Magazine Article

The Train Bums

How we show kindness to Jesus

Laura Hamilton
The Train Bums
Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash

My husband, Greg, and I pastored two small churches that were on Interstate 80 in a remote part of northern Nevada. We lived in Elko, which had a small congregation, but because it was on a main interstate crossing the country, we could always expect visitors. The church had potlucks once per month, so it was our habit to always invite the visitors to our home for Sabbath lunch. We had a large dining room table that could seat 12 to 15 people, and I always prepared large meals for the Sabbaths when Greg preached in Elko. We enjoyed inviting people to our home and looked forward to spending time getting to know our visitors.

One Sabbath there were several visitors at church, and we invited them over for lunch. They all accepted our invitation. One couple in particular caught our attention: Darrel and Kate. First, they did not have a car. This was strange for visitors on Interstate 80. They were not dressed very well, either. They were not exactly dirty, but they had a bit of a musty smell, as if they had not had a shower in a while. We gave them a ride to our house, where we were joined by the other visitors. We all sat down to lunch and began with introductions. Since all of us were strangers, we began by saying our names, where we were from, what our occupations were, and what brought us to Elko, Nevada.

When the introductions came around to Darrel and Kate, we could hardly believe what we heard. They introduced themselves as not really from anywhere in particular, because they were “train bums.” They rode the train to Elko and jumped off to come to church. They knew they could get a good, hot, free meal at any Adventist church, so they came to church. In amazement that we were meeting two train bums, we asked how they got on and off the trains. They replied that they would wait until it stopped, and at just the right time they would climb on the back of the train so that no one would see them. We asked them how long they had been train bums. “More than 10 years,” they replied. They would stop in some city and work as carpenters for a month or two to get enough money to buy food; then they would travel again.

They were a delightful couple to talk to, and we enjoyed our time with them. They knew the time for the arrival of the next train and asked us to take them to the train depot. Since they were living with such little means, we wanted to do something for them to make their lives better. We offered and they accepted two Army sleeping bags and some dried food that would be easy to carry. Putting together a large bag of trail mix with nuts, chocolate chips, and anything else we had on hand, we gave it to them. They were very happy to receive our gifts and grateful to have been invited to our home for lunch. This was the first time they had been invited to a pastor’s home for a meal.

Greg took them down to an apartment parking lot that was about a half mile away from the train depot. He walked with them to the edge of the Humboldt River. Right on time the train arrived, as Darrel and Kate had expected. Greg watched them wade across the river, lifting their new sleeping bags and food above their heads; then they climbed onto the back of the train and waved goodbye as the train pulled out. Two years later they looked us up and found us in Truckee, California, where Greg and I were pastoring the Truckee and Quincy churches. We invited them home for Sabbath lunch again, and we had a delightful time with them. About 28 years have passed since then, and we don’t know whatever happened to Darrel and Kate. Who knows if they are still riding the trains. Maybe you will see them at one of your church services when the train comes through your city. God wants us to treat others with kindness and acceptance, even if they are train bums. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” According to this Bible text, the way we treat the marginal members of society is, in essence, how we are treating Jesus. When we gave Darrel and Kate love, acceptance, food, sleeping bags, and a ride back to the train, we were treating Jesus well. Is this not what it means to love your neighbor as yourself?

Laura Hamilton

Laura Hamilton is a chemical engineer who worked for the federal government. She is retired with her husband, Greg Hamilton, in Grand Junction, Colorado.