- Blog post from: Albany Oregon | By Pastor John Leon, Executive Director
I will not forget that warm spring day ten years ago. I just got a haircut, and walked out onto the sidewalk, encountering an elderly homeless man asking a young couple for money. I was running late, and they were directly in front of my vehicle, so I barely could get around them in order to “escape” and avoid any interaction. As I succeeded and entered my car, I found myself saying, “Praise the Lord!”
However, the “relief” was short-lived as I came to a nearby stop-light, and while waiting, watched the elderly man, possessing nothing but a child-sized back-pack, walking slowly in the crosswalk in front of my vehicle. As he did, I heard the Lord say to me, “You know, John, I made him in my image, and died for him, too!” Tears welled-up in my eyes, as I asked the Lord to forgive me, and help me catch-up to the man during the rush-hour traffic. A few minutes later I was able to reach the man, and place a “gift” into his hand, while expressing God’s love for him.
He was thankful, but I think I was more grateful for the lesson God began to teach me that day, a lesson encapsulated in Scripture… “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view (NIV, 2 Cor. 5:16).” It would be several months later, this principle would be amplified in a very real and practical way when I volunteered at AHH, as the Lord prepared me for the raw reality of homelessness. He gave me three instructions: 1) Do not judge; 2) Learn their first names; and, 3) Listen to their story!
Certainly, I understood the first one, in which I was not to dismiss or disqualify anyone by my attitude or actions, but then later would discover the value of the other two dynamics. One’s name is a part of their identity. Remembering someone’s name, which may seem incidental, can go far in removing barriers of distrust and skepticism. But, more importantly, it conveys, “You are important to me…you are valued!” Often, people would be touched by the fact, “You remembered my name!”
Now, this small gesture was an introduction to something critically more significant which was to “listen to their story.” Let’s face it. Listening is a lost skill, especially in our digital, fast-paced culture. There is a reason one of Jesus’ most often repeated phrases was, “He who has an ear, let him hear!” I’ve learned, to listen to someone’s life journey is a privilege. It should be guarded as a sacred moment. The details are intricate and deeply personal, frequently dark, disillusioning, and filled with distress. Always, the story told is a soul ravaged by brokenness. And with the opportunity to hear, yes, the heartache is unavoidable for this unique, living soul, made in the image of God, who God also says is invaluable to Him.
In such moments, seeing people through the lens of the Holy Spirit is paramount. There is no time for cynicism nor feigned, detached sympathy, for that is only a view from the world’s self-protected window. Instead, it is more important to be vulnerable, “to weep with those who weep,” by investing the time, no matter the cost, that says, “Your life does indeed matter and your story is worth my interest, as well as involvement!” After all, isn’t that the heart of our gospel message, God showing up, through his Son, Jesus, and validating we are worth his love and sacrifice? No wonder, we sing Amazing Grace!
The lesson the Lord began to teach me through that homeless man years ago, has been profound. And now, to think God has entrusted me with this awesome opportunity of serving Helping Hands in this endeavor of ministry, well, it simply causes me to smile with a heart of gratitude to God, and to those he will allow me to validate through his love!
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