I heard the doors to the front doors of the church slam shut. I was the only one in the office, when I heard a faint, "hello?". When I turned the corner, I had expected to see the UPS man, but I caught his stench before my eyes laid on him. He was hunched over and in obvious pain. He briefly explained his situation, and had to get his prescription filled with no means by which to do so. I rarely have cash on me, and would've just as well given him his request of $9 dollars and sent him on his way.
I had a lunch appointment to get to, and one of my biggest pet peeves is being late. I figured that being homeless he would want something to eat, so I ran over to Wendy's, and ordered him a number one. I told him that if he would give me and hour or so, I'd help him when I got back. A lot of people I encounter in his situation want their emergency to immediately become mine, and if it doesn't, they move on mumbling under their breath how you don't want to help, which is the furthest thing from the truth.
He had a small torn up gym bag, and in it was everything he owned. So, we walked over to the laundry mat right next door to our church, and I asked the sweet lady behind the counter if she would spot me 8 quarters, once again I don't carry cash, to help with my new friend. Off I went. I was gone long enough for his small load of clothes to be washed, dried, crammed in his bag, and him to have started his journey downtown. To my surprise, when I pulled back up, there he was, sitting outside on the bench out in the front of the church. He was obviously going to take me up on my offer to get his $9 worth of medication.
For the next 3 hours, it felt as if I was sitting in a remedial class on compassion. Steven Levine said, "when your fear touches someone's pain, it becomes pity, but when your love touches someone's pain, it becomes compassion.". We get our word compassion from two Latin words meaning to "suffer with". I was content to deal with this situation out of pity, verses connecting with a man out of compassion.
In my immediate assessment of Mr Jones, I thought he was just looking for a quick fix to cover a deeper issue. My pity for him turned instantly into "Mr. Fix-it" mode by trying to give him some options on how to get shelter, food, and some sort of security. Mr Jones swiftly disregarded my professional insights to all of his issues, and my ability to assist his desperate state. In this moment, he didn't want my solutions of stability, he needed the connection of compassion. For a homeless, paranoid schizophrenic with HIV, and with no family anywhere near here, he has learned to survive the stress of the streets for over a decade. He didn't need a professional pastor with social connections, he need a compassionate shepherd with a heart willing to just listen to his. I'm slowly learning this as it relates to the homeless. For most, they have family who can't handle them, or they can't handle their family. Either way, its not a roof that is the primary immediate need, but a bridge. Having had countless conversations with the poor and homeless, I have discovered ashy remains from burned bridges that have resulted in the widened chasm of disconnection.
If there is one thing that EVERY human needs to experience, it's the power of compassionate connection. Everyone needs someone who will take the time to look into their eyes, and listen intently to whatever is on their mind. That hit me like a ton of bricks. So, I pulled the church van around, and away we went.
In a 3 hour period, he told me about his desire to one day be well enough to work taking out trash and cleaning up at a restaurant. He told me about how his sister is the last real connection with his family he has, and she lives 1,000 miles away and they rarely speak. He shared about how the only way he's made this far is with the Lord. "Pastor, I know the Lord is on my side, and by my side. I just gotta keep holdin on.". He talked with great description about his sickness and disease. He told me about heartbreaking things he'd seen on each street as we slowly drove down them. He didn't know where he was going to sleep, or where is next meal was going to come from. He didn't seem to have much hope for the foreseeable future, but he wasn't disillusioned with deep despair. He has this type survival instinct and inner strength about him, that obviously came from his connection with his Savior.
At the end of our time together, he wanted me to drop him off at the bus station, so he could wash up and put on his freshly cleaned clothes. We prayed together, gave a bro hug, and went our separate ways vowing to reconnect soon. My eyelids worked as windshield wipers for the tears that flowed as I drove away. Not because of sadness for him, but because I was sad for me. My "busy" schedule almost kept me from experiencing the most basic need of all humanity. Connection. Jesus said something about that, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.". If you want to experience the presence of Jesus in a profound, life changing way, get out from behind the four walls of the church building, and sit with someone who lives on the fringe of society. There's no agenda, other than connection. It will help with perspective. As for Mr Jones and me, I'm sure you can guess who walked away with a restored soul.