A Penny or Your Thoughts (and Prayers)?
I met a guy called Kevin on the way to my conference this morning. I was running late when he came up to me dabbing his lip. “I don’t want money, just some antibiotic,” he said. He had a pretty fat and bloody bottom lip from a spider bite, he said.
As I asked his name and shook his hand I saw that Kevin’s index finger was black and eroded. He told me later it was from smoking cigarettes without a filter. In hindsight, it looked more like he’d been holding hot glass.
As we walked the five blocks to the CVS, Kevin told me how he was living in the car park after coming to Houston to be near his kids. He couldn’t find work (and of course he couldn’t stay with his ex).
Kevin was to the point that if he had $38 he would catch the bus back to San Antonio, where he had other family he could live with.
“I’m sorry if I smell,” he said. “I’ve been here 5 days.” I wasn’t sure if he meant in Houston, or in the carpark.
When we got to the CVS, the pharmacy section wasn’t open yet. Of course Kevin would require a script too, so we bought some antiseptic and I asked Kevin whether he’d tried the YMCA down the road. I visited there a couple of days ago and was impressed by the services they offered and the caring Christian ethos they promoted.
“That one’s just a gym and I don’t have membership so I can’t get a shower there,” Kevin told me. “The bunkhouse is in South Houston and it’s a long way to go, we’d have to catch the metro.”
Kevin and I went to buy brunch. He had a couple of pieces of chicken and chips and a huge cup of Fanta. The lids for the drink were stuck together, so with his hands full of chicken and cup, Kevin used his swollen lips to seperate the lids and put the rest back. I figured I might as well grab a huge Diet Coke too, choosing my lid carefully.
If only I could buy him a “happy meal”, I thought.
“There’s a bunkhouse just near here for $16 but they don’t take card,” Kevin said (I’d explained earlier that the ATM was closed when I tried it this morning, and I only had $5 in my wallet). “There’s an ATM back at the CVS.”
I looked up the bunkhouse on my phone and tried calling them to see if they had a space for Kevin that night, @and see if they’d take my card in the circumstances. No answer.
“The least I can do is put Kevin up for a couple of nights, for the sake of $32,” I thought, “but then the bus fare that could solve his homelessness problem is only $38.”
“Kevin, do you have some stuff you’d need to grab if I was to get you on that bus to San Antonio?” I asked.
“Yes, I’d need to go get my bag and ID.”
“Well how about we do that?” I asked.
“That’s OK, if you just give me $16 I can try and get some work here and then buy my own ticket.”
“Do you need to grab your bag before we go to the bunkhouse?” I thought out loud. “Yes, but it’s a long way, so if you just give me $16 I can go get it. Your convention’s just there,” Kevin replied.
With this it became clear that what Kevin needed was not what he was asking for, or willing to accept. “Sorry Kevin, I don’t have $16. Enjoy the chicken,” I said as I turned to head to the conference. He held out his greasy handy to shake my hand. I opted for a fist bump.
As I turned and walked down the street to the convention centre, a thought came to me, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have giveth thee.”
I whipped around and looked back at the corner. Kevin was gone. Rushing back, craning my neck around the corner, I saw Kevin half a block away. He turned at the same moment and saw me back again.
As I approached Kevin I said, “Kevin, I just realised that I didn’t share with you the most important thing. Can I pray with you?” Earlier Kevin had told me he’d been invited into the Christian Conference I’m attending and that he was a Christian too. That’s why he wasn’t trying to hustle me.
As we bowed our heads on that street corner in the middle of downtown Houston, I didn’t know what I could say. I thanked God for the opportunity of meeting Kevin that day. I told God (and Kevin) that being half way around the world from home I didn’t now how I could best help, but asked God to give Kevin the power to deal with the issues he’s facing. To help Kevin find a job. To be with his family. I thanked God for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the promise of a life in heaven that’s so much better than what we’ve got here.
Kevin thanked me as we parted, but what I really wanted was to put him in touch with a local church that could help him. I’d tried looking for the number of my new friend Phil, who lived in the area, but I didn’t have it.
I could have looked up a local churches number, but, “they’d be in the middle of Sabbath School,” I thought. I could have tried.
So I left Kevin with a half-demolished box of fried chicken, the Holy Spirit and the power of choice.
There’s more I could have done to help Kevin. I was hesitant to call that church. I’m glad I chose to walk with Kevin today, and I’ll try to find Phil to get the downlow on the local services so I can share them with Kevin if I see him again… or if I see Charlie in his wheelchair tonight… but that’s another story.