By Karen Swank
I am sitting on a park bench in Chicago with Lino, who I have brought to the “big city” to get a closer look at full time community life in missions at Jesus People USA with me. It’s an hour or so before we have to catch the train home, and we’ve come to see “the bean” (which is an amazing piece of sculpture) after having spent much of our time serving meals to homeless people who are not permitted to lounge around such beautiful places very long.
We’ve had an awesome few days and are not really ready to go home. We sit talking and resting our feet for a few minutes.
And here he comes.
Rolling up in a wheel chair, he looks me in the eye and says, “Baby, don’t be afraid of me.”
I am immediately on the defensive; being called “baby” by a perfect stranger is not usually the beginning of a good conversation.
But I smile and say nothing.
He tells me a story: he’s gotten too far away from home and he’s diabetic. He just needs money for a meal to get home. His blood sugar is crashing and he is in desperate need of help. Can I help?
In some ways, my answer is simple. We’ve come to the City with almost nothing and have spent it all. I only have enough money to get our stuff out of the locker at the train station…not a dime to spare. I’m getting off easy here because there’s not much of a decision to make.
Still, I am on the defensive. I am from a town so small you can walk from one end of it to the other at 10 p.m. and perhaps not encounter even one other person…so small we all know each other’s names and business…so small that the homeless population is hidden from sight and does not come offending the public with desperate requests for help in the middle of the park. All I know for sure is that I am naive and not savvy to the games city people play.
I look him over, not sure if there really is a home he can return to. I wonder if he’s looking for money to buy another bottle or fill another pipe. His hands are shaking and I open my bag. Inside are the snacks I have stashed for our train ride: peanuts in a baggie, 3 muffins, and a banana. I explain to him that I have no money, but he is welcome to what I have.
He takes it gratefully, thanking me lavishly and opening the bag of nuts to eat it as he rolls away. I watch him sadly, and Lino and I talk on the way home about the crisis of another’s need. I will never know for sure who he was or what he was really looking for. I pray for him each time I remember him. I think this morning of how I needed to evaluate him as he asked me for help – of my need to know the truth about his request.
I see myself in the journey of my faith, and how often I have come to church looking for something…sometimes in sincerity and honesty, and sometimes holding on to my own secrets and motivations. I remember the ones who have sat in the same sanctuary, offending the nice folks with their rough edges and acting in ways that call into question their sincerity in coming here.
I think of my need as a Sunday school teacher and youth church leader to find my “students” sincere, willing and non-manipulative. I recall the secrets I have carried in my own heart while sitting in the sanctuary and Sunday school rooms…the darkness in me that would offend nice people all around me if they had seen or heard it at the time.
I write this on a Saturday. Tomorrow, people will roll into churches all across the world. Some will come with sincerity. Some will come to play games. Some will feel like they are good people. Some will know they are not.
Almost all of them will want to know the truth about the others’ motivations before reaching out and loving them. Almost none of them will take the chance of extending heart and hand to someone who might just be here for the spiritual equivalent of another bottle or another pipe.
This, my friends, grieves the heart of God and puts a black mark on the name of Christ, whom we profess to serve, love and emulate. Just for one day, let’s repent of our need to be little gods with full rights to judge the ones with whom we sit. Just for one day, let’s love each other, and forget about protecting ourselves from possible hidden motives.
Just for one day, let’s love like Jesus. I’ll try. Will you?
Karen is from Aledo, IL. She went to Monmouth College and studied Latin and English. She is a biological mom of two children and surrogate mom/friend/advocate for a whole host of children. She would like to meet every wounded soul that I’ve she’s ever known… as a child, before the “damage was done” so she could tell them how much they are loved.