T WAS CHRISTMAS EVE AND THINGS WEREN’T going well. I had been out of work since October, our savings were gone, and our checking account was standing at zero. My wife, Barbara, and I had decided we would buy no Christmas presents this year.
A Common Sight
I had some business to attend to at the local shopping mall, and after I finished I left the mall and drove toward the interstate. That’s when I saw him. He was sitting on the street corner, forlorn, cold, and beaten down with life. He held up a small sign, similar to those often seen in cities large and small. Printed in shaky, uneven letters, it read, “Homeless vet. Please help me, I’m hungry.”
We see these individuals, with their signs, standing on many street corners in this country. They evoke thoughts of “Why don’t you get a job like the rest of us?” “Is this a gimmick to get money for drugs?” Or, “You got yourself into this predicament; get yourself out.” After all, they’re just homeless people, who cares?
When I stopped at the red light, I glanced over at him. His questioning, pleading eyes looked directly into mine, asking, “Are you going to pass me by too?” I drove past him along with other cars loaded with Christmas presents and happy Christmas shoppers. As I drove a few blocks, I could see in my mind his eyes and the way they looked at me.
He was God’s child sitting hungry and cold on a street corner. But how can I help? I thought. I have no money.
Hatching a Plan
Suddenly I remembered a fast food restaurant a few blocks away. Dare I use the small amount of gas in the car’s gas tank to set in action a plan to help the man? Remembering Jesus’ words “If you have done it for the least of these, you have done it unto Me,” I drove to the restaurant, parked my car, and went inside.
“May I speak to your manager, please?” I asked the young woman behind the counter. She pointed to a woman standing by the cash register. I walked over, told her my name, and asked if she would be willing to donate a meal to a hungry person down the street. I assured her I would be happy to deliver it to him.
“We’d be glad to help,” she said genuinely. “After all, it’s Christmas Eve.”
She instructed the clerk to give me what I needed, wished me a merry Christmas, and went about her business.
With food in hand, I drove back to the street corner and parked my car in the parking lot across the street from the man. When I got out of the car he watched me as I walked up to him carrying the small sack of food. I knelt beside him and asked, “Brother, have you eaten today?”
Questions for Reflection
1. What is your experience with individuals appoach you for spare change? What response works best for you?
2. Is there a way to help individuals such as these without enabling them in their negatives or addictive behaviours?
3. Is it possible to help these individuals with just a brief casual contact? Could more help be provided with more deliberate, long-range planning? What might that help look like?
4. What ministries is your congregation involved in to provide help for the less fortunate in your community? How can they be made for effective?
“No,” he replied. “The last time I ate was last night.”
“My friend,” I announced, “God asked me to bring you this food. I hope you enjoy it.”
“Are you a Christian?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” I replied.
Then looking into my eyes he whispered, “Will you pray for me?”
Kneeling on that street corner, we closed our eyes and prayed to our heavenly Father.
Giving a Lift
As the man ate we talked about Jesus and His love for us. “Did you know He was homeless and at times hungry during His ministry on earth?” I asked. “He understands your situation and loves you so much He was willing to leave heaven and die for you. You’re a child of a King, and He has a home waiting for you in heaven.”
“Sir,” he said, “I’m not here because I want to be. I’ve been promised a job after Christmas. I’m a certified steel worker, and I once had a home, a family, and a good job. I hope to be able to go home next year.”
We talked for a few more minutes; then I stood to leave. As I walked away he called out to me, “Sir, God bless you. I love you.”
He was just a homeless person; who cares? God does.
John Wooden is retired and writes from his home in Bethpage, Tennessee.