A couple of months ago I was sitting in a job networking meeting I attend every week with several other people who, like me, are unemployed and looking for work. There were twelve, maybe thirteen of us total. On this particular day, a homeless man named Perry entered the room just as we were getting started and took the only available seat which was next to me. He carried his backpack with him which appeared to be almost empty. I thought to myself that it took an incredible amount of courage for him to come to our meeting knowing that the comfort level of most people towards the homeless in any situation is, well, not exactly welcoming.
Since there were a number of new people at this meeting, the facilitator asked us to go around the table and share a little information about ourselves and what type of work we were seeking. When it was time for Perry to speak, he stated in a soft voice that he was homeless and living under a tree in the woods. I don’t think there was any of us in that room that didn’t feel horrible at his plight. The facilitator mentioned that he should meet with a woman afterwards who worked there who could help him find some community resources. Perry hardly moved from his slightly slumped position in his chair and said nothing else for the duration of the meeting. I leaned over and gave him the woman’s name and encouraged him to meet with her. At the end of the meeting Perry was one of the first to leave the room, and I left a few minutes later but didn’t see him in the main lobby area. I was afraid he had left without seeking any assistance.
As I left the building I noticed an old, somewhat rusty bicycle leaning against a tree by the sidewalk. I was engaged in a conversation with a woman who had attended the meeting and as we got to the sidewalk, we parted company. I looked over again at the bicycle and this time Perry was standing by it. I asked him if he was able to meet with the woman who could help him find some help and he said, yes, but she was currently meeting with someone so he had to wait.
We ended up talking for about 15-20 minutes. He told me how he ended up homeless and that at one time he had been married, raising a family, had a decent job, and he and his wife and kids were very involved in a church for over nine years in the local community. He had developed a muscle disease that prevented him at times from doing some of the physical work at his job, but it was minor and in the beginning was not a problem for his employer. However, the muscle disease caused him to have jerking motions periodically which didn’t keep him from his work but bothered his employer and some of his coworkers. The employer eventually let him go and he was unable to find work. Eventually he lost his home and his wife left him. His son was attending a local community college. He said he’d been living out in the woods for the past year.
He didn’t appear to be angry, and he was very soft spoken and considerate. As we talked he asked me about my situation and I told him I was also unemployed and that my unemployment benefits ran out at the end of May and that I no longer had any income. I asked him if he had any money and he said no. I knew I had a $20 bill in my purse, so I put my stuff on the ground and got the $20 out and gave it to him. He absolutely did not want to take it as he knew I was unemployed with no income. I told him, “Look, Perry, right now I have a more than you do. I want you to take it.” Again he insisted that I keep it and I said no. He pulled out an incredibly dilapidated billfold with absolutely nothing in it and put the $20 inside. I asked him if I could pray for him (and if you knew me, you’d know that I absolutely hate praying in public where others can hear), and he said yes. It was a short prayer, and I put my arm around his shoulders as asked God to come to his aid in his current situation. As I ended the prayer, we both looked at each other and our eyes filled up with tears, and we hugged each other. Right then the woman he was waiting to meet with became available to see him. Before he left I encouraged him to come back to the meeting next week.
As I was leaving to go back to my seasonal rental, I wondered when the last time was when someone had shown him kindness or engaged him in conversation. I never saw him again after that day as he never returned to attend another meeting. I did find out that the woman he met with was able to help him apply for food stamps, find a place to shower, and a temporary place to stay if he wanted it.
“Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand” (Phil. 2:4 MSG). When I met Perry on that day, for a short while I was able to take my eyes off of my own unemployment situation and for a very short time step into the shoes of someone much worse off than me. It humbled me in a way I won’t soon forget. A couple of years ago I read an outstanding book titled, “Same Kind Of Different As Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. It’s a true story about a homeless man, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together. Reading that book forever changed how I viewed the homeless. And meeting and talking with Perry did, too.
The title for this post, “Don’t Write Off Anyone,” extends to others besides the homeless. For example, it could be much closer to home–like a coworker you can’t stand, or the gossip you believed about someone without really knowing them so you just wrote them off. It could be a family member or a friend you’ve been angry with for years so you refuse to have anything more to do with them. Maybe it’s a clerk who was totally rude to you but you don’t know the story behind her rudeness (maybe her husband just left her). We all have a tendency to write off people for any number of reasons, most of them faulty if we look beneath the surface.
As a Christian, I am incredibly grateful that God didn’t write me off. There are no words adequate enough to express my gratitude that Jesus Christ went to the cross on my behalf. God could have written off you and me and all of humanity, but He didn’t. The cross stands as the greatest invitation to this world; and, in fact, it’s an invitation that’s open to anyone willing to believe. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). As I have mentioned previously, if you want to know more, read the Gospel of John.
If the God of this universe didn’t write us off, how can we write off others? The answer, if we are Christian, is that we can’t.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).
The inspiration for this blog post came from a chapter title by the same name in Max Lucado’s book, “Outlive Your Life” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).
YouTube Video: “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?” by Jimmy Ruffin (1966)
Photo credit here