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It was about 5:45 p.m. on a friday evening as I drove my car a few blocks away from the food bank and parked it ambiguously. I hadn’t showered for two days and had about 5 days of facial hair growth as I stepped out onto the street and made my way towards the Salvation Army’s shelter. I was wearing my work clothes and felt nervous inside with questions in my mind about how the experience would play out. Never before had I put myself in a situation where I was on the receiving end of being homeless. I had always been the one giving help. As I walked up to the building, a man laying on the ground with a read face and reeking of alcohol starred me down. I asked him where I could get some food to eat and he pointed around the alleyway where there were more people who looked similar to him. I thanked him and started walking towards the alleyway.
For one of my Masters Degree courses in managing diversity, our professor asked us to put ourselves in a situation that challenged our world view. I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my life with the blessings of knowing God and having a supportive family, and feel that although I’ve had challenges, I have never had to deal with homelessness. After discussing my idea with my professor, he thought it would be a good idea to expose myself to the homeless culture. Originally, I was going to go there and just ask them questions about their situation, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt it would be a better experience for me to be one with them instead. As I approached the alley, I prayed in my heart that I would be led by the Lord and learn a lesson that He would have me learn.
The alley was lined with people who had dreadlocks, dingy clothes, tons of piercings, and down-trodden faces. Some didn’t look so bad, while others clearly had been living a rough life in many ways. I walked through the crowd and asked for help in where to go. The first gentleman just starred at me and turned his head but then I saw one of the Salvation Army workers who told me to go into a certain door.
As I entered the door, I saw a plate and people lined up to dish up some spaghetti and salad. I thanked them as they dished me up and turned to see where I should sit. There were groups of people at tables and also a few lonely individuals at tables throughout the room. As I scanned the surroundings, a young man with long hair in a ponytail with his head down caught my eye and I walked over to him and sat down in front of him.
“Can I sit here?” I asked.
There was no response, so I took that as a yes and sat down wondering if I would get a conversation in.
I took a few bites of food and then asked “So do you come here often?”
Then the young man looked up at me and said “Sometimes. Do you have a place to stay?”
I hadn’t thought about what my story would be so I thought quickly and told him I bounced around to friends houses. Then I asked him if he had a place to stay. He told me he did, but that he had lost his job as a professional musician when the studio went under. He also told me that his wife had just left him as well. However, he said that he had faith things would work out. I was intrigued with his optimism and asked him why he felt things would work out.
He proceeded to share his testimony of Jesus Christ with me and the hope he had in his heart. He told me of how earlier in his life he was addicted to drugs and alcohol but that through a miraculous prayer, he was healed of his addictions and became a follower of Jesus. He then started telling me that if I had hope and faith things would work out for me as well. He started sharing some inspirational scriptures from the Bible with me and I felt very moved as he reached out to me even though he was in such bad circumstances.
When he told me that he was not on unemployment and that he didn’t have enough money for rent I asked him how he planned on paying. He looked at me with confidence and said “God is faithful. He will provide. He always does.”
I was touched as I thought about all that I have been blessed with financially and the beautiful little family that I have. I realized as I spoke with this young man that it could be taken away anytime and that essentially everything I have is not mine, but a Gods that He is loaning to me. In this instant, I then thought about this young man and an idea came to my mind.
“How much money do you have saved up for this month’s rent?” I asked him.
“None.” he replied.
“Would a couple hundred dollars help you?” I asked
“Oh. Yes!” He said. “I’m not sure where I’d get it, but I could definitely use it.”
I then asked him where the nearest bank was and he said two blocks up the road.
I looked at him and said “You have a very good heart and the Spirit of the Lord is with you. I feel that God has led me to give you some money to help out. Let’s go to the bank and I’ll get you a couple hundred dollars.”
His mouth hit the floor and he said “You’d better not be messin’ with me man!”
I assured him I wasn’t.
As we walked to the bank I told him I had dressed up as a homeless guy to try to see things through different lenses then I am accustomed to. I told him I have a good job and a beautiful wife and little daughter. He was very amazed that I would do that. As I withdrew the money and handed it to him, he lit up and was so grateful. He asked me if he could pray for me and of course I told him he could.
When he prayed for me, I felt such love and charity coming from his heart. Not once did he pray for himself, but he prayed for me, my job, my wife and daughter. He thanked God for answering his prayers that somehow he could find means to pay his rent. He also prayed for his wife who had recently left him that she would get healed from alcoholism and find faith. He thanked God for Jesus and faith. I felt up-lifted and renewed from his prayer and as he finished I asked him if I could pray for him as well and I did.
After we prayed together, I gave him contact information for the LDS employment services location that was right next to where he lived. We walked to his house and he gave me some of his business cards he had made in case I came across anyone who needed guitar lessons.
As we parted ways, I had a silent prayer in my heart for him that he would find the answers to his prayers and with the faith that he has, I’m sure he will.
When I stepped into my car I reflected on the feelings of nervousness that I had originally felt and how I felt now. It is amazing how God can replace fear with faith and I was once again reminded of how God “doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely.” (Uchtdorf, 2009)
While looking on lds.org this morning, I came across a humanitarian website that I hadn’t seeen before. It includes information about where the money we give the LDS church goes for humanitarian needs such as Africa, Haiti, and other countries. I invite you to read some of the stories on the site. Before sharing the site, I thought this introduction from President Monson was appropriate (sorry, my video isn’t working for this url and all I can give you is the link):