What do you do when you come across a person begging on the street? That’s a dilemma we all face now and again. I face it every day now.
Giving them money is not my standard practice but I don’t feel right about just ignoring them either. It doesn’t happen every day, but today I sensed God wanted me to take the extra time to stop and talk to a guy with a hand-written, cardboard sign sitting on the sidewalk by himself.
It turns out he has a name. He had a mother and father who named him Larry. It also turns out that Larry is a sweet old man who isn’t as old as he appears. A hard life has aged him dramatically. Larry has a pleasant demeanor and a positive opinion of most people.
After a short visit I started to leave thinking I had done my good deed. After I left God prompted me to go back to ask Larry if he was hungry. He said he was, “just a little bit”. So off to the market I went to be a Good Samaritan, go the extra mile, and bring Larry back something for dinner. Then I’d be on my way back to my room at the mission.
As I rounded up his meal I sensed God wanted more from me. As though He was saying… “You could buy him a meal which is certainly a nice thing to do… or you could eat with him on the street and become his friend.” So tonight I sat on the sidewalk next to Larry and his sign, and had dinner at a different kind of sidewalk cafe.
One compassionate passer-by actually gave me some rice and probably felt very satisfied having given a homeless man some food. I guess people would assume you are homeless if you are sitting on the sidewalk eating a sandwich. However when I tried to get the attention of several others to take our picture they walked by as though we were invisible and they were deaf.
We had dinner together sitting on the dirty sidewalk sharing stories. He was very open about his life. His father was a hard-working man who taught him a good work ethic but he was also physically abusive. Larry moved away from home as soon as he could and after time in the service he became an underwater welder and made a fairly good living. That all ended when he was hit by a car when he was crossing the street. He woke up in a hospital with a brain injury and a lot of metal in his leg to keep it together.
Today he shares a room with some roaches in a rundown motel, not too far from where I met him. He knows the Lord and says that God is good and so are most people. “You’ve got to believe in people”, Larry will tell you.
Larry could receive welfare but he won’t take it. He doesn’t want to get lazy and he says welfare is designed for people worse off than him. He doesn’t want to use up the funds that others really need. So he gets up early every day and heads over to the toy district at 7:00 am just few blocks away to see if they will let him unload the trucks that day. If the load is light, they give him a little work. If it’s heavy, which it usually is, they send him home as his leg won’t hold him up.
In the afternoon Larry sits at the same spot trying to beg for the rest of his rent money. Many people walk by and ignore him as though he’s got the plague. He says it makes him feel sad but he has many other friends who stop by and interact with him and that brings him joy.
Larry admits he’s a little slow, physically and mentally, but he has a gentle and kind spirit. I thanked him for sharing his life story, prayed for him, and told him I’d come by again soon.
As I walked away I was glad I listened to the Spirit prompting me tonight. To be honest, I initially walked by him with just a “hello”. But if I hadn’t gone back, today I’d have one less friend in the world.
James 1:27 reminds us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” The action word we are called to step into is to “visit” them. What lonely, disenfranchised people need is our time, our presence, even more than our change. Do we have time for them?
Please pray for Larry on Spring Street in downtown L.A. and for all the other Larry’s sitting on the sidewalk somewhere hoping someone will make eye contact, ask them their name, risk shaking their hand, and treat them as though they are valuable human beings.
– Pastor Dan
If you wanna hear a bit more from Larry, check out this video: