Tuesday, May 30, 2006
I went on a mission trip to Antigua, Guatemala, in January. It was a wonderful experience. We spent a week ministering to a group of mostly-teenaged girls at an orphanage. The opportunity to focus on ministry, completely away from my everyday life (which is where life is really lived) was soul feeding. A few nights into our visit, a few of us splintered off after dinner, wandering about the cobbled streets of Antigua looking for a place to enjoy ice cream and more conversation. I had already come to love the people in our group of 15 or so. All but two of them had been complete strangers before we met on the trip. As we wandered aimlessly in search of dessert, we laughed plenty and acted silly. Along the way, I passed by a homeless man and felt sorry for him. But I didn't know what I could do for him. We walked on by. You have to walk on, right? There are so many people like him across the world.
I read a book recently that really has my attention. It's "Always Enough" by Rolland and Heidi Baker. The book details the Bakers' experience sharing God's love (right along with food, shelter, medical attention and education) with the poorest of the poor in Zimbabwe. Along with incredible hardships, they've also witnessed and been part of incredible miracles: the blind seeing, the lame walking and more amazing things.
But it's not the miracles that hit me squarely between the eyes (though their accounting is remarkable). No, it's Heidi Baker's conviction that God has commissioned her over and over again to take care of "the one." The one in front of her. Likewise, God has commissioned us -- we Christians -- to care for the one in front of us. In other words, we shouldn't spend our time shaking our heads about how "the poor will always be with us" (and I'm not just speaking of the monetarily poor). Rather, when we see someone who is obviously in need, we should discover if we're able to help him -- and, if so, act.
That's scary stuff, y'all. At least it is for me. What, I can't keep walking past the homeless guy when I'm having a good time with my friends? Well, of course I can keep on walking. Of course I can. But should I? Will I?
Monday Roy and I got the kids up and headed to Georgetown, where our awesome friends Janet and Wade (I have to put Janet first; I've known her longer and she's The Keeper of Girlhood Secrets) were hosting a Memorial Day party, complete with bouncy house and 1,000 hamburger patties. It's about a three-hour drive. Normally.
My daughter doesn't look a thing like me. She doesn't have my hair, my eyes or (thank you, Jesus) my absurdly long toes. She does, however, get carsick like her momma and her momma's momma. Let me just say pulling over quickly when you're traveling 70 mph in the fast lane alongside concrete barriers is no small achievement. But Roy, bless his heart, did just that. Major points to Madeline for being able to wait long enough that the Crayon box did not become a receptacle of something the folks at Mattel never dreamed of.
After repeating this scene a second time, we decided 10:30 might not be too early for lunch after all. So we stopped in Temple at -- what else -- McDonald's. Sure, their food is gross and the McNuggets are barely edible pieces of chicken wrapped in fat. But, HEY, they have a playground. And there's really unimaginative, cheap toys in the Happy Meals!
Roy and the kids walked ahead of me into the restaurant. A middle-aged man in a black, Lynyrd Skynyrd cowboy hat sat a few yards from the entrance door. His feet were Indian-style and pulled under one bony elbow was a small travel bag. I had noticed him when we drove up. Now I would have to walk past him like the group of people ahead of us. He didn't speak to anyone.
Help the one, I thought. So I stopped in front of him. He looked up without speaking.
"Do you need anything?" I asked.
He stared a moment more. "Something to eat," he said. I told him I'd get him a burger. Just before I walked in the door he added sheepishly, "And a cup of coffee."
I told Roy what to add to our order and why. When we got our food I asked the man if he wanted to eat with us. He did. The playground was an outdoor one, and as it turned out, the kids never sat down with us anyway. So we sat at an outside booth and talked.
His name is Leray. He was mugged getting off a bus somewhere. They took all his luggage but the one bag. They took his money and his bus ticket. He was sleeping at a mission, waiting to get past the holiday weekend before he started hitchhiking toward a friend's house in New Mexico.
At Roy's questioning Leray told us, haltingly, he had served two tours in Vietnam. I noticed, though he was in need of fresh clothes, his shirt was tucked in and he wore a belt.
I felt the Lord urging me to say more, pushing me out of my comfort zone. So near the end of the meal, I told Leray the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, about how Jesus told the woman, "If you drink this water, you'll be thirsty again. But if you drink of the Living Water, you'll never thirst again." I told him we were happy to buy him a hamburger and give him a little cash, but he'd be hungry again and run out of money. "Jesus," I said, "is the Living Water. He can take care of you far past this meal. If you don't have him, I want you to."
He just stared at me a moment, his eyes moist. "I do," he said simply.
When we said goodbye, I hugged him. He told me, "Thank you for talking to me about Jesus." What a simple thing.
I share all this for two reasons: to remind myself that once is not near, near enough. That I must minister to the one over and over and over again -- even when the one isn't so pleasant. And to say that if I, the greatest of sinners, can begin to do this, we all can.