Recently a group of Pastors I’ve been meeting with were talking about a soup kitchen they help out at. I was invited to come and given the opportunity to share a message with those who come to eat. The message is given before the meal line opens up so it tends to be a quick message. Anytime I speak in front of a group of people I scan the room and look for what I call friends. A friend is someone that seems engaged in the message I am presenting and is making eye contact with them. I bounce around from friend to friend so I don’t seem like a weirdo. On this particular occasion, I only really had one friend. It was a small group and one gentleman sitting dead center in the room was leaning forward and looked incredibly interested. After the message we all grabbed some food and I went over and sat with my friend. I was so excited. I assumed I had said something that reached this guy and I would have sparked an interest in God in this man. As I began a conversation with him I found out that He too had been recently ordained. Great. I was able to get a fellow minister excited about God. Not exactly the grand slam victory I hoped for. I ate with him. He too was looking for an avenue to help serve the local hungry and homeless. I found it ironic that we both came to meet homeless people but only meet each other.
As the soup kitchen came to a close, I was saying goodbye to my new friend when a man standing just to my right, fell to the ground in a coughing fit. I wasn’t sure what to do. I was the first person there but I had no idea what to do. with the help of another man, I pulled him to his feet and grabbed him a chair. He was surrounded by people who knew him and I was unable to do anything else for the man. I finished making my rounds and saying my goodbyes when I noticed the man was sitting alone. I went over and asked him how he was doing.
He was an older man, probably in his 60’s, with a short grey beard. He never took off his jacket and he had a shirt tied around his head for a hat. I could tell he was homeless, but he wasn’t what I’d expected. I sat down with him and listened to his stories. He introduced himself with his street name and told me how he’d earned it. At one point he started cursing and acted as though he was wrong for cussing in a church. He’d lived an interesting life his father and brother were in the Marine Corps and He grew up around Marines. The fact that I was a Marine made him feel comfortable opening up even more. It provided a common ground for us to talk about things and though he didn’t serve I could relate to having a father in the Marine Corps. He’s shared with me about his time in prison and told me about the struggles of being an older man with health issues living on the street. He wasn’t a fan of the local shelters because he didn’t think they were safe. He never told my why he went to prison or how he ended up on the street, but I never asked. Even though I rarely said anything, he told me he liked talking with me. I guess it’s nice to just have someone listen to you sometime.
His leg, which he hurt when he fell, was feeling better but I still couldn’t let him walk out of there. I offered him a ride to where ever he needed to go. He gladly accepted and he offered to introduce me to his ol’ school friend in the hood. Why not? we go in my car and drove off. I was worried he would at some point ask me for money or ask me to buy him something. Turns out he actually had more money in his pockets than I did. He asked me if I would take him to the liqueur store. I would normally have a problem with this, but i wasn’t there to judge and he wasn’t asking me to buy anything for him. I went with him into the store and he was very well received by the clerk. He was just like any other customer who frequented the store. I followed him to another shop where he bought a pack of the good cigarettes. It turns out he was celebrating with the Christmas money his brother had sent him. We got back in the car and we drove into the ‘hood.
I find places called the ‘hood to be very interesting places to visit. I feel strangely comfortable in them. I find that people who live in them are not much different from the ones that live in my gated community. if anything they are more social and welcoming. We pulled up to a house and I could tell that no one was expecting me. I got out of the car and and my guide introduced me to his friends. I shook each ones hand and looked them right in the eye. They were very friendly and quickly over looked any differences we might have. They invited me to come back when ever I wanted to come. I felt like I was one of them.
My new friend, was quick to share his brand new bottle of whiskey and cigarettes. It surprised me that someone in his situation could be so hospitable. He was very protective of his things but he was also very generous. As it came time to part ways, my new friend offered to buy me dinner. I declined his offer because I had to go home, but he gave me a can of tuna which I gratefully accepted. Why is it that this man who had so little could be so generous when so many with much more can be so stingy?
He may have been a little rough around the edges but this man had a generous heart.