A dispatch from God: How a 911 call led emergency worker to conversion

Pandora Ashley stands in front of the sanctuary at St. Colette Parish in Livonia, where she became a Catholic at the Easter Vigil this year. Ashley, a former 911 dispatcher, first came in contact with the church when a man called 911 looking for a ride to Mass. As a result, she investigated St. Colette and decided to become Catholic herself.
Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

LIVONIA — As a 911 dispatcher, Pandora Ashley was used to fielding calls from people who needed to be saved.

But one day she received a call from a man who needed salvation.

During a typical shift as a 911 dispatcher for the city of Livonia, Ashley received a call from a man with an atypical “emergency.”

He needed a ride to church.

“I was working as a 911 dispatcher on Sunday morning, when this elderly man called saying he need a ride to St. Colette,” Ashley said. “I told him we don’t normally give people rides to church.”

It was a slow day at the call center, so Ashley took down his information and looked through the St. Collette parish website to find the people who drive homebound parishioners to Mass.

Arranging rides to Mass isn’t in a 911 dispatcher’s job description, but while Ashley was looking through St. Collette’s online bulletin, she noticed a few ministries at the parish that caught her eye.

“Looking through the bulletin, I found other volunteer opportunities,” Ashley said. “There was the knitting and crocheting group, they also had a group that made plastic mats for the homeless. I like to volunteer, and it looked like something I’d be interested in.”

Ashley started going to St. Collette for the volunteering and service opportunities, but then stayed for the Gospel.

“It wasn’t so much the volunteer aspect that was attracting me to keep coming back, but more like a feeling that something was telling me this is what I wanted,” Ashley said. “My boyfriend is Irish-Catholic, and seeing him go off to Mass without me sometimes was troublesome, but that wasn’t the main reason. I felt like I was being called.”

Ashley got involved in the Alpha program and eventually signed up for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults last year. Theresa Lisiecki, director of religious education at St. Colette, noticed Ashley really took an interest in the classes.

“When I first met Pandora, I saw a wonderful young lady looking for something more in her life,” Lisiecki said. “Her sincerity and willingness to push back against information really stood out. A lot of times, people will come to RCIA, whatever their motivations are, because this is what they want and it’s a requirement. But RCIA is meant to be a journey, and in that journey, you need to ask questions.”

Lisiecki said Ashley was always the most inquisitive RCIA student in the sessions, which in turn helped her gain a better understanding of the faith.

“Going to the RCIA classes, I can tell you I felt the most happy,” Ashley said. “I felt secure in knowing my future in the Church. Finding out as much about God and what happened in the Old Testament and the religion itself, it was … I just can’t describe the emotions and power coming over me.” Ashley’s conversion came at another turning point in her life; she felt God calling her to leave her job as a 911 dispatcher and start her own business.

An 18-year veteran of the department, she didn’t meet the 20-year requirement to draw retirement benefits. Nonetheless, God was calling her to start a new adventure, beginning an in-home care service for people who don’t have a family member who can care for them 24/7.

“I was taking classes in the fall, and I retired at the end of January,” Ashley said. “It was my belief that this is what God wanted me to do. There were nights when I woke up and started to think about what I was doing. But I knew the time was right.”

Ashley related how the constant stress of working as a 911 dispatcher was starting to wear on her. “There were a lot of things going on in my life at the time, so it was reassuring to be told by God that this was the time to join the Church,” Ashley said. “The 911 calls I would take during the day, the stress of the job and constant ringing of the phone … it was just time to do something different.”

Providentially, God intervened, through a mysterious man who called 911, needing a ride to church.

“It was an accident that I happened to take his call,” Ashley said. “But on that day, he felt it was important for him to go to Mass, and he reached out and called 911. Why did he do that? What was the purpose of him calling that day? Why was I the one who answered the call? Usually, we don’t have the time to do research and make arrangements for people. But that Sunday, he got me, and that is what I did.”

Ashely never met the man in person, but if she ever does, she has a message for him:

“Thank you,” Ashley said. “Because of him, I’m here. God placed him there. I was supposed to answer his call that day. I was the dispatcher, but it’s not every day we have time for a follow up. But I was able to find the right person to get him a ride.

“There are no coincidences with God. It was supposed to happen.”