My heart always comes alive around the homeless. Something always stirs in my heart when I pass that man on the corner holding the cardboard sign, or when the one with crazy hair and body odor comes into the coffee shop to use the bathroom. I find myself becoming defensive when I overhear two women, dressed in the latest fashion and adorned in expensive jewelry, whisper their criticisms and turn up their noses in disgust at the "weird" guy standing outside the restaurant...as if he is less than human and should not be allowed to share the same air as other humans. Maybe those judgmental women are just afraid because their small worldview just got bumped a little. And maybe it's just that I have a passion to open people's eyes and break their small thinking. But I also think that God is opening something in me too, as I ask myself "Why is there an awakening inside me when I come across a homeless person, or that 'weird' quiet man with body odor, or the lady who talks to herself on the street? Why is it that all I want to do is hang out with them, talk to them and hear their stories, and be their friend?"
On New Years Eve I was walking out to my car, just leaving work, when I noticed that lady walking on the street. I had seen her twice before walking this same busy street talking to herself - more like shouting something in a strange language. And on this day, she had a sign pinned on her back that said "Jesus is King." I thought to myself, 'what can I give this woman?' It was very cold and there was snow on the ground, and I noticed she had bags over her shoes. I felt very strongly the Lord suggest, "give her some snow boots." I was on my to pick up my son and I didn't want to keep the babysitter waiting. As I was driving, I racked my brain on how to give her some snow boots... Do I invite her into my car and take her shopping? But I didn't think that was a safe choice with my son in the car. Do I ask her what size shoe she wears and go pick some up for her? Then I thought, I know! I'll get her a gift card! So I decided to buy a generous gift card to a local sporting goods store that has a variety of quality winter attire. This seemed like the perfect gift since she could go pick out what she wanted or needed. It also seemed perfect since we were right in the middle of winter and I felt she would benefit from this gift. So I excitedly picked up my son and headed for the store, planning to then return to that busy street where I had seen this woman.
Because I felt like the Lord had spoken to me, I was convinced this would all play out how I expected. But there was a problem: It was New Years Eve, which meant the stores were closed. And after picking up my son, the woman was nowhere in sight. Disappointed, I went home and planned to pick up the gift card first thing after the holiday. I was sure I would see the woman walking up and down that street again, and I was certain I could carry out my mission in the next week or so. But day after day, week after week, I did not see that African woman chanting to herself. I even drove up and down that street in search for her, but always came up empty-handed (or rather, not empty-handed since I still held the gift card!!). I became discouraged as the weeks went by because I felt that soon the gift card for some winter boots would no longer be useful in the coming months.
At one point I even succumbed to trying to find a homeless person - any homeless person will do, I thought - to give the gift card to. I figured I'd better get it to someone who can use it while there's still snow on the ground! But even when I set out to do this, there was no opportunity. So I waited...and trusted God that He would not let this whole effort be a total waste.
Then one day - in MARCH (3 months later!!) - my husband and son and I were out shopping. We were at a stoplight, and there she was, walking across the street right in front of us! "There she is!! That's her!!" I exclaimed to my husband who was driving. "I have to get out!" I told him as we were driving through the light. I had him pull into the parking lot of my workplace (where it all began) and I got out and walked down the long sidewalk to meet the woman for this long-awaited encounter. As I walked, I started to wonder if she would listen to me or let me talk to her. All I knew about her was that she shouted to herself, so I was unsure of her mental stability. I also questioned for just a moment if this was a stupid idea. But I prayed to calm my nerves and I became determined to carry out this mission. It was like a treasure hunt to me, and I had finally found the treasure!
As I came closer and approached her, I greeted her, interrupting her chanting. "Hi!" I said, excitedly, "My name is Bethany and I have something for you..." She glared at me over her glasses, as I held the gift card in my hand and proceeded to tell her the story of how I felt the Lord tell me to give it to her. Her glare, which was actually more of an expression of curiosity, softened as she acknowledged what I was giving her.
"Wow, oh wow...this is a generous gift...thank you..." she said in her thick accent, as I explained that I had been searching for her since New Years Eve. She then held the gift card up toward the heavens, closed her eyes and began to pray for me!! In her beautiful African accent, she thanked God for me and proceeded to bless me and ask God to increase His favor on my family and me. I was so filled with love by her gesture, by her blessing, by this beautiful spiritual encounter. Right there on that busy street, heaven showed up in the purest form, in the beauty of this interaction, where I gave a poor woman a gift card, and she gave me a heavenly blessing. And I realized that this is what it's all about. This is Jesus. This is Heaven. This is Love.
As we continued to walk, she told me her name was Martha, and we talked about her life, faith, and her mission to walk the streets and praise God. It all made sense to me - the crazy woman who shouts to herself on the streets was really a worshipper who praises the King in her native tongue. And I believe she brings Heaven to this city through her "chants."
Upon reaching the parking lot where my husband and son were waiting, I pointed out to her where I work and told her to stop by anytime. We parted ways with a hug and I got into the car with a greater joy than I had before
A couple days later, while I was working in the coffee shop in walked Martha. "Oh there's my friend!" I said, excited to see her. A man was with her and they both eagerly extended their hands to me for a warm hand shake (which is more of an expression of honor and love in their culture than it is in the American culture). I felt a closeness to them in that simple greeting - like they were family. She wanted to show me what she bought with the gift card, and she pulled out a beautiful white sun hat, "for summer," she said, and the man pulled out a box of snow boots!! It turns out the gift card was for snow boots after all :)
I look forward to the next time I see my friend Martha walking that busy street, perhaps in her new white sun hat, singing praises to our King Jesus!