It was an unusually cold day for the month of May. Spring had brought everything alive with color, but a northern cold front had brought winter’s chill back to southern Indiana.
I sat with two friends in a quaint restaurant just off the town square. As we talked, my attention was drawn outside, across the street. There, walking into town, was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back. I could read the well-worn sign attached to his pack: I WILL WORK FOR FOOD.
My heart sank. I noticed other people at the tables around us looking at him, too, shaking their heads in sadness and disbelief. We finished our meal, but I couldn’t get the image of the man out of my mind.
I had a list of errands to do before going back to work. As I passed the town square, I looked halfheartedly for the stranger. If I see him again, I’ll have to do something, I thought with a knot in my stomach.
I drove through town and saw no sign of him. As I finished my errands and got back in the car, I felt the Spirit of God speaking to me: “Don’t go back to the office until you’ve driven once more around the square.”
After a moment’s hesitation, I headed back. At a corner of the town square, I spotted him standing on the steps of the stone-front church, going through his pack. Do I really have to get involved? What should I say to him? Maybe it’s best to just drive on. The vacant parking space on the street seemed to be a sign from God. I pulled in, got out, and approached the town’s newest visitor.
“Looking for the pastor?” I asked.
“Not really,” he replied. “Just resting.”
“Have you eaten today?”
“Oh, I ate something early this morning.”
“Would you like some lunch?” I offered.
“Do you have some work I can do for you?”
“No,” I replied. “I commute here from the city but I would like to take you to dinner.”
“Sure,” he finally agreed with a smile.
As he gathered his things, I asked some innocent questions.
“Where you headed?”
“Oh, all over; mostly Florida.”
“How long you been walking?”
“Fourteen years,” came the unexpected reply.
We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left only minutes earlier, and Daniel and I got acquainted. His dark hair was long and straight, and he had a neatly trimmed beard. His face, weathered by the outdoors, seemed slightly older than thirty-eight years. His eyes were dark yet clear. I was startled at how articulate he was. As he removed his denim jacket, I read the words on his bright red T-shirt: JESUS IS THE NEVER ENDING STORY.
Then Daniel’s story began to unfold. He had seen some rough times early in life. He’d made some wrong choices and reaped the consequences. Fourteen years earlier while backpacking across the country, he had stopped in Daytona Beach. He hired on with some men who were putting up a large tent and sound equip-ment. A concert, Daniel thought. Instead, it was a series of revival services, and he gave his life over to Christ.
“Nothing’s been the same since,” he said. “I felt the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did.”
“Ever think of stopping?” I asked.
“Oh, once in a while, when it seems to get the best of me. But God has given me this calling. I give out Bibles. That’s what’s in my pack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out when his Spirit leads.”
It suddenly hit me. This homeless friend is not homeless. He’s on a mission and lives this way by choice. My next question burned inside me before I finally asked: “What’s it like?”
“To walk into a town with everything you own on your back. And having to carry that sign?”
“Oh, it was humiliating at first,” Daniel admitted. “People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread at me and made an obscene gesture. That didn’t make me feel welcome. But then I realized God was using me to touch lives and change people’s concepts of other folks like me.”
My concept was changing, too.
Following The Star
We finished our dessert and gathered his things. Just outside the door Daniel paused. He turned to me and said, “Come ye blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom I’ve prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in.” I felt as if we were on holy ground.
“Could you use another Bible?” I asked. He mentioned a certain translation that traveled well and was also his personal favorite.
“I’ve read through it fourteen times,” he said.
I was able to find Daniel a Bible and he seemed grateful. “Where you headed from here?” I asked.
“Well, I found a little map on the back of this amusement park coupon.”
“Are you hoping to hire on there for a while?”
“No, I just figure I should go there.”
He pointed to the map. “I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that’s where I’m going next.” Daniel smiled warmly.
I drove him back to the town square where we’d met two hours earlier. It began to rain as we unloaded his things.
“Would you like to sign my autograph book?” he asked. “I like to keep messages from folks I meet.”
I wrote how his commitment to his calling had touched my life. I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with the words of Jeremiah 29:11. “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.”
“Thanks,” Daniel said. “I know we just met and we’re really just strangers, but I love you.”
“I know,” I said. “I love you, too.”
“The Lord is good.”
“Yes, he is. How long has it been since someone hugged you?” I asked.
“A long time,” he replied.
And so on the busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced. Deep inside, I had been changed.
See you in the new Jerusalem
Daniel adjusted his belongings on his back, smiled his winning smile, and said, “See you in the new Jerusalem.”
“I’ll be there,” was my reply.
He began his journey again, his sign dangling from his bed roll and pack of Bibles. Then he suddenly turned and asked, “If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?”
“You bet,” I shouted back.
It was the last time I ever saw him.
Later that evening as I left the office, the wind blew stronger. I bundled up and hurried to the car. As I reached for the emergency brake, I saw them—a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the handle. I picked them up and wondered if Daniel’s hands would stay warm tonight without them. I remembered his request: “If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?”
I keep Daniel’s cotton gloves in my office to help me see the world and its people in a new way. His two hours of ministry affected me from that day on. Sometimes I can hear his voice distinctly, “See you in the new Jerusalem.”
Yes, Daniel, I know I will.
NB: “I shall pass this way but once. Therefore, any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.”
– – – written by Richard Ryan