Welcome, Friends! “Homeless Heart” is Christian fiction that brings together everything this site represents: giving sacrificially for others, as Christ sacrificed Himself for us. Many of us wonder how we could do anything so sacrificial, but it’s probably much simpler than that. When we care, we respond, because Christ’s love inside us compels us to. That’s all. Meet my friend Leon.
by D.I. Telbat
Leon Elroy watched out his front window as his son Ricky played soccer in the street with neighborhood children. His eleven year old was growing up so fast. As Jennifer, his wife, tutored their youngest through math problems at the dining table, Leon prayed he was raising Ricky right. The world was such a mess; he wasn’t sure how else but by prayer and love to get through to Ricky how to be a young man after God’s own heart.
The children on the street suddenly stopped playing. There was no through traffic in the cul-de-sac. Then Leon noticed a raggedy man with a grocery cart approaching the kids. There were twelve children, most of them boys around Ricky’s age. A few of the younger ones backed away from the homeless man who appeared to not have had a proper haircut in months.
Whatever the man said, a youth near Ricky waved his hand in front of his nose and shoved the grocery cart away. Another boy picked up a rock. As the homeless man withdrew down the street, the boy threw the rock. The throw was short, but the rock bounced off the pavement and hit the man’s leg as he hustled away. Ricky was among those who laughed and picked up more stones to hurl at the stranger. In startled dismay, Leon was immovable for a few seconds.
Since their neighborhood was far from the city center’s many shelters and soup kitchens, they didn’t see many homeless people on their street. But that was no excuse for the children’s actions. He headed to the door to put a stop to the terrible unkindness.
By the time Leon got to his door, the children were back to their afternoon games. Leon returned to the window, tears flowing from his eyes. Clearly, it was time for Ricky to see what they’d hidden from him all these years. And maybe, he prayed, his son would never be a part of another act of cruelty ever again.
That night, as Jennifer put their daughter to bed, Leon called Ricky into the den.
“Did I do something wrong?” Ricky crossed his arms. “I did the dishes, Dad, even though it wasn’t my turn.”
“I know. Thanks for doing that.” Leon gestured to the screen on the wall. “I’d like to show you something.”
“Do I have to? I’m tired.”
“Besides the Bible, what you’re about to see will change your life. Well, it should.”
“This better be good.” Ricky plopped down on the arm of the sofa. “It better not be boring.”
Leon frowned and touched a button on the remote.
“You let me know, son.”
The screen snapped to white. A cell phone had captured a winter day, a city-scape, and an urban bridge in the foreground. The view swept slowly from right to left. A man’s voice narrated the scene, but Leon kept the volume low.
“The man who shot this was making some real estate footage for his friends,” Leon said to Ricky. “And . . . there’s your mother’s car. Here she comes onto the bridge. You can’t see, but you’re in the back seat in your car seat. You were six months old.”
“I don’t remember that green car.”
“No, I suppose you don’t.”
The car approached the middle of the bridge. Suddenly, the car seemed to float as the tires hit black ice. The vehicle careened one way, then the other. It crossed the lane and smashed through the guard rail. The phone footage seemed to go wild for a few seconds, then steadied to capture the car hanging half-off the bridge.
Ricky was on his feet, his mouth gaping. Leon had viewed the video dozens of times over the years, so he watched his son, a prayer in his heart that the boy would be shaken in the right way, not just shocked.
The car started to tip off the bridge to the frozen river below when a man in a winter coat leapt onto the back of the car. With a foot on the bumper and his body on the trunk, the car’s rear wheels leaned back to the bridge surface.
Ricky gasped as a woman appeared on the screen and threw open the rear door of the car. An instant later, she pulled infant Ricky free. Then, Jennifer tumbled headfirst from the same rear door and rolled away from the car.
There seemed to be an invisible hand tipping the car up, its rear wheels lifting again, even with the man still on the back. Slowly, the man rose with the bumper until the whole car was vertical, then it slipped out of sight.
“What—?” Ricky stared at his father. “What happened? Where’d that guy go?”
Leon let the video run for another minute as the man holding the phone ran to the destroyed bridge edge and zoomed in on the disappearing car. The dark water claimed the vehicle and man. Ice, two inches thick, floated over the interrupted water, and the car was gone. The video ended.
“Well, what about the guy?” Ricky flailed his arms. “What happened to him?”
“Do you need to watch the clip again? You saw what happened to him, son. He held down the car so you and your mother could escape.”
“Yeah, but why didn’t he let go?”
“No one knows. They pulled him out of the river the next day. He’s buried at the cemetery in the city. Maybe he thought there were more people in the car, so he kept hanging on. Or maybe his sleeve got caught on the trunk somehow. Do you want to know his name?”
“Steve Verber. He was a band teacher at a school in the city. His wife came down with cancer so he left his job to take care of her while she was dying. He lost everything, so he was living on the streets.”
“He was homeless?” Ricky sat again on the sofa arm. He contemplated the scenes he’d just seen. “Does Mom know about this?”
“Well, she was there.”
“I know, but this video?”
“Yeah, we watch it sometimes together and pray for you. That man saved you and your mother’s life.”
“But he died!”
“He did. Sometimes people die so others can live. It’s a sacrifice some are willing to make for the good of others.”
Ricky was silent for a few moments, and Leon let him process the tragedy.
“Why did you show this to me now?”
“You can see it’s very serious, son. It takes a certain kind of heart to handle it.”
“The man in the coat was homeless?” he asked again.
“That’s right. And the woman who pulled you out of the car was the girlfriend of the man who took the video. They got married, then divorced, and we lost touch, unfortunately. But we still have the footage.”
“But how could a homeless man do that for me?”
“Homeless people are just normal people, Ricky, with stories similar to our own. Steve Verber went through a hard time. A lot of people do. But we can’t think less of them for their circumstances or smaller income. In most cases, we can see God’s design to test our responses toward others in need. Will we be disciples of Christ, or live lives that ignore the One who died for us?”
“He died for me.” Ricky nodded. “I don’t know what to think right now. It’s a lot.”
“You’ll know what to think, eventually. God will guide you, if you trust Him to teach you how to work through this.” Leon set a hand on his son’s shoulder. “That man volunteered his life for you to live. The only question is, how will you live now?”
Leon began to leave the den.
“Thank you, Dad.”
“You’re welcome, son. Have a good night.”
The next morning, Leon heard his son leave the house early. When he returned around noon, famished, Ricky said he’d been out looking for someone with a grocery cart. He hadn’t found him yet, but he wouldn’t stop looking. Leon didn’t ask questions. This was something Ricky had to sort out between himself and God. But his heart was on the right track.
You can find other Christian fiction short stories by D.I. Telbat here, and other stories here.
COMING UP: Please join us again next MONDAY for David Telbat’s book review on By Faith Alone by Founder/Director of Vision Beyond Borders, Missionary Patrick Klein. And the following week, we have David’s short story, “Faith through the Tornado.”