John Bressler-060311Listen to John Bressler read his column.
It was about 7:00 a.m. and still on the dark side of early morning when I arrived at church and began to walk to the door leading to my office. It's nice to get to work way before the phone starts to ring - which usually meant shelving things I wanted to finish for things that required my immediate attention.
About halfway to the door, I tripped over a pile of rags I figured someone had forgotten to pick up. I turned and kicked the rags and the pile of rags said, "Ouch!" The pile of rags was a young man who had been sleeping on the walk. He was the dirtiest, gamiest, smelliest person I had ever been around. I apologize, but he smelled like the inside of an old outhouse in late summer.
I told him to get up and come inside where I could get him some coffee and whatever was left over from last evening's family night supper. He said his name was Mike and he thought he'd sleep in front of the church since the cops probably wouldn't see him and anyone else wouldn't beat him up for fun or whatever change he had on him. I asked, "Why are you here, Mike?"
He answered, "Didn't I just tell you?"
"What I mean, Mike, is why are you here in this condition? What has happened?"
It seems that Mike came from New York. He couldn't stand his parents with all their rules and regulation. He hated his job, school and life in general. He had an aunt down here in Sarasota who told him one day, "If you would come down here and help take care of me, I'll see that you have a nice room, some money, and you can enjoy the beach all you want!" That was the word Mike had been waiting for. He told his folks what he thought of them, quit his job, packed his clothes, jumped into his old car and began the long drive south. About half-way to Sarasota, his aunt died and by the time he reached her place, everything was in probate, he had no way to prove he was a relative and was out on the street. No problem. Mike could get some jobs waiting tables, washing dishes and could make enough to get by.
Unfortunately, his money ran out even after he sold his car for practically nothing and he soon found himself sleeping on the streets and eating out of the Dumpsters® behind the fast food chains. He was just another homeless runaway at the mercy of whatever the day may bring. What does any homeless runaway do when the only thing left is hunger, filth and a system over-burdened and unable to help? Mike was one step away from prostitution.
Hold on! Before we get too judgmental, there are predators all over the place who are just looking for these destitute children and are ready to offer them food, clothing, money and drugs in exchange for their bodies.
This is where Mike was. I asked Mike, "What do you want more than anything in the world?"
The answer, "A job, clean clothes, a chance."
My question, "What's stopping you?"
He looked at me as though I were an idiot. "Would you hire me like this?"
I shook my head and asked again, "What do you want, Mike?"
He said, "I want to go home."
I picked up the phone from my desk and put it in front of him. He stared at that phone for nearly an hour without saying a word. Finally, he called his parents and asked if he could come home. They said of course he could come home, but only under these conditions: he would obey their rules, get a job, go back to school and get some new friends.
Our church bought him a ticket on the bus line and sent him home. I had not heard from Mike for nearly a year. He finally sent me a post card. "I'm just fine, my parents are great, I'll graduate from college next fall. Thanks."
Even though it's been some 30 years since I met Mike, it's like only yesterday to me and it scares me to realize that his story could be mine, yours and probably is for too many who made unfortunate choices and don't know where to turn.
It is far too easy to brush these people off with, "They should've known better. They could've done this or that. They get what they deserve."
It is much harder to listen to the words of Jesus, found in Matthew 25, "When you have done this to the least of these, you have done it for me."
The hard facts are these: The government can't do it, the agencies can't do it, only the people of God can and will because this is our calling.
We can help the Mikes in this world answer the question, "Why are you here?"