This story was shared with me by a pastor several years ago and I wanted to share it with you all this evening. One of the elders in his church told him this story and said that it had changed his whole outlook on being a believer ad on his response to people that God brings across his path. Here is what he said:
“I sat, with two friends, looking out of the picture window of a quaint restaurant just off the corner of the town-square. The food and the company were both especially good that day.
As we talked, my attention was drawn outside, across the street. There, walking into town, was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back. He was carrying a well-worn sign that read, ‘I will work for food.’ My heart sank.
I brought him to the attention of my friends and noticed that others around us had stopped eating to focus on him. Heads moved in a mixture of sadness and cynicism.
The stranger continued through the square and out of sight and we continued with our meal. The image of the stranger lingered in my mind and I wasn’t as attentive to the conversation or the food as I had been.
We finished our meal and went our separate ways. I had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them. I glanced toward the town square, looking somewhat halfheartedly for the strange visitor. I was a bit fearful, though, because I knew that seeing him again would call some kind of response on my part. I drove through town but saw nothing of him.
I made a couple of stops, made some purchases at a store and then got back in my car and headed for my office.Deep within me, the Spirit of God kept speaking to me: ‘Don’t go back to the office until you’ve driven at least once more around the square…Don’t go back to the office until you’ve driven at least once more around the square.’
After a little hesitancy, I headed back into town. As I turned the third corner of the square, I saw him. He was standing on the steps of the store-front church, going through his sack.
I stopped and looked; I felt compelled to do two things: I felt compelled to speak to him, yet I also felt compelled just to drive on to my office. The empty parking space on the corner by where the man stood seemed to be a sign from God – like an invitation to park. I pulled in, got out and approached the town’s newest visitor.
‘Looking for the pastor?’ I asked.
‘Not really,’ he replied, ‘just resting.’
‘Have you eaten today?’
‘Oh, I ate something early this morning, thank you.’
‘Would you like to have lunch with me?’
‘Do you have some work I could do for you?’
‘No work,’ I replied. ‘I have a small one-man office on the outskirts of town, but I would like to take you to lunch.’
‘Sure,’ he replied with a smile.
As he began to gather his things, I asked some surface questions. ‘Where you headed?’
‘St. Louis .’
‘Where you from?’
‘Oh, all over; mostly Florida.’
‘How long you been walking?’
‘Fourteen years,’ came the reply.
I was stunned and I knew I had met someone unusual. He was gentle and well spoken – not at all what a “professional” homeless person seemed like they would be to me.
We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left earlier. His face was weathered somewhat beyond his 38 years. His eyes were dark yet clear, and he spoke with an eloquence and articulation that was startling. He removed his jacket to reveal a bright red T-shirt that said, ‘Jesus Is The Never Ending Story.’
Daniel – the name of my new friend – began to unfold his story. He had seen some very rough times early in his life. He’d made some wrong and bad choices and had reaped the consequences. Fourteen years earlier while backpacking across the country, trying to make some sense out of his life, he had stopped on the beach in Daytona, Florida. He had tried to hire on with some men who were putting up a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought.
He was hired to help for the day, but the tent would not be housing a concert that evening. It would be housing revival services that evening and over the next several days. Daniel stuck around. And it was during those services that he heard some things he had never heard before, felt some things he had never felt before and thought some things that he had never thought before. He began to see his life a whole lot more clearly. On the third night of the revival, he gave his life over to God.
‘Nothing’s been the same since,’ he said, ‘I felt the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did – some 14 years now.’
‘Ever think of stopping?’ I asked.
‘Oh, once in a while, when things seem to get the best of me But, God has given me this calling. I give out Bibles and talk to people about Jesus Christ. That’s what’s in my sack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out whenever and to whomever His Spirit leads me to.’
I sat there amazed at what I was hearing. My homeless friend was not really homeless. He was on a mission and he lived this way by choice. The question burned inside for a moment and then I asked: ‘What is it like?’
‘To walk into a town carrying all your belongings on your back and to show your sign?’
‘Oh, it was humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread and made a rude gesture that certainly didn’t make me feel welcome. But then it became humbling to realize that God was using me to touch lives and change people’s concepts of Him and of other folks like me.’
My perceptions were changing, too. We finished our dessert and he gathered his things. Just outside the door, he paused. He turned to me and said, ‘Come Ye blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom I’ve prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in.’
I felt as if we were standing on holy ground. ‘Could you use another Bible?’ I asked.
He said he preferred a certain translation. It traveled well, was not too heavy and was easy for people to understand. It was also his personal favorite. ‘I’ve read through it 14 times,’ he said.
‘I’m not sure we’ve got one of those, but let’s stop by our church and see.’ I was able to find my new friend a Bible that would do well, and he seemed very grateful.
‘Where are you headed from here?’ I asked.
‘Well, I found this little map on the back of this amusement park coupon,’ he said, pulling out a folded and well-worn flyer from his hip pocket.
‘Are you hoping to hire on there for awhile?’
‘No, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that’s where I’m going next.’
He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated with the peace from His relationship with Christ and with the sincerity of his mission. I drove him back to the town-square where we’d met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and he unloaded his things.
‘Would you sign my autograph book?’ he asked. ‘I like to keep messages from folks I meet.’
I wrote in his little book that his commitment to his calling had touched my life I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah, ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declared the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you; Plans to give you a future and a hope.’
‘Thanks, man,’ he said. ‘I know we just met and we’re really just strangers, but I love you.’
‘I know,’ I said, ‘I love you, too.’
‘The Lord is good!’
‘Yes, He is. How long has it been since someone hugged you?’ I asked.
‘A long time,’ he replied.
And so on the busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced, and I felt deep inside that I had been changed. He put his things on his back, smiled his winning smile and said, ‘See you in the New Jerusalem!’
‘I’ll be there!’ was my reply.
And so he set out on his journey again. He headed away with his sign dangling from his bedroll and pack of Bibles. He stopped, turned and said, ‘When you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?’
‘You can count on it!’ I shouted back. ‘God bless you!’
‘God bless you, man!’ And that was the last I ever saw of him.
Late that evening as I left my office, the wind was blowing strong. The cold front had settled hard over our town. I bundled up and hurried to my car. As I sat back and reached for the emergency brake, I saw them… a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the length of the brake handle. I picked them up and thought of my friend, wondering if his hands would stay warm that night without them.
Then I remembered his words: ‘If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?’
Today his gloves lie on my desk in my office. They help me to see the world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember those two hours with my unique friend and to pray for his ministry. ‘See you in the New Jerusalem,’ he had said. Yes, Daniel, I know I will…”
‘I shall pass this way but once. Therefore, any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.’
Prayer is one of the best gifts we receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards. Let’s continue to pray for one another as often as we think of one another. Pray that the Lord God will bless and keep us in the center of His will that day. We never know when that small prayer could make all the difference in the world for someone.
‘Father, I ask you to bless my friends, relatives and loved ones, and even those with whom I am at odds right now. Bless them right this very moment. Show them a new revelation of Your love and Your power. I pray that the Holy Spirit would minister to their spirit even as I pray this prayer. Where there is pain, bring them Your comfort and give them Your peace and mercy. Where there is self-doubt, release a renewed confidence in and through Your grace. Where there is sin, bring repentance and cleansing though Jesus’ precious blood. In His mighty name I pray. Amen.’