills, her smile and the fact that she never said a cross word about anyone. Jalayla was Odom’s goddaughter, and the two had a special bond.
Police told reporters their northbound car was hit after another vehicle crossed the median into oncoming traffic just after 7:30 p.m.
Williams said the loss is so painful because Odom, whose mother lived out of town, was like her own daughter.
“I’ve known Jamia for several years and we became extremely close a couple of years ago,” Williams said. “She was a helper. She extended her hand to anyone who needed it. She was the type of person to always enjoy life and always kept me laughing.”
Portis said Odom and Jalayla were almost inseparable.
“God knew he couldn’t take one without the other,” she said. “I feel like God knew if the baby would have made it she would have been broken without her.”
Portis, who said Odom was like a sister to her, said she wasn’t even sure she wanted to go to the scene that day when Williams suggested it. She didn’t know if she could handle it.
“It was weird how it happened, I was like, ‘I don’t want to go. I don’t want to see it,'” she said. “Lou said, ‘I feel like you should go. I’ll be there with you and we’ve got each other.'”
Portis said Waites kind of jogged up, and that at first she was apprehensive.
“He gave me the universal ‘Hi,’ which is a smile, and I kind of let my guard down,” she said.
Waites said he didn’t know what he was walking up on, but God did.
“I found these two ladies and asked them, ‘What happened here?’ and they broke down,” he said. “I told them, ‘I don’t know you and I don’t really understand what you must be feeling — there’s no way I can — but I know who can make it right and I want to pray with you.'”
Some people wouldn’t have known how to react to a total stranger approaching them in such a vulnerable moment.
“He approached us in the most sincere way, spoke briefly and offered prayer. We genuinely accepted,” Williams said. “After and during prayer, they embraced us beautifully. It was like he was sent. We really needed his prayer and their hugs.”
On the side of the road, Waites, Williams and Portis bowed their heads and began to pray right there for the world to see. As they did, a fourth person joined the group.
“Another lady who worked up the road at Pine Grove Behavioral Health pulled up and got in the circle with us,” he said. “We had a minute there praying and hugging and crying, and it was a special moment.”
“When we all grabbed each other I started crying. I looked up and couldn’t really see through the tears in my eyes, but her badge said she was a nurse,” Portis said. “It moved me beyond words. No words can equate how I feel in my heart. I just broke down.”
Often when people feel a nudge to do something that seems out of the ordinary, they rationalize their way out of it. Waites said he never had a second thought.
“There was not the least hesitation,” he said. “I just saw some people trying to memorialize someone who passed away. Someone there was hurting, and I clearly believe God was speaking into my mind, ‘Help these people.’ I think he said, ‘Go take away whatever pain you can.'”
As Williams said, he was Heaven sent.
“The one thing that definitely went through my mind was where did this man come from? It’s almost as if he appeared from nowhere,” Williams said.
Waites said he has thought about it many times since it happened. He said he didn’t do anything on his own, but he is grateful that God used him in that way.
“The whole thing took 15 minutes. I’ve pondered several times over the last few days what would I have been doing for 15 minutes that could have been more important than that,” he said.
“The lesson I took from this was people go through things on a daily basis but we never realize the impact we could have on people we know and complete strangers. That was truly a heartfelt moment,” Williams said.
“I believe nothing in this life happens by chance. When he got done praying, I said, ‘Sir, what you did it touched my heart and I have hope that there’s still good in humanity, there are still good people out here,'” Portis said. “I want people to know with everything going on right now, just love. Have compassion. That’s what I feel like, not just America, but what the world lacks. If people had more compassion like that man had, the world would be a better place.”
Waites said the incident will always stand out in his mind particularly because he stopped with the intention of blessing Williams and Portis, but in the end, he walked away blessed. He said when you answer that nudge, God blesses you for it.
“I’ll be more in tune to that from now on,” he said.
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com