My Blog

My Silent Friend

For the past two years a young man has shown up on the doorstep of our church at various times. Obviously homeless, he brings along with his visits a backpack and usually a second bag of assorted items. He sits in our doorway being careful to not block anyone who wishes to enter the church. Our entryway provides him with shelter against the wind and rain.

On his winter visits I have always invited him to come inside to get warm or use the restroom. He has always refused. More than once when I discover him camped out I have headed off to the nearby 7-11 and provided him with a sandwich, chips, and something to drink. When I’ve been in a rush I have offered him money which he has accepted. In inclement weather I have expressed my concern about his situation and offered to take him to a nearby homeless shelter. He always refuses.

On a particularly brutal night I expressed my concern that he might freeze to death. I told him I would call the police to check on him in the middle of the night. That was the wrong thing to do. I went into my study to make the call and when I returned five minutes later he was gone.

The church sexton has befriended our visitor when he makes his late night security checks of the buildings and provided him with a warmer sleeping bag. As the result of a last year’s winter coat drive, I was able to provide him with a new warm coat.

Early on I had asked him his name so that I could offer a greeting as I entered or left the church. I had identified myself as the pastor. After a recent Bible study I was leaving the church with a member of the church. She stopped as I was turning off the lights and told me that “your friend” is here. We walked out together and I paused to talk to my friend. As the member walked away she said, “Goodnight, Ron.”  I was in a hurry to get home, so I asked our visitor if he needed some money for food. He did. So I opened my wallet and gave him some money, said goodnight, and headed for my car.

As I walked away he said, “Thank you, Ron.” Gut punch. In an instant I realized I had never given him my name. I simply said I was the pastor. You can do that from a position of power or privilege. I was a the pastor he was the homeless man. So to be friendly I had asked him his name without realizing that he had every right to know my name.

I got to my car and was about to pull out of the lot when I realized it was time to repent of my sin. I walked back to the entryway and said why don’t I fix us some soup. He smiled and I went inside and microwaved soup that I keep for my lunch. With two cups of soup I headed back outside and sat at the opposite side of the entryway. I tried to engage him in conversation but he seemed hesitant. So we sat in silence, drinking our tomato soup and smiling at one another. It was sacred silence. A barrier that I had unthinkingly put up between myself and my silent friend had been broken. He now knew my name.

I know he’ll show up at the entryway of our church again. I don’t know if we’ll ever talk all that much. That is his call. But if the conversation is limited to “hello” or “goodbye” at least the greetings will truly be as friends. Friends who know each other’s names.

 

 

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