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My Homeless Friend

Homeless

In recent months, a man began standing at the top of the interstate off-ramp near my home with a small, cardboard sign asking for money. He is homeless. His name is Darren.

I know this because I asked him. I passed him too many times to ignore him. He seemed there to stay, so I rolled down my window one day and gave him some money. I had seen him picking up trash along the road, so when I gave him the bill I said, “Thanks for picking up trash.”

After that day, that area remains impeccably clean.

After my third or fourth gift, I felt comfortable saying, “Hey, give me your name.” He said, “I’m Darren.” I said, “I’m Jim.” Then I said: “Buddy, tell me what you need. What can I do to help?” He said: “I need a job. I had some work, but they didn’t pay me. I need a job.”

I said, “Let me go to work on that.”

He said, “Thank you.”

Since then, we have always addressed each other by name.

A few weeks later, when my car went past him and I rolled my window down to ask him how he was doing, he said: “I hurt my finger. I need a cast or something. It hurts. Bad. Can you help me?” He held out the badly bent finger. The light had turned green, and I had to start pulling away, but he followed my car, trotting along, saying, “It hurts, can you help me?”

I shouted as I had to begin to accelerate, “I’ll be back!”

I’m sure he didn’t believe me. I’m not sure I believed me. My wife, Susan, was with me. I had told her about Darren, but this was the first time she had met him. I asked her: “Are you okay if I take care of this? I’m starting to have something of a relationship with him.”

Her response: “Absolutely!”

I went to a nearby CVS and got a hurt-finger repair kit (I was pleasantly surprised they exist) and a small bottle of Tylenol, along with a bottle of water. I went back to where he had been begging, but he wasn’t there. I suspected that back in the trees nearby he had to have a tent or some kind of shelter, so I pulled my car off to the side of the road, leaving Susan in the car, and went looking. There I found a tent, and it looked exactly like one of the tents that Meck had given out to the homeless community during the heart of the pandemic.

Only God.

I called out: “Darren! Darren! It’s Jim!”

He came out of the tent and met me warmly, and I gave him the plastic bag holding the care kit for his finger and the pain medication. I told him what was inside and what little I knew about how to use it, and he thanked me over and over and told me I was a good man.

I knew I wasn’t. I’m deeply sinful and in need of a Savior. But I could see how he felt that anyone who cared about him was “good.”

A day or two later my car, Darren and the off-ramp stoplight timing coincided again. I rolled down my window and asked how he was doing. He said, “Thank you, my finger is so much better.”

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.