Dear Reading Friends, do you have a heart for the homeless? There are many ways to care for the less fortunate, who seem to be all around us nowadays. Sometimes we try too hard and miss the mark completely. Maybe God is just looking for simple Christians to care for other simple people. I hope this short story will mean something to you.—David Telbat.
A Heart for the Homeless
by D.I. Telbat
Frank Sespar fought frustration as he pulled on an old winter coat and worn-out tennis shoes. The coat was torn in several places and the shoes had holes in the toes. His jeans were torn and he’d purposely not shaved for three days. In this fashion, he climbed out of his car and walked toward Market Street, two blocks away.
When he arrived at Market Street, he prayed for God’s direction as he tried to fit in with the homeless population in the city. There were many along the street—men, women, and children. Whole families were living in tents, or under cardboard roofs, and some had no shelter at all. After several failed attempts in weeks past to evangelize the people, he had decided to dress like they dressed, to become one of them. Maybe now they would let him care for them!
But trying to reach the homeless for Christ wasn’t what frustrated him. He had tried to recruit other men from his fellowship to join him that afternoon, but no one had accepted the offer—for the fourth week in a row. They’d all had different excuses. So, he had come on his own, alone with a burdened heart for the unfortunate.
Now that he appeared like a homeless person as they were, Frank was confident that people would respond to him. They would finally receive the gospel tracts he wanted to pass out. Even alone, he would make a difference in the city!
However, the farther Frank walked up Market Street, the more the homeless people seemed to draw away from him. His pocket was still full of tracts when he thought it would be empty by now. Didn’t he look just like them? What was wrong?
Finally, he turned around and started back down the other side of the street. Suddenly, he noticed a man who wore nicer clothes than most of the people, yet he wasn’t being shunned. And the man had a weathered Bible in his hands! How was he able to reach them, when he looked so different?
Frank drew closer and listened to the man with the Bible speak to a small family who appeared to be living on a soiled bed mattress under an awning. The people visited with the man. He even read from the Bible, listened to their stories, and laughed when a boy told a joke.
Distraught and confused, Frank walked away from Market Street and returned to his car. He opened the trunk and took off the clothes he’d worn to get the people to accept him. Uncertain what God was teaching him, Frank sat in the front seat and rested his head against the steering wheel. How could God give him a heart to reach the homeless, but not the wits to know how to connect with them?
“How can that other man be reaching them, Lord, but I can’t?” Frank asked, near tears. “How would Jesus reach them, Father?”
As quickly as his words left his mouth, the answer seemed to hit him like a warm breeze. He scoffed at himself, feeling foolish that he’d gone to such unnecessary lengths to communicate with the people on the street. The homeless probably even recognized him from his previous attempts to talk to them. Sometimes he had come in nice clothes, and then he’d walked the street in torn and aged clothes. They probably thought he was nuts!
Laughing at himself, he picked up his Bible and walked away from his car. Wearing his normal clothes, as if he’d just come from the park, he strolled back to Market Street, feeling light and free. A few blocks up the street, he sat down on the sidewalk next to a fire hydrant and acknowledged the people around him.
Nearby, a woman was giving a man a haircut. Two youths watched the man’s hair slowly disappear, making wise cracks about the job the woman was doing. And farther away, a man who wore a sun visor sat with a dog with no leash or collar. They appeared to be best friends. And across the street, two women sat on the curb. It looked like they were sewing or patching a blanket as they gossiped.
Soon, a man walked up to Frank and sat down next to him. They talked about the weather and what it would be like to be out fishing on a lake. Others arrived, and Frank found himself in the middle of a discussion about whether analog or digital watches were better.
After a while, someone asked who he was, and Frank shared that he’d been searching for a reason to be alive, and God had opened his eyes to some things. For a few minutes, Frank opened up with the people what he’d found to be meaningful in the story of Jesus dying on the cross. The people listened and asked questions, and although Frank didn’t have all the answers to their questions, it didn’t seem as important as spending time with the people on the street.
When Frank returned to his car that evening, his heart was both glad and saddened by what he’d discovered. He was glad to learn that he didn’t need to fake his appearance to reach people, who simply wanted to be noticed and valued. And he was saddened that he was only now realizing there were so many to care for, and so few were responding to the need.
At home, he shared with his wife all that God had taught him the last few weeks. After some silence, she asked if he would like some company the next time he went to Market Street. She said she would like to sit with the people as well.
“That’s what I was misunderstanding at first,” Frank admitted. “I wasn’t willing to sit with them. Now, I know it’s not about what I’m wearing on the outside, but how I’m joining myself to them on the inside. And I think we should go back tomorrow!”