Every day there are people who give the church a phone call, or stop by to plead their case, seeking financial assistance. I've been in churches since 1992 that get this a lot, therefore it's a regular part of ministry. Not too many years ago it was a certain type of person who would know the system and appeal to churches and non-profit ministries for help with their "light bill" or rent or gas or food or whatever. With the tougher economy, and more people out of work, we get more people who don't know "the system" and who are unaccustomed to asking for help.
As a pastor, and as someone seeking to follow Christ in my personal life, it's a tough tight rope as I so often deal with con-men and those who live off others, yet seek to have a tender heart that takes time with people and is responsive to those who are in great need. There's never enough money, never enough time, and it's a challenge to safeguard what has been given to church and God for those most in need.
Late this afternoon the call came from the receptionist's desk that I had a "friend out front." Freddy had shown up a couple of months ago. He seemed transparent, likable, and even in spite of knowing he has had his challenges and is likely running a story, I found myself drawn to him. He was upbeat, optimistic, with a smile and a twinkle in eyes that showed a hope I didn't usually find from my brothers and sisters on the street. It was an afternoon when I didn't have many appointments and could take some time in conversation.
Freddy was very open and revealing. He responded to all my questions and didn't get defensive or seem evasive, even when I pushed in directions and gave advice that could have pushed anyone's buttons!
He told he'd done jail time. His only ID is from corrections.
He told me about the mission where he lives, and the challenges of living in such a place, of being out during the day with his Goodwill training and to look for work.
We sat and chatted leisurely for almost 30 minutes.
I gave him a little bit of money, and a pair of reading glasses as we had some left over from our recent west African mission trip. I told him about our mission partners at a local medical clinic that might be a help to him with some of his problems. We chatted some more and I gave him a blessing as he went back out on the street.
Today was very different. Today everything was different. Today we stood together and the emotion hung thick in the air.
Freddy seemed defeated. It was more than just his situation that had him down. Everything he said indicated he'd been beaten in life and was ready to give up. He said repeatedly that this was his "last chance." But his words and emotions sounded more like a man who didn't expect to have much longer to live. Freddy had a tear that kept popping up in the corner of his eye. His emotion was raw, but controlled, as the frustration, remorse, and hope to do better was all confessed. How amazing the sense of God's presence as this homeless brother of mine shared from the depths of his soul. In all of my years talking with my homeless neighbors I've never had an experience quite like this.
Freddy was drawn to the church today because of the deepest needs of his soul. He needed to talk. He had to say some things. He needed to hear some things.
At this moment as I write this, and as the night claims the day, I can't help but think of Freddy. I hope you'll pray for him, and for others like him in your neighborhood. As I think about him I'm drawn to a scripture that recalls Jesus who calls us all to his feet and who came to heal us all.
Luke 6:17-21 (though you may wisely wish to read more in that chapter). Speaking of Jesus the passage says:
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh."
Lord, be with Freddy tonight. Help him to stay on your path and cling to You. And help me to have a similar faith and expectation of healing for my soul. Lord, let it be!