This is a story of how God breaks down stereotypes, restores faith in humanity and gives you what you need.
Recently I had an early flight out from a conference in Portland, OR. I was taking the cities public transit (light rail) to the airport. The stop was an above-ground, outdoor platform across the street from my hotel, which was in a slightly gritty part of town. I found myself at 4:45 am, in this mostly dark and quiet place, at the automated ticketing booth failing to get the machine to print the ticket for me. As I am sitting there waving my credit card around with one hand and clutching my luggage with the other in frustration (an obvious tourist), this young disheveled man comes up from behind me. I was already nervous at being out that early and now my fear meter started going off the charts. I assumed that he was going to mug me. I new I wasn’t being rational so I pretended nothing was wrong
The young man saw thru my ruse, walked right up to me and…. helped me get my ticket. Apparently I don’t speak Portlandese and missed the “print here” button. He was kind and polite and made some joke about how the machine even confused him sometimes. My fear meter dropped significantly, enough so that I could get a good look at him. He had messy dirty hair, dirty clothes, old sneakers but a nice pair of headphones. Now my stereotyping judging side kicked in. I assumed the guy was one of those drug addicted urban campers (as my brother-in-law calls homeless people) and was buttering me up to ask for money. Oh, I like to help people in need just not at 4:45 am in a strange town (very Christian I know).
He started a conversation with me. We talked about Star Wars for a little while. For those of you in the know apparently the newest movie is terrible because it rewrites years of Star Wars lore. Though I liked the movie I pretended to agree with this guy, I really didn’t want to be in the conversation. No request for money ever came by the way. He finally asked what I was doing in Portland. When I told him I was here for a church conference he revealed to me that he was a preachers kid, but not one of the good ones because he had run afoul of the law. This was the first chip in my well-laid wall of protection and separation. A wall I too often find myself behind. I started, well sort of started, to see him as more than the homeless kid/young adult stereotype with which I had labeled him.
We then started talking about the bible. He very excitedly explained to me that dragons were real and proved by the bible as evidenced by the leviathan. It is amazing how fast my walls can go back up. Now I was thinking, not only is this dude homeless, he is several cards shy of a full deck! I hadn’t had the best time the night before and was down on myself because I perceived some of my work to be lower quality than I demand of myself. So, now I was feeling beat up upon, not only do I feel cruddy but I also have to deal with a crazy guy. Thanks God. I was hoping that the train would show up real soon. No luck.
At about this time a second person showed up at the train station. He looked slightly more put together and seemed to know the first guy I was talking to. They ended up introducing themselves and I learned that the first guy I had been talking to was named Jason. Jason began telling us his favorite story in the bible, “Job.” We ended up having a long conversation that lasted onto the train and all the way to their stop. We talked about how power and money corrupts and the true message Jesus was trying to share with the world. This was God’s one two punch to my wall of protection and separation, these guys were speaking my language and my walls crumbled.
Both of these guys were very spiritual and religious. They talked about having to give, in order to receive, but not give in a way that you expect something in return. The second guy talked about how his faith saved him from alcoholism and how he now “focuses on the man upstairs and not money.” We talked about having to live in the world but not be of it. We even discussed gay marriage and both of these guys expressed that they had no right to judge anyone.
It turns out Jason was not a crook, not homeless and not mentally ill. Jason and this other guy were just getting off the graveyard shift from a fruit packing company. They were dirty and tired from work yet they had no problem helping a stranger and sharing their faith and their love for God. The second guy was on his way to church and Jason was at the start of his three-hour commute home.
Upon reflecting on this afterwards I was reminded of the poor widow and her two copper coins. I was so caught up in protecting myself, like the rich only putting money in from their excess, that I almost missed God’s grace unfolding in front of me. I was mired in self-pity and God drew me out of it with an energizing and life giving conversation. I was afraid and God turned that upside down by showing me the kindness of others. I was judgmental and God reminded me of the complexity of every human person. God gave me just what I needed that morning, some good old fruit packer evangelism. Thanks God.
Julien Goulet, Assistant to Communications and Administration, the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania