It's not to often that I run into homeless people outside of an organization that exists to help those very people. And I certainly didn't expect to on a Monday, the day which I usually refer to as the "day of 100 little tasks" that I try to finish so the rest of my week is cleared up for people, message preparation, etc.
But while I was driving back from another church where I had stopped at to drop off flyers I drove by someone walking along the highway, carrying what seemed to be a decent amount of stuff. But he was on the other side of the road. For some reason, I was tired of observing and thought maybe I should interact. So, I turned around to to see if he needed any help. Of course, by the time I got to him he had crossed the street. I thought I had lost him! So, I drove into the park and saw him sitting on a bench.
Not sure what was about to happen...but I went up and asked him if he'd like to eat lunch with me, which I assumed was more polite than saying "are you hungry?" I introduced myself and he told me his name was Mack.
So, we loaded up his stuff into my car and he apologized for not having showered recently because he didn't want to get my car dirty. So, I asked him where he wanted to eat and he said "Do you have a Long John Silvers?" I said "yep, that's sounds great, my wife never likes going there!"
So, we went and had lunch at Long John Silvers. We just talked. Mack is 54. He never mentioned the word "homeless." Just that he had "been traveling" since 1980. Yeah, 28 years!!! He had been working in Columbia City for a little while but work ran out and now he was moving on. He told me the places he'd been (San Francisco, Mt. Rushmore, Washington DC) and that he thought Missouri sounded like a good place to try to find some work.
He talked about what it was like to be integrated in the school's with white people in Alabama, where he grew up. He told me how he used to be in the Marines in the late 70's, how his G.I. payments had run out, how he hadn't talked to any of his 7 living sibling in 20 years. He talked about how people threw things at him when he slept in public and called him the "n" word.
And yet, he talked about how he knew Jesus and accepted him 20 years ago. He mentioned that he liked to visit different churches, but always felt bad that he didn't have nice clothes. We talked about it for a while...
After we were done having lunch (he packed 1/2 of his meal for the road) we drove to meijer to get him some more food. Pepperoni, sausage, any type of meat that didn't have to be kept cold, and some water and cheezits. I told him I knew places he could stay and rest if he wanted, but he stated he really wanted to get to Missouri. So, I took him to the nearest bus stop and paid his fare and gave him the little money I had in my wallet. He thanked me. And that was it...
As I reflect on our meeting several things come to mind:
-He laughed a lot, like he was pretty happy, but I could see he was tired.
-He rarely made eye contact, I wonder if people avoided eye contact with him so often that he stopped making eye contact with people?
-He knew I was "with a church." How? I don't know...I never even told him I was a pastor. Does this mean that the church had been the place that has helped him the most over the years???
-When I shook his hand and patted him on the arm he seemed startled, like he didn't have much human interaction.
I left him not sure how I had really helped or what else I could've done. I don't write this to try to show that I did some great small deed, but instead to help me process what happened. What else could I have done??? Or did I do what he really needed...and I had to leave it to the next person on his path to help him? I don't know...but I told Mack I'd pray for him.