My wife and I returned home from meeting with the church around 3:00 this afternoon. The last 4 – 5 hours have been very encouraging. There are many things that I could write about this morning and afternoon, but one story in particular stands out to me.
After our morning meeting, we break for a few minutes to allow people to talk and fellowship. Then, after about 30 minutes to an hour – depending on how talkative people are – some people leave while others stay to have lunch together.
As one couple was leaving, they met an older lady on the street who asked them for money for food. They didn’t have money, but they invited her back inside to have lunch with those of us who were staying. (First, it was very encouraging that they felt comfortable inviting this lady to share lunch with other people. We try to treat each other as family, and that’s exactly what they did!)
When this couple brought the lady back upstairs where we were meeting, I immediately recognized her. Her name is Rita, and she’s a professional pan-handler. She goes around from place to place and asks for money. Her story has always been the same in the two years that I’ve known her: she’s recently lost her job; she’s recently had the flu; she wants a few dollars to buy groceries. If you offer to buy food for her, she’ll begin to ask for more and more.
I’ve bought her food before, gave her a ride home, and offered to help her find a job and to help her with financial planning. She wasn’t interested in any of that – she just wanted the money or the food.
I talked to Rita for a few minutes – she told me the same story. I mentioned that I had talked with her before, but instead of condemning her, I invited her to stay for lunch. I told her that my wife had made chicken salad and that she was welcomed to join us. I told her that we would be eating in a few minutes. She said she would come back in a few minutes to eat with us, and she left. I did not expect to see her again, and I didn’t. I explained the situation to the young couple, and thanked them for caring about Rita and bringing her back in for food. I told them that they did the right thing.
A few minutes later, another brother came in to have lunch with us. He was not able to meet with us that morning because he was giving a man a ride to the hospital to visit his dad. This man’s dad was in ICU and they were taking him off of the ventilator this morning. I’m glad that my friend decided to minister to this family instead of meeting with us this morning.
When my friend sat down to eat lunch with us, he told us he witnessed another conversation between Rita and another man who had been meeting with us, but could not stay for lunch. As this man was talking with Rita, he recognized something about her. He begin to tell her that he had once struggled with alcoholism, and that he thought she was struggling with that as well. He explained how he was able to withstand the temptation to get drunk because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He then shared the good news of Jesus Christ with her. He also invited her to come in and eat with us as well – even though she rejected the gospel – and told her that she is always welcomed to join us, either for our church meeting or for lunch afterwards.
I am so glad that God has surrounded me with brothers and sisters who truly care for people. Both the young couple and the man was concerned that Rita said that she needed something to eat, and both attempted to meet her need. While I know the young couple was concerned about her relationship with God, they did not have an opportunity to say anything because she left. But, our brother found a way to connect with her through their mutual struggles with sin, and used it as an opportunity to care for her spiritual needs as well as her physical needs.
I pray that God will continue to give us opportunities to serve him by loving other people.