Driving by a deserted storefront, I did a double-take. Underneath the overhang was a mishmash of stuff. Someone’s meager belongings. An empty cart. A lump of humanity huddled under a blanket.
In a town with a population under 20,000, it’s not a common sight here. I’ve seen people passing through with backpacks or pushing carts, but I’d never experienced a homeless person living on the streets in our community. In larger metropolitan areas, yes.
Overcome with sadness, I prayed and continued to finish the errands I was running that afternoon. But the image of someone trying to stay warm under a thin blanket kept me company.
The Company of Strangers
Stopping by a fast-food restaurant on my way home, I purchased a large meal: a cheeseburger, fries, and a sweet tea. Pulling into the parking lot of the abandoned store, I expected the homeless individual to throw back the covering of the temporary abode. Surely, they’d heard my vehicle. I waited a few moments, trying to decide what to do when a hand emerged, followed by a woman’s head.
Tall and big-boned, she had short, choppy bright purple hair. A weathered, tan face broke into a grin as she approached my vehicle. She’d spotted the fast-food bag and large drink I held up. Returning her smile, I said, “I brought you something to eat.”
Graciously accepting my offer, she replied, “Thank you. God bless you.” It was the end of our encounter because she turned away before I could strike up a conversation. Driving home, I couldn’t quit thinking about her, and wishing I knew more about her situation.
An Invitation to Connect
Since I don’t live far from where this homeless woman had staked a claim, I decided to search for her the next morning. She wasn’t in her usual spot. However, as I turned a corner to head back home, I saw her overflowing cart and blanket-covered body camped out on a corner near a fast-food business. Instead of leaving, I purchased a breakfast sandwich and a large coffee. Pulling up to the curb, I asked if she were hungry. Nodding her head, she approached my car window. After accepting and thanking me for the food, she stood there, waiting. For what, I didn’t know. But somehow, that second encounter with this woman opened a door—an invitation to connect.
“Do you have somewhere to stay? Someone to stay with, out of this cold?” As if a dam had broken, she began to talk. “Yes, I’ve been waiting on my mother-in-law to pick me up, but I don’t know where she is. She should have been here by now.” She looked around, turned, and sat down to eat.
I didn’t know what else to do or say, so I wished her well and drove away. But I haven’t forgotten her. And each day since then, as I’ve driven by the abandoned storefront, I look for her presence. My community doesn’t have a homeless shelter and after talking with the police, I learned she’d refused to let them take her to a nearby larger city where she could stay in a shelter.
Everyone Has a Story
What we often forget is that everyone has a story. Each person has a different reason for their homelessness or other situation in life. Ron Hall, author of “Same Kind of Different as Me,” said, “Most people never really sat down and got to know a homeless person, but every homeless person is just a real person that was created by God, and it is the same kind of different as us; they just have a different story.”
Curiosity led me to research homelessness in our country. During my research, I came across the following quote by Austrian author Kristian Aumann: “Treat him as a friend and save a life. A homeless man is not a leper.”
It was then that I remembered how lepers were treated during Jesus’ time. Jesus didn’t reject them, just as He didn’t reject anyone seeking Him out. He healed them, showing each one He cared. Their social status didn’t matter to our Savior.
What Really Matters in Life
What really matters in life is how we treat the least of these. In Matthew 25:33-40, we read the following: “He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’”
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”
Jesus invites us to do likewise. Will you accept His invitation?
– Carol Round | ANS