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.
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.”