It was just after midnight when I walked out of the church building after the elders meeting (a long, but important meeting). I got into my car. Under the wiper was a note asking "Randy" to come to the back lot ASAP. The note was apparently for Randy, our custodian, who at one time was homeless himself. Randy wasn't around, but the note seemed urgent. So, I drove back there…
Late at night, North County's back parking lot becomes somewhat of a tent-city during the warm months. We know most
of the homeless that sleep in the back lot. A couple of them attend worship
here. Nevertheless, I admit that given the time of night, I didn't want to stop. I was tired after a long day and wasn't sure that getting out my car and engaging in a midnight dialogue in a poorly lit alley/lot with a dozen homeless people was really smart as a husband and father of two (soon to be three) children. The back lot isn't well lit, and sometimes our homeless friends can be in "high spirits". So, I was afraid to stop when Steve saw my car and tried to flag me down. The other homeless who were with him also stood up and gestured for my attention. I didn't want to stop. But I did. Sort of.
I stayed in the car and rolled the window down. Steve said that he and the others were afraid because another homeless man brandishing a cane had recently come up to them and threatened them with a beating if they didn't leave and let him take over the spot. I sought some more details and the situation did seem serious. Steve asked me to stay with them until they were sure he wouldn't come back. That wasn't going to happen.
Instead, I called the police, informed them of the situation, and asked them to sweep the area for the "cane man"…which they did. I also asked them to leave Steve and his friends be. They did. Steve and his friends slept safely last night.
When Steve first flagged me down in the back lot after midnight, I was afraid.
So was he.
He had a much better reason. I had a place to go where I could be relatively safe in my sleep. Steve and his friends didn't. Steve and his friends haunted me last night as I tried to sleep. I hope they slept well.
Ebenezer Elliott said, "Sleep, to the homeless thou art a home; the friendless find in thee a friend."
Those of us who have safe shelter need to thank God for it every day and work to provide it for others. I'm thankful for the safe shelter that I too often take for granted. I'm thankful for churches like NCCC and those all over the world, who do so much not only to tolerate the homeless, but to welcome them. And, I'm thankful for Steve and his friends and the lesson they taught me last night.