I sat down on the bench. He looked me in the eyes, looked at the students who had followed me to talk with this man, and then looked at me again. "I know you, I remember you, do you remember me? Do you know me?" He looked in my eyes and waited for my response... I had no idea who this man was. What I did know was that as soon as I sat down, he took off his hat and did not lose eye contact once.
Over the course of 15 minutes, this man who is anonymous to the many who walk by him daily spoke to me with passion in his eyes and voice about Jesus Christ. He admitted to drinking too much, but took no shame in the three shots that he already had before noon. He shooed away another homeless person so intoxicated he was drooling away so that he could profess his faith to one late twenties woman and the three young students who came alongside of her. After all, he had an important message to convey to us, and he couldn't have this man interrupting with his spit and profanity.
He explained to us how he goes to the bank when he gets money and makes change to give people what little money he has. He pointed to the crowd of homeless people on the next bench over and told us how he gives them cigarettes and even spent $32 to buy one of them weed. "I drink", he said, "so what I care he smokes? No matter."
He kissed his hands several times and raised them to the sky. I listened for 15 minutes as this man preached to me about how important it was to focus on Jesus Christ, Christ is the ONLY THING. He pulled a stack of ones out of his pocket. "Do you know where I get this? Jesus. I go to the bank, I change, I give one dollar, one dollar, one dollar..." He kissed his hands and raised them again, and again, and again; he continued to insist that Jesus Christ, Christ is the only thing, the ONLY THING, that he needs.
Arrested Development - "Mr. Wendal"
Again and again he asked: "Do you understand?"
I nodded and continued to listen. "These people walk every day, they work. They work! They no understand the one important thing - Christ! Christ is important! But people - they just walk, they walk to work!"
"Do you understand? You tell me, what is important? Do you understand?"
He was so passionate about his faith in Jesus Christ that I had to hold back tears as I said "Yes, yes, I understand." For the first time - I think I really did understand what was important. This man's faith was the most genuine faith I had ever seen in my life - and I go to a church where everyone who I am surrounded by is pretty passionate about being genuine and honest with how they live their lives. But let's be real - there are few people in my life who aren't incredibly blessed. Even those that have the least at my church are wealthy compared to the people we met today.
This man that I spent 15 minutes listening to... all he had was Jesus. He showed me that his home was the bench, the five foot surrounding area, and all of these people. But Jesus - Jesus gave him new shoes and a cane so he could walk better. He knew Jesus. Jesus gave him what little food he had. He kissed his hands again.
At the end of my conversation with this man, another man came over and sat on the bench next to him. He was much more subdued, but he looked at me with genuine appreciation. He thanked Steve and I for taking time out of our "surely busy schedules" to come and spend time with them. He looked at us and said "Most people don't respect us. I don't know why you guys came to spend time with us low-lifes."
I felt the tears again, and couldn't help but smile when Steve said "What?? You're NOT low-lifes. You're awesome people. We've had a great time talking to you guys today. You're just as much God's people as everyone else is." The man just smiled, gave us a fist bump, and continued to tell us how much he - they - appreciated people coming down and giving them the time of day. More than anything else, it's the love of others who are helping them survive. God's hands and feet in the form of some young adults with willing ears and open hearts.
On the way out I met another man who most of our students had spent time talking with. This particular man is also homeless, works full-time and is friends with a friend of one of our student ministry volunteers, Elyse. He beamed as he told Elyse that as of Thursday - he's not going to be homeless anymore. He got a room nearby that he'll be able to move into this week. Elyse introduced me and he said "Wait a minute! I don't think you were around when we were giving out smiley-faces earlier." I took my glove off, he took a purple Sharpie out of his pocket, and drew a smiley-face on my hand.
These people with very, very little gave away smiley-face Sharpie "tattoos" and perfectly shaped pine cones they had found on the Common. The man who spent 15 minutes talking to me about Jesus tried to give one of our students $2. They had Jesus, and He was all that they needed, so they lived by His example in every moment the way they knew how.
It was a powerful message. I learned more in 90 minutes today than I did in the previous 29-plus years of living I've done. God was at work in my heart today, and I will forever be changed by the time I spent with the residents of Boston Common.