By Fred Liggin
When I first met Frank, I didn’t know anything about him other than he was poor and homeless. I didn’t know his story. I didn’t know how he got into such a mess. Did he drink himself homeless? Did he waste his money? Was he just lazy or did he refuse to work? Did something traumatic happen to him that caused him to spiral out of control?
But it didn’t matter. We were Jesus’ followers and we had to help him. So we did.
As we began walking with Frank, we learned how he got into this mess called homelessness. The story had many unexpected twists and turns. He was a field engineer at a Fortune 500 company and was doing well in his job, until his mother grew ill. With no one else to care for her, he was forced to quit his job and tend to her.
After three years, his mother passed away. As he stepped back into the workforce, he had difficulty finding a job. After several hit-and-miss opportunities, he decided to use his Navy veteran benefits and go back to college. Then the unimaginable occurred: a car accident. Now injured, jobless, and penniless, Frank became homeless.
But none of that really matters.
Don’t get me wrong, his story matters because he matters, but it has no bearing on whether we should help him—walk with him. We had to, because if God has proven anything in the incarnation, it’s that no one should be abandoned, even if they created their own problems.
First, Frank stepped into a community of new friends who helped him get off the street and into a place to live. Many in our church immediately wrapped their arms around him and accepted him for who he was, just as he was. Some of us met with Frank weekly to talk about life—past, present, and future—while others met with him just to hang out. Then it happened. Frank stepped into a relationship with Jesus.
Now Frank lives in a house with two other guys. He has a good job and is finishing his four-year degree. He has new clothes, Polo cologne, a different perspective, a certain hope, and abiding peace. Frank has a new life.
Each week as our church gathers, Frank serves us the bread and wine as we participate in the Eucharist. Every time I see him serve, I see a man who went from homeless to housed, hopeless to hopeful, abandoned to adored, lost to found; I see the gospel. Every I time I see him serve the bread and wine, I see God’s story unfolding before my very eyes.
Frank’s story is one of many I could share, and each story comes down to one simple question: Will Jesus’ followers make decisions about helping others like Frank based upon what we DON’T know or what we DO know?
What we DON’T know:
• Why the person is in a bad situation.
• Whether the person will constantly call us if we give him our phone numbers.
• How much the person will interrupt our way of life.
• What the person will do with the resources we give her or the life skills we teach.
• Whether or not we are enabling a pattern of unhealthy behavior.
• What the person might do to us if we ever find ourselves alone in his presence.
What we DO know:
• The person is made in God’s image.
• God knows the person best and loves him most.
• To be kind to the person is to be kind to God (Proverbs 19:17).
• To insult the person is to insult God (Proverbs 17:5).
• To help the person is to help Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46).
• To walk with the person in meaningful relationship is to be most like God in Jesus Christ.
And here is what I know about myself: on my best day, I am a recovering sinner and broken man learning how to live fully the life God has given me in King Jesus. Once hopeless, now I am hopeful; once abandoned, now I am adored; once lost, now I am found. I am no different from Frank. And chances are, neither are you.
Lord have mercy on us if we ever forget it.
Fred Liggin serves as a multivocational pastor at Williamsburg (Virginia) Christian Church, founder and president of 3e Restoration Inc., and mid-Atlantic coordinator for Mission Alive. This piece first appeared on his blog, fredsforehead.com; find it here, http://bit.ly/1uaHsiH.