It was rush hour, August sun was blaring down bright as cars were streaming, slow stop and go, into the 101 freeway entrance. As I rolled from the stop sign towards the on-ramp – just as I was about to accelerate – I saw a hunched figure squatting or sitting over a dirty blob of a backpack, thumb up, arm hanging out towards me. I remembered the scripture that sometimes angels are undercover, even could be Jesus; we can host a person in need, share food, drink, lodging – and that it is a blessing to us if we take the risk to reach out to a stranger, and guilt if we refuse (and hopefully grace too!).
If this was one of those opportunities, this one was very undercover, a very convincing costume, excellent hair and make-up – a long way from Heaven. I pulled over. What’s a ride? I had an empty seat. I believe I smelled the characteristic Eau de Homeless before he even got his bag loaded in the back, then joined me, gruffly telling me his name through crooked yellow-stained teeth and the stubble of a scraggly beard.
As I drove south, we chatted. He shared effusively that he had been waiting for three hours at that spot. Thousands of cars had passed. On medical disability – had been dismissed from Marine boot camp because he had a seizure – has had many seizures … He grew up in a ghetto on the East Coast, been to jail for being in a stolen car, been involved with drugs, other mishaps … He had bad-mouthed police along the way which usually landed him in more hot water. He felt they were only for protecting the rights of the rich. Now, after a recent breakup of a hobo common-law relationship, he was on his way back to Colorado to hopefully reconcile with his ex-wife, and see his five-year-old daughter, now living with an adopted mother.
Though I had been working, was tired, and had just eaten, I asked if he wanted to go out to get a bite to eat. I had a bit of flexibility in my evening plans. He said yes, he hadn’t eaten since morning, only had a few dollars to his name.
We ordered a pizza from Giovanni’s in Carp and ate it at the beach. After that we went to the library to see if he could check his email on my computer, and then I was going to drop him off on the highway. We got into a conversation with a lady sitting on the bench outside who complained, as nearly as I can recall her words, “This is what the church should be for! All those Christians worship on Sunday and drive fancy cars but look at this. They should take him in! The church should get him a bus ticket! But he needs a mediator – someone to speak for him. They won’t give it to him if he asks.”
My friend said that some churches do buy people Greyhound tickets.
She said to me, “You should take him in! It’s dangerous to hitchhike at night.” I responded that I normally might have, but that I was new here and had been taken in myself! I just moved from up north and am staying for free with a friend; I’ve been asked to have no guests without asking in advance. Forcing others to participate in charity is not respectful, or Christian perhaps. Also, my credit card was surfing at max so I didn’t know if it would fit a bus ticket to Boulder. I turned it around and asked her if she could take him in, if she had a stretch of carpet he could lay on – but she said she couldn’t because her place was just for her, and that he was a man.
Her comments sparked a deeper level of possibility in me. Even though I have only been in this area for a month or so, but I have gone to Reality church a few times and met some people. I called them. No answer.
After driving around and checking Greyhound prices I remembered though that there was a men’s group prayer meeting the next morning at 6 a.m. So I let my new friend sleep in my van while I slept inside my friend’s place – the safety, warmth, and convenience was especially palpable that night – and then we got up and went to the meeting.
He sat through it and seemed to enjoy it. I put my hand up and shared this brother’s situation, that he needed a bus ticket home after much wandering. I’d said we were going to drive him up to the Santa Barbara station asked if they could pitch in.
Those brothers dug deep in all their pockets and we raised enough right there to cover the hundreds of dollars for the ticket, plus he had money left over for groceries and cigarettes. (I didn’t feel it was the time to lecture or force him not to spend money on this habit – one thing at a time!)
So this is a story to the lady on the library bench and all of us out there who wonder at ourselves and the current church and all. As we stood waiting for the bus he pulled a bag of organic cat food out of his backpack to show me: “Only the best for the little ones I rescue!” I was told how he and his fellow travelers care for lost animals and have spent hours trying to track down their owners.
“There’s lots of ‘em!” he said.
My commendations to the men of Reality Church and their God who encourages love and charity. This is a celebration! As a person who is new to the area, I am so encouraged to see that those people responded with such generosity and immediate welcome. Praise God! What an experience that was. May Santa Barbara County and our whole world be more blessed with each day and night; access and appreciate the excellence in our midst. May we all share as we’re able, and think outside our boxes! Complete joy!