Yesterday—Day 100 of KOH2RVA—we had at least 100 guests at the Ralph Anderson Memorial Christmas Breakfast for the Homeless in the dining hall at First Baptist Church, and that’s not counting Santa Claus.
I remember Ralph. I used to see him in Community Missions on Wednesday mornings, taking down the names of our homeless guests and helping them check their bags so they could get a shower. He loved that job. He loved those people. Shortly before he died he established a small endowment that would produce enough income to put on one big breakfast a year and yesterday that’s what we had—one big breakfast.
I watched as our guests filed into the room past a uniformed police officer and took their places at the tables. They seemed eager, excited, their eyes shining in a way I rarely see on those other, ordinary days.
When it was time for the blessing I took the microphone and said, “Before I pray, let me say a personal word of welcome. I’m really glad that you’re here. And I want you to know that these volunteers who have come to serve you breakfast this morning have come because they love you. They don’t refer to you as ‘clients’: they call you ‘neighbors,’ and ‘family,’ and ‘friends.’”
And then I prayed, saying something like, “Lord Jesus, you didn’t have a house. You said so yourself. You said, ‘Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ But if you did have a house I believe you would want to throw open the doors to these, your brothers and sisters. And on a day like today I believe you would want to serve them breakfast. And so, we’re going to do that for you, and we ask you to bless it, and them, and us, in your name. Amen.”
And then the breakfast began, and it was wonderful.
I sat at a table and talked and laughed with the men who were there. But eventually the talk came around to what happened in Connecticut last Friday, that terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The shock and disgust registered on their faces. One of them said, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”
It seemed ironic; I had just heard that a mother had decided not to bring her children to our weekday school that morning because “all those homeless people” were milling around outside the doors, waiting for breakfast. She was nervous after what happened in Connecticut last week. A lot of parents were. And even though she is thankful we have a ministry to the homeless she just couldn’t bring herself to drop off her children while they were there.
I wish she could have seen the look on this man’s face as he said, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”
Someday, when heaven comes to earth, that man and her children will be best friends. They will get out of the car at school and come running across the parking lot, giggling, and calling his name. And he will scoop them up in his arms with a big smile, and carry them to their classrooms like a guardian angel, looking back only long enough to reassure their mother as she waves and blows kisses.
Until that day comes, we’ve got work to do.