Last Friday afternoon I heard a knock on the church office door. I was alone, and thought it might be a church partner coming by to check in on me. I opened the door and saw a very thin man standing on the porch. I cracked open the screen and said hello. He immediately jumped right into his sob story. He was homeless and hungry and just wanted a few dollars to get something to eat. He said he needed a shower and shave and a dry place to sleep, but he knew that was a bit much to ask for. He would settle for whatever I could give him.
Now in my ministry career I’ve talked to a lot of homeless people. I’ve had so many of these “down on their luck” folks knock on the church doors for everything from food to requests for substantial amounts of money to fund their drive back to wherever they came from. I’ve heard a truly horror story from the guy who got stranded in the city because of car trouble and has a daughter in dire need of a kidney transplant and just needs enough money for a full tank of gas to get her to the Cleveland clinic for a critical life-saving surgery. Yes, sometimes these sob stories can be really creative. And I always, always listen with skepticism from the get go. I just believe that most of these folks are intent on scamming me out of a few bucks.
So when Roger knocked on the church office door, smelling like cigarettes in dirty clothes, I had this attitude that no matter what he said, it was probably a lie. I asked Roger a few questions. Where are you from? I’m from all over really, he said. I travel from city to city. Guess I’m just a hobo. How did you end up in Nashville? I have family here. Where are they? I’m not sure. Why don’t you try to find them? They probably don’t want anything to do with me right now. Then why did you move here? I’m hoping to get my act together before I look for them. Why don’t you go to a homeless shelter? There’s too many people there like me. It’s depressing. I’d just rather be on my own.
Our conversation went like this for several minutes. Me asking him questions, him giving excuses for his choices. After a while he just asked me, is there anything you can do? I told Roger I wasn’t going to give him any money, but I would get him some food. So I left him standing on the porch and made him some ham sandwiches with stuff I had in the refrigerator for my lunches. I grabbed a jug of water, some tortilla chips and I spotted the stack of moon pies and goo-goos that Jenny Tygard gave me in my welcome bag. Jenny couldn’t be here today, but I told her about my experience.
So I walked out to the porch and gave Roger my gifts. To be honest I just wanted him to go away. I was busy, had things to do, and this homeless man was upsetting my work day. However, a long time ago and pastor friend of mine told me something that I’ll never forget. He said, “Ministry happens in the interruptions.” Unfortunately, I didn’t remember that at that time, and I told Roger that he couldn’t stay on the church property. He gathered up his stuff and headed out, very appreciative, but moved on...as I’m sure he was accustomed to doing when folks gave him stuff. As I walked back into my office, the Holy Spirit reminded me, “Ministry happens in the interruptions. “ I prayed to God at that moment, “God, if Roger comes back I promise to give him more than just something to eat. I will minister to him.”
Well, guess who showed up again this week? I was alone again in the office on Tuesday, and I found Roger sitting on the porch. I breathed in the spirit at that moment, and went out to greet him. I’m sure he was hoping for more food, but I sat down and began talking to Roger about his life, his family, his circumstances that brought him to being homeless. And I learned a lot about Roger. I learned that he was probably mentally ill, that he had an excuse for the choices he made, but that he didn’t have the capacity to find a way out of the cycle of poverty. He had lost everything he had, which was just a back pack, clean socks and his debit card. While I would never be able to save Roger from himself, I did sense that I could help restore him to a place that would give him some comfort and security. So I took him to Wal-Mart, bought him a backpack, a week’s worth of clean socks, a sleeping bag and a gift card to buy some food, and more cigarettes. Afterward I dropped him off at the UMC down the road, where they would feed him today, and I prayed with him.
"Roger, I know that life seems hopeless right now, but know that God loves you so much. No matter what you’ve done, or what you will do, God is with you. And God will find you when you need him. Today, that’s what God wants you to know. God has found you, friend."
Now I know that things may never change for Roger. That he will probably continue to live on the streets until some person or institution can help manage his mental illness. But for those few hours on Tuesday, September 19…God found Roger. And Roger was told that he was loved. Roger is first in God’s eyes. And friends, when we realize that WE are first in God’s eyes, then we will make sure that others know that too.