01 Oct I Had Dinner With A Homeless Man Tonight…
You never know when and how you may touch people. But, more surprisingly, you may never know when and how they are going to touch you.
A friend of mine, Tom Willoughby and his wife Stacy, had an encountered a few nights ago that reminds us that those people we pass living on the streets really are people. They have lives. They have stories. Clearly they have struggles. They have dreams and hopes, too.
Today, will you give people in need a second chance? You may just be surprised the blessing they give to you.
Thanks to Tom and Stacy for allowing us to repost and share their story here, exactly how Tom shared it on Facebook. -Jackie
I had dinner with a homeless man tonight.
Perhaps this is a commentary upon my perception of society, but I sense the need to qualify that statement before continuing. First, no, I did not set out with that objective in mind. Quite the contrary, I was on a date with my wife in Westport. The last thing I was consciously thinking about was ministry. To be honest, I was simply enjoying her company and was oblivious to the world around me. Second, am I certain that he was homeless? Could I have been duped? That’s entirely possible. Of course, it’s also possible that I am not writing this story. It’s possible that my account has been hacked by aliens from some distant cosmic galaxy and that I will announce later the truth that I am really not who I claim to be but merely a ghost-writing trickster, an imposteur. It is also possible that the picture on my driver’s license was photoshopped and that I really look much more like Brad Pitt. Having said all of that, I now feel at ease to continue with my account—uninterrupted by those nagging voices of skepticism.
We were preparing to enter a restaurant when I heard my wife ask, “Would you care to join us for dinner?” Thinking that I had missed seeing someone we knew, I glanced around feverishly to find the object of her invitation. I immediately saw several businessmen consumed with their conversation and a few other passers-by who seemed equally disengaged from what was happening. Then I saw him. His name is Joseph.
Joseph is a man fifty years of age. His clothes were well-worn and covered with stains. He was standing outside the restaurant asking for some money for food. Fearing that a gift of cash might not be the most advisable thing to offer, my wife did what she believed she ought and invited him to dine with us. He was taken back at first, but grateful. Consenting, we entered the establishment.
From the moment we walked in, it was obvious that Joseph did not belong. We were escorted to our table but the glances from the surrounding patrons followed us every step of the way. Only they know what they were thinking, but I know what Joseph was thinking because Joseph thinks aloud. “I shouldn’t have come in here. Everyone is looking at me. I knew I shouldn’t have come in here. I don’t belong here.”
I tried to take his mind off of his surroundings as best I could by directing him to the menu. I asked him what he would like to eat and he simply replied that he would have whatever I was having, whatever was cheapest. Then he suggested a hamburger, but followed the suggestion quickly with a request for the order to be “to-go.” Seeing how uncomfortable he was there, we reluctantly consented.
The amount of time required to prepare our food afforded us a rather lengthy opportunity for discussion. Joseph shared that he was a Naval vet who had been discharged because of drug-usage years ago. Having struggled with drugs and alcohol addiction after leaving the Navy, his marriage of 22 years finally fell apart. Having lost his wife, his son, his job and now his dignity, Joseph was a man facing his fifty-first birthday next month broken and virtually without hope.
We spent a little while together seeking to encourage Joseph, but finding ourselves much more encouraged by him.
What little we were able to do seems so small compared to the needs he has. Nevertheless, we made a friend. Some may criticize us for not having done more. Others may say that we should be more careful because “people like that can’t be trusted.” Regardless, we did it, and we were blessed.
We didn’t do it to receive a reward. We didn’t do it so I could write about it. In fact, I wrestled with whether I should write about it at all or not. We did it because there is something inside of Joseph that resinated with us. He is a man made in the image of God. He is broken, sinful, hurting and virtually hopeless, but he is precious in the eyes of God, just like all of us. When we sat down at the table, he kept telling us how special we were. When my wife explained that Jesus has done so much for us that we want to do something to help others, he fixated on the name, Jesus. He said, “I knew it! You said Jesus. I knew it! There was something about you!”
We laughed, cried and listened to him sing softly. Joseph has a beautiful voice. We shared with him a local church where he could find some other people like us. Some friends who would gladly welcome him at their tables. All too soon, our food came and with a handshake and a hug, Joseph left.
As I write this, the sun is setting. And somewhere tonight, in the downtown area, Joseph is making his bed on the street where he sleeps every night. He told us of a stray alley cat that has been coming around him lately. He keeps the cat safe from the “thugs”—as he calls them. The cat crawls up, nightly, upon his chest and curls up to sleep. At night, when the urge strikes Joseph to look for alcohol, he doesn’t because he doesn’t want to wake the cat. He said he believes that God sent the cat specifically for him, to help him.
If you think about him, please pray for Joseph as he continues his struggle with the demons of alcohol and a misspent life. He has the possibility of having his papers changed so that he can receive VA benefits and get the help he so desperately needs. But in the meantime, if you’re in Westport and you meet him, please tell him we’re still praying for him and we hope to see him again one day, either here or in the presence of the name we will all repeat together, “Jesus,” the one who makes everything right.
If you would like to share your story or experience with Appalachia, or of hunger, homelessness or helping others, we’d love to share it. Just contact us!