I spent last week in the beautiful hills and hollows of the United Kingdom. Quaint villages and ocean-side drives by enormous bluffs greeted us at every turn. We visited lovely towns like Lacock, Bath, Cotswold, Lynmoth and Lynton, to name a few. We witnessed stunning vistas where movies like Disney’s Cinderella were filmed, as well as Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Poldark. There was history and beauty in every moment.
However, it was one single soul in the bustling city of Oxford who captured my heart and overshadowed all else.
I had just finished a walking tour through the cramped town, a city rife with memories of people like William Shakespeare, King James, Bloody Mary, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tokien, William Tyndale and countless others. Oxford’s infamous colleges rose up on every side. People of all nationalities clogged the sidewalks as they scurried from store to store, their sacks bulging with brand name apparel, souvenirs and other trinkets.
I had just passed “The Eagle and Child” pub and was admiring the spiraling cathedrals and abbeys, the monuments and statues on every corner. A steady rain began to fall. I pulled out my umbrella, looked down the congested street and that’s when I saw him.
A homeless man sat huddled under a blanket in the pouring rain.
His shoulders were hunched as if he were too weary to fight. An open duffel bag rested near his bent knees. Its contents boasted a folded tarp, a few paltry coins and an empty soda can. Nothing else.
As I passed his slight form, I heard his soft plea.
“Could you spare a coin or some food, me love?”
I dug through my wallet and handed him a few pounds. His dirt-crusted fingers reached for the coins. “God bless ye.”
“God bless you too.”
I walked away but my heart twisted. Suddenly all the shopping I wanted to do, the sights I wanted to see paled in comparison to the emaciated form sitting in the deluge. I tried pushing him from my mind, but I couldn’t. After several minutes, I whirled back and walked up to his hunkered body. After long moments, he blinked up at me and I noticed how incredibly blue his eyes were.
“Yes, me love?”
“May I ask you something, sir?”
“What’s your name?”
“Angeles, me love.”
“Hi, Angeles. My name is Tara.”
I smiled at him then and he returned it slowly. I eased down next to him on the wet pavement as we shared an umbrella.
“Angeles, do you mind telling me how you came to be in this condition? What led you to these circumstances?”
He sighed and blinked slowly, before a rattling cough shook his chest. “I’ve no one to blame but meself. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve made some bad choices, for sure and certain, but now,” he shook his silver head, “I have pneumonia. I can get medicine but I need money to save for proper housing, food and clothes. No one wants to take a chance on someone who looks like this.” He gestured to his filthy clothes.
Then he smiled before I could respond. “I know what you’re going to say next. Yes, I believe in God.”
I returned his smile. “I’m glad. He loves you so much. So many people believe there is a God, but only a few know Him. I wanted to make sure you know Him.”
We swapped a few more stories and I took care of as many of his physical needs as I could. After we prayed together, I bid Angeles goodbye.
“Thank you for chatting with me, me love. The people here,” he waved his hand, “they don’t see me. They don’t care. Their focus is only on the new thing they want to buy or the site they want to see.”
I blinked back thick tears. “God sees you, Angeles. Always.”
As our tour group departed Oxford, all I could think of was Angeles and all the other things I should have managed to do for him. As our bus passed by the stone buildings, the hypocrisy slapped me hard. Underneath the haughty eyes of the stone faces staring down from their lofty heights, and the carved inscriptions in Latin declaring the cathedrals were erected “to the glory of God”, a homeless man sat shivering and coughing in the cold. It was obvious from his physical state he was slowly dying.
“Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” ~1 Samuel 15:22
“Now, suppose a person has enough to live on and notices another believer in need. How can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help the other believer? Dear children, we must show love through actions that are sincere, not through empty words.” ~1 John 3:17-18
Oftentimes we think of ministry in terms of numbers, additions and programs…technical, business-like terms we put on a spreadsheet. Real ministry, authentic Christ-like love looks altogether different. It’s sitting in the mud with the broken, seeing those the world ignores, and emptying ourselves for the good of those who can do nothing for us. As God’s kids, may we never forget our economy is people and our currency is love.
In the end, all that will matter is how deeply we love God and how we show that love to others. When we love Jesus as we should, loving the unlovable becomes easy.
Love never fails…even when stone buildings and monuments have long crumbled away.