“There’s one,” Lauren says. “See if he needs anything.”
I slow to a stop at the intersection, pulling close to the curb. “Roll down your window and ask if he’s hungry.”
Window down, cold air trailing traffic rushes in. It’s a cloudless blue sky, but the November sun in southern California is useless. “Hi there. Happy thanksgiving.” Lauren’s voice is filled with the kind of joy rarely found in adults, but rather in children on Christmas mornings and birthdays. It’s this voice that caused my heart to stumble then fall forever in love with her the first time we spoke over the phone. “Are you hungry?”
“You know what,” the man replies with a half-toothed smile, “A woman just dropped off some turkey and biscuits for me only moments ago.” He wears a maroon windbreaker and sweatpants, Fila shoes, and a gray beanie. A shopping cart filled with what appears to be trash, but upon closer inspection is actually filled with his most prized possessions sits parked to his right. To his left, a dirty, panting mop with a tongue and eyes.
“We made cinnamon rolls.” Lauren holds a paper plate wrapped in tinfoil out of the window in a way one would do to entice the dog rather than the man.
“Homemade, huh?” the man asks, standing now.
“Homemade,” Lauren answers. “And we’ve got water. Do you want water?” She instructs me to grab a few bottles from the back seat. She exits the car to deliver the baked goods.
From the front seat I can’t make out the conversation between my wife and this stranger, but he is all smiles and teeth, arms waving frantically as if he’s trying to land a plane. I lean my head out the window and look to the sky. Just to be safe.
I drive around the corner, parking in a no parking zone. I jump out. I lock the car. This is not a nice neighborhood. I intend to hand this man his water bottles and continue on. We have dinner plans in less than an hour.
What happens next I can’t quite put into words. I am here, but I am not. I hear every word exchanged, but I barely comprehend. I try to reconstruct the sentences, the vowels, and lowercases of our conversation, but only remnants remain. The afternoon is broken glass. I can look at that glass, point at it and tell you it used to be a window, but I’ll never be able to rebuild it exactly the way it was before it shattered.
“They call me Preach.”
Preach has been homeless for eight months. Before that, he lived in his car with the dog. Before that, he was married.
“I used to have a car. Me and the dog here, we’d been living in that car since my wife left. She drives a bus now here in LA. God got between us. So I took to my car and I took to the streets. I used to preach in front of the drug dealers, the prostitutes, and pimps. That’s how I got the name Preach. Because that’s all I do. I can’t stand to not share the gospel. It’s Jesus, man. It’s all about Jesus. So the dealers, to get me out of there, they called the cops on my car. My car had expired plates. So I’m there on the street corner, Bible out, when the police roll up. Tow my car. I’ve been living out of this shopping cart ever since. But I’m going to get that car back one of these days.”
I can’t stand not to share the gospel.
Preach is one of eleven children. Both of his parents are dead. None of his siblings will speak to him.
“My entire family disowned me. They may be my blood, but I am a new creation in Christ. They are no longer my brothers and sisters.”
It’s Jesus man. It’s all about Jesus.
“It’s all okay, man. You see, God has me on the streets so I can preach. So I can share the gospel with the people living on the streets.”
One could assume here not since Paul has there been a man so elated to preach the gospel without regard to his dire circumstances. Only when we have nothing left but God will we realize God is enough.
Preach asks if he can pray for us. I don’t know how we got here, arriving at a point where it’s presumed we need to be prayed over. He takes our hands in his, calluses and broken skin and all. He bows his head. “Lord, you say wherever two or more are gathered in your name you are present…”
This is the second time in my life a homeless man has prayed for me. A man with nothing. I have a roof over my head. A car. A wife. A steady job. I can pay my bills and eat three meals a day. I have more possessions crammed into seven hundred square feet than I could ever hope to need. And this man, this man with nothing but a dog, some cinnamon rolls, and a shopping cart is going to pray for me? How is that possible?
He prays like he already knows all of this. He doesn’t pray for healing. He doesn’t pray for us to be fixed or reconciled. Instead he prays for the protection of our hearts. He prays for discernment of false prophets. He prays that no matter how much we have, no matter how well we are doing, our hearts never lose sight of God.
Tears in eyes. I could swear the earth is shaking, turning upside down.
“The word of the Lord,” he says, “is so pure even babies can understand it.”
Can you believe that? I can’t believe that. Not when I look at the state of the world. Not when I see the condition of the church.
If it’s true, if it’s so easy to be in communion with our God, why do we continue to clutter and tear apart and investigate his Word like we are missing something? Like it cannot possibly be that easy.
If you’re searching the Bible for knowledge rather than life, you will only find death.
I open my eyes. I’m nervous. I am there, but I am not. What am I doing holding hands with a homeless man at twelve in the afternoon on Thanksgiving day? A police cruiser rolls to a slow and deliberate crawl. I am still illegally parked, hazards on, but stopping nothing. “Preach,” I say, “I need to move my car.” But he holds my hand tighter. “The Lord is here,” he says. “Can you feel it? He’s got us protected. You’re safe.”
The cruiser changes lanes and drives away like my vehicle is exactly where it ought to be.
Another car pulls up to us. Three young girls crammed into a VW Beetle. “Are you hungry?” They ask. He tells them he’s been fed, but will save their food for later. Then they offer him a blanket. He digs into his shopping cart and pulls out a brand new, fresh from Target, fleece blanket. “Not ten minutes before you arrived did a woman drop this off for me. Sometimes I gotta say no. There’s someone else out there in greater need than myself. But thank you.”
Preach sings to us. He teaches us.
If a machine gun could speak, it would sound like Preach. In less than twenty minutes, the entire experience is over. And it is the best church experience of my life.
Copyright © November 2012, Max Andrew Dubinsky
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