While sitting with two friends in a little restaurant enjoying their company and the food, I happened to look out the window. I noticed, across the street was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back. He also had a well-worn sign that read, “I will work for food.”
I brought him to the attention of my friends. Others in the restaurant had also noticed the man. We continued with our meal, but his image lingered in my mind. We finished our meal and went our separate ways. I had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them. I glanced toward the town square, looking somewhat halfheartedly for the strange visitor. I felt a little fearful, knowing that seeing him again would call for some response. I drove through town and didn’t see him. I made my purchases at the store and got back in my car.
Deep within me, I felt I needed to try to find him. I decided to drive once more around the town square.” As I turned the square’s third corner, I saw him. He was standing on the steps of a store front church, going through his sack. I stopped feeling compelled to speak to him. There was an empty parking space on the corner, seeming to be a sign, so I pulled in, got out and approached the town’s newest visitor.
“Looking for the pastor?” I asked. “Not really, I’m just resting” he replied. “Have you eaten today?” He said, “Oh, I ate something early this morning.” Trying to find an acceptable way to reach him, I asked, “Would you like to have lunch with me?” “Sure,” he replied with a smile.
As he began to gather his things, I asked some surface questions. “Where you headed?”
“St. Louis.” he said. “Where you from?” He replied vaguely, “Oh, all over; mostly Florida.”
“How long you been walking?” I asked. “Fourteen years,” came the reply.
I knew I had met someone special. We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left earlier. His face was weathered beyond his 38 years. His eyes were dark yet clear, and he spoke with an eloquence and articulation that was not what I had expected.
Then his story began to unfold. He had seen rough times early in life. He’d made some wrong choices and paid the consequences. Fourteen years earlier, while backpacking across the country, he had stopped on the beach in Daytona. He tried to hire on with some men who were putting up a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought. He was hired, but the tent did not house a concert but revival services, and in those services he saw life more clearly.
Nothing’s been the same since,” he said, “I felt I was supposed to keep walking, and so I did, some 14 years now.” “Ever think of stopping?” I asked. “Oh, once in a while, when it seems to get the best of me. I feel I have been given a calling. I give out Bibles, That’s what’s in my sack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out when His Spirit leads.”
I sat amazed. My homeless friend was not homeless. He was on a mission and lived this way by choice. The question burned inside for a moment and then I asked: “What’s it like?” “What?” He said. “To walk into a town carrying all your things on your back and to show your sign?” “Oh, it was humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread and made a gesture that certainly didn’t make me feel welcome. But then it became humbling to realize that the Spirit was using me to touch lives and change people’s concepts of other folks like me.”
My concept was changing, too. We finished our dessert and he gathered his things. Just outside the door, he paused. He turned to me and said, “Come Ye blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom I’ve prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in.” I felt touched by his devotion and faith. “Where are you headed from here?” I asked. “Well, I found this little map on the back of this amusement park coupon.” He said “Are you hoping to hire on there for awhile?” “Not sure, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that’s where I’m going next.” He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated the sincerity of his mission. I drove him back to the town-square where we’d met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and unloaded his things.
“Would you sign my autograph book?” he asked. “I like to keep messages from folks I meet.” I wrote in his little book that his commitment to his calling had touched my life. I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, declared the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you; Plans to give you a future and a hope.”
He put his things on his back, smiled his winning smile and said, “I may not pass this way again, but if I can do good while I am here, I am blessed. It was good to meet you.”
He began his journey again. He headed away with his sign dangling from his bedroll and pack of Bibles. He stopped, turned and said, “When you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?” “You bet,” I shouted back, “God bless.” “God bless.” And that was the last I saw of him.
Late that evening as I left my office, the wind blew strong. The cold front had settled hard upon the town. I bundled up and hurried to my car. As I sat back and reached for the emergency brake, I saw them… a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the length of the handle. I picked them up and thought of my friend and wondered if his hands would stay warm that night without them. Then I remembered his words: “If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?”
Today his gloves lie on my desk in my office. They help me to see the world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember those two hours with my unique friend and to pray for his ministry.
“I shall pass this way but once. Therefore, any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.” Prayer is one of the best gifts we receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards. Let’s continue to pray for one another. May the Great Spirit bless you and may your life be happy. Help others through the spirit, where there is pain, give them your peace and mercy. Where there is self-doubt, release a renewed confidence through grace and kindness. ANON