It was date night, and my boyfriend wanted to take me to his favorite city- Los Angeles! As we explored the sights and sounds all around us, a disheveled man approached us asking for money.
A rush of guilt flowed over me. "Of course there would be homeless people here! How could I have so easily forgotten? Why didn't I bring any money to give?", I thought to myself. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) reports that there are approximately 41,174 people who are currently homeless based on their 2015 Homeless Count, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) estimates that there are more than 100 million people worldwide who are suffering homelessness. "How could I have forgotten them?" The thought continued to badger me as I shook my head and apologized. The man left empty handed.
While we were walking through the city, I kept seeing men, women, and even some children sitting on the curb with signs and cups requesting for help. My boyfriend was being an excellent tour guide, but unfortunately, I was a distracted tourist with a heavy heart. "Are you okay?" He asked gently. "I'm fine, but could you let me know if we pass by an ATM?", I responded with a smile. He nodded and we kept going. Time was passing and still we could not find an ATM.
Matthew 25:35-40 suddenly came to mind, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me...Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." I knew God was speaking to me. I could not look away...I could forget no longer...
I became more and more anxious. I silently prayed, "God, I'm so sorry. I want to help them, but I don't know what to do!" As quickly as I prayed those words, the answer I was looking for came to mind- if not money, why not food? Determined, I scanned each block looking for a grocery store, and several blocks later, I found one. "I'll be just a minute," I told my boyfriend. Confused, he waited outside. I grabbed bags of bananas, water, and some other items. While I was waiting in line, my boyfriend looked at everything I got and asked, "Why did you get all this?" I shrugged, and just told him I needed it. I wasn't sure why I couldn't tell him at the moment. All I knew was that I was now ready. Ready to help. Ready to give.
I asked him to carry some of the bags, and it only took one right turn to find who or more specifically, whom I was looking for. In front of us laid countless men and women- homeless, poor, tired, and hungry. Some sat by themselves. Some lying on the grass. Some together talking, and some sitting on the curb waiting for passersby
I went to the first man I saw and meekly asked, "Would you like some food?" He nodded, and I asked my boyfriend to give him a banana and water. Soon, there were people waving us over. It took less than half an hour to give all the food I had gotten. Many thanked us. Many smiled. A few struck up conversations with us. One man shared that he use to serve in the military. (Curious, I researched the statistic- United Way reports that 10 veterans on average become homeless each day.) A woman asked us where we were from. Another solemnly received our food but said nothing. Even still, my heavy heart was feeling lighter.
I finally did something.
As we were speaking to the homeless, I realized that they wanted more than just handouts; they wanted someone to acknowledge that they were there and that they were human like us all. They were no different from my boyfriend and I. I was suddenly aware that I, too, could be victim to homelessness, and I would want someone, anyone to see me, notice the injustice of my situation, and do something.
Once we ran out of food, we said our goodbyes and continued on. My boyfriend gave me a huge hug and said, "So...that was the reason why you were acting so strange?" I nodded. "And that is the reason why you wanted to find an ATM and go to the grocery store?" I nodded. He kissed me on the cheek and said, "You inspire me. I love you so much."
Years later after our marriage, my husband excitedly shared a text message he had just gotten from one of his friends. This time, we were on vacation exploring yet another city- Portland, Oregon! With joy, he read the text message aloud to me, "I saw a homeless man on the side of the street, and because of you, I took him out to lunch. He was so happy and thankful! I just had to share. Thank you for inspiring me!" My husband beamed at me and said, "Love, this friend was the one who saw me give the tacos I had bought you to a homeless man a couple months ago. He was so surprised and asked me why I had done that since he knew they were for you. I told him that if he knew you, you would have wanted me to give them away and then, I shared with him the time we gave out food to the homeless in LA. Wow, how cool that he took that homeless man out to lunch because of something I did!"
Our love for others is contagious! In 1Timothy 4:12, it is written, "...set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity." I had no idea that I had "set an example" for the man who was to become my husband. Like the unprofitable servant (Luke 17:10), I was merely doing what I knew must be done, what I knew in my heart God was calling me to do. I was being asked for help from people who needed it, and so, that is what I gave them.
This small act of giving, however, had set a joyfully unexpected pattern of charity in motion. I thought I was just helping a few hungry people in LA but it transpired into something so much greater- a chain reaction of compassion for the poor among us. From me, to my husband and to his friend, we have become an example of charitable giving! Who knew?!
God is so masterful- He transforms our timid "yeses" into something more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. He multiplies our efforts and allows us to take part in His glorious plan to set the world on fire for love of Him and for others. Our experience serving the homeless in LA is a beautiful example of this.
Yes, if love is contagious, then God is the virus (the good kind, of course!). "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him" (1 John 4:9). Through the incarnation and His crucifixion, Jesus shows us how to live with great love, and when we follow Him, we can be sure that our efforts, no matter how small they may be, will bear much fruit. After all, that one day of giving food to the homeless caused a marvelous domino effect of charity!
What does this mean?
You, too, can be the impetus of charity in your own neighborhood, place of work, and in your family.
You, too, can be Christ's hands and feet in this world and more so, God calls you be.
You, too, can make a difference!!
May God be glorified in every good work you do, and may your love for others inspire many!