Years ago, my wife, son and I went on a train ride from Harrisburg, PA to New York City, so we could see the devastation that happened on 9/11. I discussed this trip in an earlier blog, but what I didn’t tell you about is the interesting man we met.
It was at the end of our trip. We were in Penn Station in New York City, waiting for our train to depart back home. We were just standing around waiting. Back then, the Internet wasn’t so prevalent on mobile phones, so we weren’t looking down at our phones, as most people do today. Instead we were people watching, and just hanging out with our son.
I watched a man begging for money. He was an older man, with lots of hair. He was stammering from one person to another, asking for spare change. He wasn’t very successful, as most people said they didn’t have any, or tried to distance themselves from him. By the way he was dressed, and how his hair was unkempt, I could tell that he was homeless. He was staggering as he moved, so I didn’t know if it was because he was injured, or he was drunk. As he came near us, the smell of alcohol answered that question.
He approached me and asked for spare change. I didn’t have change, but handed him some bills. I can’t remember the amount, but it wasn’t much. To him it must have been more than he normally receives. He immediately looked up into my eyes, and asked if I was a Christian. I said yes.
We talked for a while, and got to know one another. He said that he was a Christian as well, and in fact he used to be a pastor of a small church in another state. Unfortunately, he got addicted to alcohol, and was fired from his position. He was so ashamed that he left his family and went to New York City. There he continued his struggle with alcoholism; obviously unsuccessfully.
He mentioned his daughter a few times. I asked him why he doesn’t go home to his daughter. He said that he can’t bring himself to see her again, and definitely not like this; not until he can stay sober.
Before he left us, he asked if we would pray for him, so God would help him to stop drinking. So he, my wife and I formed a circle, held hands, and I prayed out loud. Just so you don’t think I’m a super Christian, I have to admit that it felt very awkward and uncomfortable. After all, we were in the middle of Penn Station, with lots of people all around us. Many of them were people watching, as we were previously; watching this man move from person to person. Now their eyes were on us. I really don’t recall what I prayed about, but remember two things. One, that his hands were very warm, probably from the effects of alcohol. Second, what was my son is thinking?
My son was 9 years old at the time, and was sitting on the floor. He was playing with something previously, but when this all went down, we was watching this man and his parents intently. I’m not sure if he was afraid, or if he was just wondering what his parents were doing. Our son is now 22 years old, and I recently asked him if he remembers that moment. He said that he did remember the homeless man, and some of the details of what happened.
I believe that those few moments made an impact on our son. I will never know how much, or in what ways, but I can take an educated guess as his father. The things that come to mind are; loving others, helping others, not being afraid of those who are struggling, seeing the effects of alcoholism, and what brokenness looks like.
Living your Christian faith out loud is important for your children to see. I’m not always perfect, and I have sinned plenty and still do, but I’ve also had some successes. I pray that my son will continue to learn from my failures and successes, so that God can mold him to be more like His son Jesus.
If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord and he will repay you. (Proverbs 19:17)
Those who shut their eyes to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13)
For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. (Matthew 25:35-36)
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. (1 John 3:17-18)