One of my blogging friends (let's just call her "Cheryl") wrote a post last year that caught my attention and left a year long mark on my life. Cheryl is one of a few bloggers I look forward to reading. She tends to have good insight into life and ministers faithfully to women through her blog and on many occasions I have been the indirect recipient of her wise counsel to my wife.
In this specific post, Cheryl relayed an encounter she had with a homeless fellow. She and her daughter had been doing errands and she wrote how they were able to provide this man with a quick meal from a stack of McDonald's gift cards they kept in their car. I liked reading how they went out of their way to chase this guy down and loved the idea of keeping gift cards in the car to hand out.
Then, the more I thought about what she wrote, the more I was challenged by my own reactions to folks I had seen around town looking for help.
At the time I read her post, our family had recently made a change in churches. We had been attending a small church located in a secluded residential neighborhood. Strangers rarely showed up and when they did, they stood out among the clean-pressed families who attended. From there, we ended up at a very public church located on a busy downtown street. At this new church, we regularly have strangers showing up. From homeless individuals who are just walking the downtown streets to thirsty vagrants looking for a warm cup of coffee, this church is easy to find and often welcomes the less fortunate.
I realized that I had become numb to folks asking for help. I had become very good at saying no and moving on my merry way without batting an eye. I was neither moved with pity, nor was I bothered by them. I had become numb to vagrants, beggars with cardboard signs, and homeless families migrating through my city.
At the same time, I justified this response by supporting ministries that served the homeless and on occasion I even got my feet wet by serving food at our local homeless shelter. To make matters worse, like one of Chery's critics, I questioned the safety of interacting with vagrants.
It seems I was looking for a safe, controlled environment or an official ministry to support. Yet, when I read this post, I was struck by the fact that she and her daughter saw and met a need.
That motivated me. I happened to have a hundred dollar bill sitting in my wallet, so I jumped in the car and drove to our local McDonalds and bought ten $10 gift cards and split them between my car and my wallet.
It was my goal to be prepared for the next person that asked for help/food/money. Like Cheryl and her daughter, I wanted to be ready to meet the need in the moment.
It was actually humorous at first, I found myself looking for opportunities to get rid of the cards. I quickly realized that the harder I looked for someone in need, the harder it seemed they were to find.
This adventure began as I was getting into my car after church. A young man yelled at me from across the street, asking if I could spare a few bucks for food. To be truthful, in the moment, my initial response was fear followed by a desire to just ignore him and drive away. But as I reached for the door, I rememberd the cards and decided to do more than ignore him. I also decided to do more than just hand out a card. I took the opportunity to do what I thought God was calling me to do.
His name was Chris and he was 22 years old. I would describe him as a ModRocker, dressed in dark black clothing and a dark black trench coat. I think he was just as shocked as I was when I jogged toward him across the street. I asked what he needed. He just wanted money and when I asked why, he told me he was hungry. I decided to press him a little more. At first his answers were short, but as I leaned against the wall and showed no intention on leaving soon, he began to answer the questions with more depth. By the end, I found out his mom had committed suicide when he was 14. He didn't know his father, so his life quickly spiraled into alcohol and drugs. He had been homeless for six years, moving from place to place.
As the conversation continued, I was able to talk with him briefly about the gospel. It was at least eight blocks to the closest McDonalds, but he was very happy to know that there was a meal waiting for him when he got there.
And that started it.
For the whole year, I began looking for opportunities to not just hand out cards, but meet the people in need. Most of the time I was alone, but often I had one or two kids with me and they sat in the car while I spent the time talking to someone new. It wasn't easy. It wasn't comfortable. I worked through the whole stack and found I needed to replenish it.
It wasn't without incident. I met a few crazy people that didn't want anything to do with me (or a conversation), they just wanted the free food. But for the most part, it was a bunch of real people, with real needs and real stories. The food card was good, but most of them (like me) seemed to enjoy the conversation just as much.
I met Ed (and his dog Joshua) on the front steps of the church. I gave him some coffee and invited him in to worship. He had been homesless for more than 5 years and was just plain hungry. He didn't know what to do with Joshua, so we ended up sitting together and drinking coffee and sharing our stories.
I also met Carl and his wife in front of the grocery store. Somehow God provided twenty minutes in the middle of my day for me to sit and talk with the two of them as they continued to pan handle from cars driving by. (I'd like to think that I helped their situation, but most cars passed by as we sat together). Carl had a normal job in construction until the economy soured. Their living situation disappeared and eventually so did their transportation. Now they just survive. They walk around town, trying to get enough money to eat.
My favorite experience was in the garage of my VW mechanic. This dishevled looking guy stumbed in asking if there were any simple jobs that needed to be done. My mechanic, who is approached regularly, quickly said no, but I quickly launched into a few questions. Why? What do you need? In a few quick moments, I discovered a guy that was lonely, hungry and in need of some help. I ran out to the car and grabbed a gift card. When I returned, I asked him for his name. Russell. I asked him if I could pray for him, and he agreed. I would like to think my desire to serve this guy helped to meet his need and helped to be an example for my friend that watched our interaction.
What began as a blog post, became an exercise in obedience and eventually an opportunity to engage my neighbors with intention and purpose. Thanks Cheryl!
Quietly making noise,