It’s 2003. I am a brand new believer. I feel the electricity of faith buzzing through my veins. It’s a stuffy summer afternoon in a small baptist church. The preacher approaches the podium.
"A homeless man just called," the preacher says. "He needs help. If you’d like to help, come see me."
Before I realize what I’m doing, I’m standing near the front of the sanctuary speaking with the pastor. “I’ll go,” I say. I am ill prepared. I have not yet memorized the correct scriptures. I am unsure of how it all works, but I believe! I believe so I go because I’m hoping––I am not sure, but I’m hoping!––that whatever is happening inside of me will manifest itself purely, coherently.
"He’s in a hotel across town," the preacher says. He hands me the room number and name of the man. In a daze, I walk out of the church into the parking lot. The world becomes a blur, white noise I am somehow floating through. I keep telling myself to turn around, to go back into the sanctuary and grab an older man, someone who understands how this all works.
I turn the car stereo as loud as it will go and I roll down the windows as I move down the interstate. I am singing a Chris Tomlin song, attempting to memorize the lyrics thinking that maybe I could give them to this homeless man. I have never even met a homeless man! EVER! What do you say to a man without a home? I mean, i’ve seen them on the television, and they are strung out, their lips cracked and bleeding, needles emerging from their arms, and they are dangerous! Probably carrying knives. A loaded gun, possibly. You never know. I am in danger. I should call the cops. This man is going to kill me. I am being unwise!
Calm down, I tell myself. I pray. It’s more of a whine. God, do something, okay? Okay? Good. I have no idea. Okay? So just go ahead and be with the man, and when I get there, you know, just do something. Okay?
I pull into the parking lot of the dilapidated hotel. There’s something happening in my chest, a loud pounding, and I momentarily wonder if I’m having a heart-attack. At 21 years old? Oh no. I’m dying. Wait. No, I’m okay, I’m okay. I’m just nervous. I laugh. I slap my steering wheel and inhale deeply. Here I go. I’m going, God. I’m going.
The motel has a smell, an odor of things being stagnate, unmoving. Walking down the sidewalk, the single window to each room becomes something like a photograph into a world I did not know existed––a world of brokenness, of alcoholism, drugs, prostitution, empty eyes and lifeless movements. Up ahead I see a group of well-dressed man standing outside a room. They look out of place. As I approach, I realize it’s the room of the homeless man. The men in suits are from my church.
Oh, this will be good! This man, whoever he is, whatever his problems are, no matter how big, how wide, how deep––we will share with him some news that is bigger! Wider! Deeper! Soon this homeless man will be drowning in a love he never thought possible!
One of the men in suits nods at me and smiles. I stand beside him and look into the room where several other men in suits are standing. The homeless man is sitting on the bed with his head in his hands. His back shakes rhythmically as tears drip through his fingers. His broke. He’s literally broke. I hear the men in suits say something, but it doesn’t sound right. I am not hearing correctly.
Crushed beer cans are strewn across the room. Cigarette butts lay scattered across the decaying bedside table. What’s that smell? Marijuana? I think so, but I’m not sure.
But the man is sobbing. He’s asking for help. He’s begging for help. We need to hug him. Let’s all huddle around and hug him. Let’s pray for him. I look at the men in suits. They are talking again.
"We can’t help you until you clean up," I hear a man say. Something in my spirit says no, that’s not right, is it? I am new at this, so what do I know? But Jesus––isn’t Jesus the one that changes people? Shouldn’t we be telling him about the Jesus that resurrects lives? That heals brokenness? Shouldn’t we mention Jesus?
We don’t mention Jesus. We lay out some conditions. You do that, the men in suits say, and we will do this. You get better, and we will help you. Get off the drugs, and we will spend time with you. Get off the alcohol, and we will invite you into our lives.
Eleven years later and I still wonder about that homeless man. I’d like to give him a hug and tell him Jesus loves him.fil