“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 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.” Matthew 25:31-35 (NLT)
So this past weekend we celebrated Thanksgiving, and then the following day amongst the United States “shopping world” is called Black Friday. Most likely called that due to the fact that all the stores open with these amazing deals when it is still dark (black) outside. Did I wake up at 3 a.m. and go shopping? No. But I did end up at the mall that day to watch a movie and explore the stores in hopes of finding some awesome deals. I wanted new shoes, I wanted new jeans, I wanted the iPod compatible Nike+ chip that would magically get me back into physical condition. Ha! But every time I picked up something and sometimes stood in line to purchase it, I talked myself out of it. It really tugged in my heart more and more that I don’t need those things. I have jeans and shoes. I can go running with just discipline instead of having a fancy gadget that just sits in my shoe. I am very fortunate to have what I do have and God helped me realize that over and over again on this past Black Friday.
My family lives in Charlotte, N.C. and so that is where I spent my holiday weekend. It was a great time of relaxation and family-times, but a long drive home. I left a little later than planned but got plenty of sleep, got to see our Christmas tree put up, hugs all-around, and then hit the road. For the next 4 hours I planned on just cruising and listening to worship music. Praising God and having awesome car conversations with Him about things in my life now. Praying for those I care about and things I know people need prayer for. It was an awesome ride as I just shuffled through 1,000 Hillsong songs I have on the iPod. But about 20 miles west of Whiteville the speed limit goes back down to 35mph for about the 5th time, sometimes annoying going from 70mph to 35mph over and over. But as I was driving I flew past a dark silhouette at the corner of this four-way intersection. He was walking backwards just putting his bags on as if he had just been dropped off. As he got smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror, I gazed at my empty passenger seat. I always travel with an empty passenger seat just for this reason. But it hasn’t happened in a very long time.
I begin to pray, reasoning back and forth with God. Feeling the tug on my heart but also throwing thoughts away, but the whole time looking for a turn-around. I drive 5 miles, still nothing. Continuing to pray for this man and arguing with God I reach another 5 miles, still nothing. About that time I am content that it wasn’t meant to be for me to pick him up and settle back down in my seat (and in my head), but not in my heart. It must of been around 12 miles and I came to another stoplight with a four-way intersection. I popped right back up and turn on my blinker. I threw away any hesitation this time and sped up to pick him up before someone else did. Now I’m not saying it is safe to just go pick up any person off the street and take them somewhere. I definitely approached with caution and engaged him with still room to bail if he seemed threatening or intoxicated. I luckily grew up in downtown Charlotte and watched my dad (a music pastor also) encounter many homeless men both safe and not so safe. I paid great attention to his wisdom in approaching the homeless. After it was obvious this somewhat clean-cut African American man just needed a ride and was actually just heading less than 20 miles down the road, I got out to help him with his bags. Here I meet Melvin.
He had two bags, both rather heavy, stuffed to the brim as he pulled out a map to show where he needed to go and where I could drop him off. He gets situated and we start heading down 74 east towards Whiteville. We begin to chat, but the conversation slows pretty quickly as his words became more softer and blurred. I’m still acting like I was intently listening even though I could barely make out what he was saying. He did mention in the beginning he hadn’t slept for two days, spent Thanksgiving night alone outside and didn’t sleep, and had the same loss of fortune the following night. Within the first five minutes of the ride he was out like a light.
I was instantly overtaken and began to wonder how tired was this man? He could barely stay awake 5 minutes? As my thoughts continued I began to wonder what he had been through? Where did he come from? How far must he have walked? What is it like to not sleep for two straight nights, and better yet spend them alone on the streets? By that time I had prayed continually for him and looked up as we came to the Whiteville exit. He awakened as I slowed down but continued to fall in and out of sleep as I decided to just drive around so he could do so. Finally I just asked him if he knew where he wanted to go, and he didn’t. He was just seeking a church for help or a place to sleep. So we continued to drive around and talk a bit.
Then it hit me, yet another tug on my heart, this time with no hesitation. Matthew 25. The verse about “hunger and you fed me, tired and you took me in”. I told him we’d turn around and I’d put him up in the Best Western we passed. Minutes later we had a room and he wanted to go to the grocery store. Perfect. So I took him and though it was a very funny sight, we walked around Food Lion and found all his favorites. Definitely interesting and eye-opening seeing how simply and cheap he shopped. Yet he was content and wanted nothing greater, despite my suggestions for “better food” he was happy with a Cup-O-Noodle and hot dogs. With a few other things in the cart we checked out and headed back to the hotel. I had to find out if I would see him again one day.
I drove a little slower back to the hotel as I opened the conversation about the exact verse from Matthew 25. He began to thank me and I explained to Him that I believed in Jesus Christ and if He was in my place He would be doing the same thing. That I lived my life to do things and love people the way He did. He wasn’t in shock, but understood and continued to thank me. I then asked him if he believed in Jesus and without hesitation he said “yes” and began to tell me that he believe in Christ and God. That He died for him and loves Him very much. My heart exploded! I was secretly happy and content in knowing that this wouldn’t be the last time I would see Melvin. Within minutes we were back at the hotel, dropped off his food and after an awkward hug (I don’t think he gets them much) I was on my way.
So I know this is a long story and it sure isn’t meant for me to be up on a pedestal to say “look what I did”. But I have personally been praying for opportunities to serve God’s people in need. I have made it a focus to be ready for anything and to serve as He leads me. But see the obedience began with the tug on my heart not to buy those shoes or jeans. I didn’t understand why, just knew I didn’t need to. I don’t have much money and saving for a honeymoon and soon-to-be marriage are top priority. Honestly if I had bought them, I wouldn’t of been able to afford that hotel room or food for Melvin. Then there was also that tug on my heart to just pick him up. Then the reminder of scripture, paying for hotel and food. Did I do all those things without hesitation completely? Without battling thoughts telling me not to pick him up, or just drop him off and keep on home? YES! But as those thoughts came through I fought them, as Gods truth rang in my ears. ”I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.” I just simply obeyed Him. He instructs us to have compassion on those in need and He often tugs our hearts towards moments to do so. Today I was lucky and fortunate to be close enough to Him to obey.
Are you praying for opportunities to serve Christ? Are you praying for an openness to obey Him as He tugs your heart? Whose life will you impact today as a result of direct obedience to His word? Will you fight the opposition as He tugs your heart to a world in need?
Did I end up feeling good about this experience? Yes and no. Initially no. I became more heart-broken for the homeless and people who have to live like that. I began to actually cry. In a time of thanksgiving was I truly thankful for the things I am fortunate to have? But as time drew on I began to be happy for thoughts of Melvin sleeping in that bed. For what happiness he may have in his dreams under a blanket, or watching TV for the first time in a while. To know that one day we shall see each other again. Be bold. Take action. Live for Him.