Yesterday was the most lovely Saturday I had ever experienced. God was at work in Downtown Davis.
My dearest friend, Zoe, and I decided on a whim to make some PB&Js (7 to be exact) and spend our Saturday afternoon handing them out to the hungry. Expecting it to be a short trip from street to street, we set off to be mistaken – and stunned by God’s love. I want to share the best encounters of the day:
We decided to head downtown to its “main drag” and spotted a parking spot from a distance. A homeless woman happened to be on that very street corner and, as Zoe started to parallel park, the woman ran to help us back in.
It seemed like searching for people to serve wasn’t going to be an issue. Greeting the woman, we asked to give her a sandwich to which she greeted us with her name (Judy) and a huge smile, revealing missing and darkened teeth. She told us a prayer of hers had been answered that day: the sakura trees that lined A street had started to produce their cherry blossoms already, rather then their usual appearance in late February. This was a sign of an early summer, she explained, which I understood to be a blessing to her because it meant a shorter period of cold winter. She went on to tell us about her faith in Christ and how He had gotten her off of crystal meth years ago. She spends her days on the corner talking to people and in Peet’s Coffee where she reads God’s word and surfs the internet.
Then she did something unexpected. She handed back the sandwich. “I want you to take this and give it to someone who needs it.” We argued with her a bit. “Are you sure?” we asked again and again, urging her to save it for later. “I am filled up by the Lord,” she said and referenced to Mark 14 where Jesus shares his bread as the body. I’d never grasped that story as much as when I saw Judy living it out. With that, we hugged her and our day was blessed.
No more than 100 meters down the block sat a tanned, thin man named Jeremiah (which means “exhalation of the Lord”) with tattoos on his forearms holding a sign that reads, “Smile. Life could be worse.” And Jeremiah was no hypocrite; he wore the most joyous smile I’ve ever witnessed.
Immediately thrilled to be in conversation, he shared with us his favorite line from “the funniest book he’d ever set a finger on” which was a science fiction, British-humor novel. Then, again, without us ever stating our faith or purpose for feeding him, he shared his trust in Jesus and his struggles with God.
On the brink of tears, he gave his testimony and told of his old anger towards God, his unwillingness to follow, as well as his lowest of lows. But God was/is relentless and continued to “tap on his foot;” until he’d finally had enough of it all, gave up his old way of life and his possessions, and followed Him.
He’d traveled (on foot) to all 48 contiguous states, of which his favorite is Colorado. He proclaims that life is good, even though he doesn’t have a home or nice things. Jeremiah also acknowledged he could find work in a heartbeat and make money to have a “better” life, a more comfortable and conformed life; instead, he chooses simplicity and a relationship with Christ. He reminded us that it’s ok to be angry with God and to cry out to Him in the darkest of times, as long as we fear Him and know that He is our salvation.
Before heading on, Zoe and I asked if he needed anything more to which he reluctantly requested a coffee, any size and just black. His humility and joy astounded me.
An hour or so later, after a few other encounters that were more brief but equally as fruitful, we spotted a man with a huge backpack and a thick, blonde head of hair and beard walking through Central Park. Literally chasing after him and yelling, “Excuse me, excuse me,” like a couple of looneys, Zoe and I caught up to him. Handing him a sandwich, the man smiled and told us, “I love peanut butter and jelly!” and apologized for walking away so quickly. He introduced himself as Christian and told us about his plans to build a boat in a friend’s garage and an organization he wants to create that rewards people for teaching others skills with badges and awards. “Sort of like Boy Scouts.” He grew up on the Sacramento River on farmland where he later worked on an apple orchard for his father.
Christian had just finished a book about Joan of Arc and mentioned he often reads the Bible, asking us if we do too. The conversation led to how Christian was hopeful for our world and opposes the people who say its going to be destroyed because “God sent a rainbow to Noah to signify he’d never destroy earth again” and one day earth will be made new by God. He wanted to plant trees and encourage others to do the same to help our earth. He shared his love for Jesus and how he loved the challenge of reading the Bible as well as the lessons he has gotten from it.
But what broke my heart was when Christian told me that “he could never go to church” and that, once when he had tried, a girl told him his interpretation on the rainbow thing was wrong. So, he lives out his faith on his own and sleeps on the porch of a Methodist church most nights.
“There’s no reason not to be happy,” and, “Life is so good,” were phrases continuously woven into his dialogue. His kind demeanor, genuine and apparent appreciation for life, and understanding astounded me and led to almost 45 minutes of conversation.
JOSH, MIKE, AND BETH
God left us, three hours after setting out on our adventure, with an empty Target bag that had once been filled with sandwiches and depleted wallets. Not all encounters led to Spirit-filled conversation and some were, in fact, a bit disappointing in their simplicity. We had met a man named Josh who requested Cool Ranch Doritos and a woman named Beth who wanted Smart Food popcorn and watermelon Arizona Ice Tea. We got exactly what they wanted for them. A man named Mike took our PB&J and with a dark intensity in his eyes asked angrily, “You’re not gonna talk religion to me, are ya?”
Yet, it was beyond fulfilling to serve.
What astonished me about my day was not how in-need these individuals were or how much they needed our sandwiches, but the true joy that laced their every word. They are the people we turn a cheek to, the people we assume have not worked hard or deserve their misfortune, the people we dehumanize. It was not about how I blessed them, but how they blessed me. Truly, God gave me insight into the lives of the “needy”– and showed that maybe my needs just manifest differently. For what they lack materially, I lack spiritually. For every dollar or meal they don’t have, they make up for in trust. In the absence of things, they understand joy (not temporary happiness) and faith and the power of a good book. They can tell a dang good story and smile from the heart. They can change the heart and perspective of an overprivileged, under-deserving girl like me.