The Irony of Conversation: Meet Rod, Darren, & Bernice

I had a conversation in Detroit on Sunday that has been weighing on my heart ever since. The words collided and then dislodged from one another, dead ends and split sentences, paragraphs, thoughts. The conversation was one that brought to light no solution – except one that a miracle of God might bring about – and only harsh realities. But truth is always worth sharing.

Meet Rod and Darren, two men that sit in the back of the lot under the oak tree. It’s quiet back there except for the music floating out of a boxy radio. Rod looks at you in the eye when you speak to him and smiles off to one side. He gets up every morning and goes to work even though he doesn’t have a permanent address to put on his resume. He likes to speak a “good Word” when he sees me and tells me what God has been doing in his life.

We settled down under the tree and I asked them how their week had been. Right away, Darren asked me how I thought their typical week usually went. They’re homeless. How could I even begin to understand something like that from where I came from?

I want to qualify that his question wasn’t said in a malicious way – it was just really honest. I told him that while I didn’t understand what it meant to be homeless, I wanted to know them and understand their life. That I thought about all of them when it was raining or if it was really hot outside. And in defense to my question, I said that I believed that no matter if we’re homeless or not, we can have a good or a bad week. We make a choice.

Darren told me that he understood this completely; he woke up every morning knowing that he was blessed by God. He told me that he’s just waiting for his disability check to come in so that he could move into an apartment. That our prayers are appreciated and that they enjoy having us come down, but that they help take care of themselves as a community as well. Darren has found jobs for some of the people through his connections. They share their food with each other. They watch out for each other.

Honestly, none of this was really a surprise to me; I’ve witnessed it. It was his next comment that really cut my heart.

Darren told me that a lot of the people he knows are going to be ok. They’re waiting for their checks; they’re waiting for a job to come through; they’re being proactive. But he told me that the sad part of it all are the people who won’t ever get off the street, whether because of addiction or laziness or other circumstances. He said that they’re not choosing to see God’s blessings; they’re not choosing to find a way out.

And I’ve always known it. But it hit me that some of our friends will always be homeless. Some of our friends will always be addicted to drugs. Some of our friends will die, alone and cold. Some of our friends will choose to make bad, destructive decisions, and we are called to love them through it anyway. We are called to invest and love, no matter if someone is receptive to it or not.

Yes, we need to encourage people to make their appointments and get work and get off drugs and love Jesus. But the LOVE JESUS part is the most important. Jesus tells us the poor will always be among us. And my mind has shifted to take this in, even though I’ve “known” this on some level for a long time.

After I talked to Rod and Darren, I went over to see another friend. Meet Bernice. She is a 55 year old woman who’s body is ravaged by health problems. I found out that she wasn’t sitting on the curb the Sunday before because she had been rushed to the hospital for complications with her diabetes. This Sunday she was laying on the pavement, weak and surrounded by dirty pigeons picking at the food around her. She could barely talk or support herself enough to sit up on her elbows. But Bernice is also an addict. She wants to get help; she wants to get off the street, but she can’t kick her habit.

And it hit me that Bernice is one of the people that Darren and Rod told me about. Bernice will never make it off the street, unless by a miracle of God.

I don’t know what to do with this realization. Honestly, it breaks my heart. Please pray for Bernice. Every time I think about her I want to cry. She’s told me in the past that all she wants is dignity. She wants to be hopeful again. I told her that she’s only going to find that hope through Jesus, and I want her eyes to be opened to that.

When it comes down to it, what else do we have to offer? We can hand out Aquafina bottles, but only the Living Water is going to do any long-term good.


1 Response to “The Irony of Conversation: Meet Rod, Darren, & Bernice”

  1. 1 johnazoni
    August 25, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Great insight. Thanks for sharing. I like what you said about these individuals walk with Jesus being more important than their station in life.

    I wrote a similar article on my blog http://johnwritesstuff.wordpress.com titled “a different kind of investment”

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