Yesterday I went down to the basement level at First Baptist Church to greet the homeless men and women who come for hot showers, clean clothes, and the generous love of Jesus they receive from our faithful volunteers.
After I had offered a word of welcome and a prayer a man came up to me holding one of those little devotional guides that we keep on the tables. He showed me something he had read that fit in nicely with my prayer and then we began to talk.
This man was bearded, dirty, smelly, and swarthy from being in the sun all summer, but his eyes were bright and intelligent and as we talked he told me that he and his wife were looking for work, and hoping to get on their feet. “She’s got a place in one of the shelters,” he said, while he was sleeping wherever he could, most recently under a bridge. He told me that they were both hard workers and that he used to work with the rodeo. “Oh really,” I asked, “what did you do?” “I was a bull fighter,” he said, grinning. “You know…a rodeo clown. I did that for 15 years.”
And that’s when it happened. That’s when this man began to change right before my eyes. No longer was he a homeless drifter; he was a former rodeo clown. And then he began to tell me about the church he had belonged to in North Carolina, and what a wonderful church it was, and how he worked with the homeless when he was a member there. “That was before I got laid off,” he said, quietly, and then told me about his work as a heavy equipment operator for a construction company. Everything had been going great until the recession hit. He and his wife had been living in a three bedroom house with an in-ground pool. He was driving a Ford Explorer. “Now look at me,” he said, embarrassed. “My wife’s in a shelter and I’m sleeping under a bridge. But if I could just get cleaned up—get a shower and a shave, some clean clothes—I might be able to find a job, and when I do I’d love to come help you out with this homeless ministry.” He swallowed hard and added, “God’s been awful good to me.”
I could hardly believe the transformation: where moments before this smelly, bearded, wreck of a human being had stood before me now I saw a brother in Christ, down on his luck but working hard to get back on his feet again. I imagined him clean-shaven, well-dressed, and smelling like Old Spice cologne.
But here’s the problem: it took me several minutes to see him like that, to hear the story of what he had been and to imagine what he could be again. But God saw it in him from the beginning. In fact, in God’s eyes, he was never a homeless drifter, but only always a precious child.
Dear God: help me see people as you see them, as if the transformation had already taken place, and they were—already—what you had always dreamed they could be.