An Unlikely Visitor

It was New Years Day (night) and it was near zero degrees outside. The shelter was full and things were going on that usually go on. Men of all sizes, ages and shapes lined up for check in at 7:30. The mats were filling up. Guys were assessing where the most quiet place to sleep may be in a room of 30 other men. Some were taking off their frozen, wet shoes to dry and warm their feet.  Questions popped up like, “Will you be opening the donation room? I need some socks.” or “Will there be a devotion? I don’t want to miss it if there is.”  It was pretty calm and people were generally thankful after a cold day. While we look forward to helping with the usual things, our goal is that every little thing combine with or becomes some big thing that brings life change for each one who comes in.

A prayer we earnesstly prayed recently was for God to send people with personal, overcoming testimonies that would speak to the hearts of those who need to hear just the right words.

The new year began just that way. On New Year’s night, it was about 7:30 and we were doing the usual things: putting away donations that we’d received and organizing them, connecting with staff about issues, and getting men checked in. Next to the sleeping room, we have a lovely fellowship room the guys enjoy with carpeting, tables and chairs. I was setting out warm cornbread for the snack that night chatting with some of the guys about kids and school. It’s good to see the older guys sharing words of wisdom with some of the younger ones who really need it.

The chairs around the tables were filling up with men shaking off the cold. Some were eager to hear the devotion and to see what was available for a treat. As I cut the cornbread, a man approached me that I didn’t recognize.  I asked, “Is this your first time here?”

“Oh yes,” he replied, with wide eyes. He said he was thankful for the warm place but his look was more of  a “where am I-deer in the headlights” look.  I asked him a few questions to which he said, “Oh, I don’t need to sleep here. I have a HOME. I live on So-and-so street. I’m not homeless; I’m here because I got angry.”  “OH!” I remarked, curious. “Do you need a ride home?”

“I needed a place to get warm!” He said eagerly and thankfully. “I was walking down Michigan Street from Memorial Hospital and I was praying to God, ‘God, you have to help me, I’m going to freeze out here.’  I didn’t think I was going to make it and I was panicking.  Then I saw a group of people all going in one direction, so I just followed them. They went into Hope. I had heard of Hope, but had never been in there. I asked them all why they all came in here. They said, ‘We came for the meal.’ ‘What does it cost?’ I asked. ‘Nothing! It’s free, anyone is welcome who is hungry and needs a meal.’  So, I got to warm up and had a hot meal. When I finished I asked the front desk where I could get warm, as I had no car and my wife is at the hospital with my son. He said to follow all those people going next door, so here I am!”

This older man shared a bit of what he got angry about. He and his wife had just checked his son in the hospital. He was sad about his son, more than sad, heartbroken and had said some harsh words to his son then left the hospital and started walking in the frigid weather. His son was in the hospital for the same reason some people end up on the streets, he was stuck in addiction. As we talked I realized how hard it must be for him to face that his own son could end up homeless soon.

“I used to be a drinker,” he said, but I gave it all up. Now, I just pray my son will do the same. He took some cornbread and I invited him to sit down and wait while we finished, then we’d take him home. He chose a spot next to a man I’ll call Mark. Mark has lived on the street a long time, and though in past years we’ve had a good relationship, he hadn’t said much to us so far this year.

Our visitor and Mark politely introduced themselves to one another. Our old friend was a very friendly fellow, but he’d had a hard day and was not in the best condition that night. As I finished serving cornbread, the Visitor started talking freely, telling Mark his life story.  “I was once in bad shape but forty years ago I made a life change. I was on the hard stuff, down south, rode bikes with the Outlaws, long pony tail, earring…tatoo,” he lifted his sleeve to show his gang ID. You’d never know this sweet little man was once the mean, old drinking maniac he described.

I sat down to just listen… Behind me, a faithful older man recognized the importance of the moment too and said quietly to me, “God is speaking to him ;)….” “I know!” I whispered back excitedly.

New Guest sat down to tell his story of drinking and gang life and then his story of romance, when he gave it all up because of love. He met a girl who was worth it all to him. This was a longer, amazing story of sacrifice and change and he could never know how relevant this story was to Mark, who’s eyes were tearing up at the end.

The story opened a door to talk again, to pray again with hope. Mark saw what was possible and what it would require. “Where there is no vision, the people run unrestrained (or perish)” the Bible says. But there was a vision tonight. Hope was cast and Mark reached out his hands for prayer, sharing the hard conversation he had in his own relationship, that was not going the way it could. We prayed for even more love to fill his heart, enough to bring this situation to fruitfulness. We prayed for overcoming love, like our new friend had, like Jesus had for people who others might think are hopeless. It’s never too late to start a new day.

We drove our Visitor home. He was eager for us to come in and meet his family, and especially his autistic grandson whom he had raised. (That is another moving part of his story.) He beamed as he showed us his family pictures and we prayed for his broken father’s heart, that God would bring a bridge of communication and restoration between him and his son. He did get something he wanted that night. He got a chance to be a Father to someone who needed to hear him, and who would listen. His story made a difference to someone that night, even while he felt the pain of his own son’s lifestyle. God is a God of redemption and encouragement.

Keep praying please. We can feel and see the effect of your prayers this week!  This week has been full of God stories at Project Warm, but there are also stories waiting to happen all around you. Share what God can do and did do through your own story. You never know who may need to hear it or where he may take you to do it.

Happy New Year from Project Warm