A Teen Follows Her Good Samaritan Instinct: Would You Have Risked Your Life?

By Milo Jones | Posted November 28, 2022

Any good-hearted person would sacrifice a little time or money to help someone in need. But when helping someone poses a risk to one’s personal safety, a different kind of goodness is on display. 

Such was the case when a 17-year-old put herself at risk to help a wounded police officer. While on a shopping trip in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, Ava Donegan and her boyfriend suddenly found themselves in the middle of a crime scene at one of the busiest intersections in town. They were waiting at the stoplight when a man from a vehicle directly behind theirs fired shots at a police officer attempting to detain him. Another officer from behind returned fire, shooting the suspect.

Donegan and her boyfriend ducked after witnessing the officer exit his patrol car and buckle from the gunfire. He was hit in the right shoulder and the left hand. Here’s her description of what happened next:

“Somehow, I blinked my eye and the cop who was shot was right in front of my car. He was asking me to get out and help put his tourniquet on. He told me that it was completely numb, and his hand was completely limp.”

Unaware that the threat had been neutralized—unsure of whether more bullets would fly—Donegan got out of her vehicle to help the wounded officer. Thanks to her father’s training in emergency first aid, this teenager knew what to do. (Her father is a critical care nurse who had taught his family how to use a tourniquet.) She removed the officer’s carrier vest and applied the tourniquet to his right arm. She also used his radio to notify the dispatchers. 

“Somehow there’s blood all over my hands. Somehow there’s blood on my car,” Donegan later recalled. “When I realized he needed help, it all was instinct.”


Two Opposing Instincts

Donegan is just one of many good Samaritans on display in the news of recent months. On September 10, four good Samaritans in Ohio stopped to assist a female police officer struggling to detain a suspect during a traffic stop. On September 28, a few good Samaritans in Florida rushed into floodwaters to save an elderly man from his vehicle during Hurricane Ian. And on October 23, a good Samaritan in Iowa saved four siblings from a house fire after, fortunately, turning onto the wrong street.

This good Samaritan instinct—from where does it originate? Does it not have a divine source in the One “who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38)? According to John 1:9, Jesus is the Light who gives light to every person in the world. And according to Matthew 5:16, light is associated with good deeds. Of course, any person can perform a seemingly good service for an evil reason. The scribes and Pharisees were known for such hypocrisy. But to be good in God’s eyes, the service must be based on the principle of self-sacrifice.

Unfortunately, because the human heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), another instinct opposes the good Samaritan one—the principle of self-preservation. Although this instinct has a vital role to play in protecting humans—prompting them, for example, to tap the brakes through a sharp curve or to change their lifestyle after a life-threatening diagnosis—it often hinders them from being good Samaritans. The bent of the human heart is to seek one’s own well-being above another’s (1 Corinthians 10:24).

Hence the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, recorded only in Luke’s Gospel. As they each, in turn, discover the victim who has been stripped, beaten, and left to die on the roadside, they pass by on the other side (10:30–32). Yet the Samaritan, supposedly a pagan in the eyes of the other two, does not hesitate to sacrifice some of his time and money (vv. 34, 35). Even more, he jeopardizes his safety by ministering in an area where thieves have recently been active.

In his Notes on the Whole Bible, Albert Barnes comments on the dangers of traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho: The “country was rocky and mountainous, and in some parts scarcely inhabited. It afforded, therefore, among the rocks and fastnesses, a convenient place for highwaymen.” He then mentions a time when Herod the Great dismissed 40,000 temple builders, many of whom found new employment as robbers! Clearly, Jesus’ listeners understood the risk the Samaritan had taken.


 Loving Your Neighbor

The parable of the Good Samaritan is actually Jesus’ response to a lawyer’s question. An expert in the Law of Moses (the Torah), the lawyer correctly identified the two principles of the Decalogue: loving God and loving your neighbor (v. 27). But he tried to excuse his prejudice by asking, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus, therefore, concluded His parable with another question in verse 36: “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among thieves?” Obviously, the one “who showed mercy on him” (v. 37).

In Matthew 25:31–46, a court scene unfolds in which the Son of Man separates the sheep from the goats. And what is the deciding factor in this divine tribunal? Whether the defendant has loved his neighbor as himself! Did he feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger? Did he visit the infirmed and the incarcerated? Then his award awaits him in heaven. 

Earthly awards awaited Ava Donegan’s reception on November 17, 2022. In a ceremony hosted by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, she received recognition coins (traditionally presented to department members for special achievements) and a $2,000 scholarship. “It goes without saying, what an incredible thing you did, without regard for your own safety,” said Excelsior Springs Mayor Sharon Powell. “You will always be known to be a brave young woman who made a difference.”

But more important than the awards—and the standing ovation that followed—was the opportunity to help someone in need. Said the brave 17-year-old, “I still think anyone would have done it.” 

To learn more about the parable of the Good Samaritan, check out Pastor Doug’s sermon The Good Samaritan.

Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a freelance writer for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, Washington.
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