Begging for change outside of a busy Barnes & Noble is where I found him. It was January 2006 and the temperature was having a hard time reaching 15 degrees. Large snowflakes began rapidly accumulating on top of his head, and adding to the pile growing around his feet. His name was Randy. Often I had dropped change in his bucket, and chatted with him on occasion. This day was much worse than any day I had found him. His hands were shaking, and his eyes were starring off into the distance. I observed from the warm shelter of the Barnes & Noble lobby where I was sipping my coffee. I watched as people passed by with disgruntled looks on their faces, annoyed at his slurred requests for change. One guy even bumped over his bucket and looked back and said, “Get a job drunk.” I began to wonder how this man ended up this way. Surely at one point in his life he was young with nothing but possibilities in his future. Now 40 years removed from that youthful optimism, he sat on a street corner as a product of his bad choices.
I spent about five minutes pondering this, until I decided I was tired of pondering. I felt like the Rabbi who crossed to the other side of the road and starred at the Samaritan in need of help but did nothing. Throwing my scarf over my neck and straightening my jacket I marched out into cold to do something about his situation. I took off my jacket and put it over him as I lead him back to my truck in the nearby parking garage. He said he was raising money to get his heat turned back on at the house his family rented. He had been shot in both legs earlier that year while being at the wrong place at the wrong time during a gang fight. He had since had a hard time finding a job as he never learned to read and only knew physical labor. His wife and their two kids had nothing left to eat, so I took him to the local grocery store on our way to his house. After nearly breaking my bank account at the store, I decided to empty it to get his heat turned back on. I dropped him off at his house and met his family. Their house was a mess. Liquor bottles littered the corners, cigarette butts lined the floors and his wife looked as if she hadn’t gotten off of the couch in about a year. It broke my heart.
I spent the next year visiting Randy and his family in their neighborhood. Eventually he agreed to start going to church with me. I would pick him up every Sunday evening, and get him groceries on the way home. He decided to give up drinking, he would call me when the shakes would get really bad and I’d go over and pray with him and encourage him that he could make it. I was teaching him how to read, helping him turn in job applications around the city. I along with my girlfriend (now wife ) would take him and his family out to dinner and remind them what laughter was like. However in the end, our help wasn’t enough. Randy started drinking again. Loan sharks, and other hustling low lifes started hanging around his house. He stopped calling, stopped showing up at our pick up spot, stopped wanting to talk to me. Months went by, and all I could do was pray. Finally I got a call, Randy was in trouble. He asked if I would come by that night, and I did. I pulled up to his house to find about 10 people hanging out on the front lawn. It was a drug dealer and his minions. I know this because of his offers to me as I made my way inside. Three of the girls were prostitutes that offered me their services, another lifted up his shirt to flash his gun at me as I walked inside. I knew whatever I was walking into was not going to be good.
Inside the smell of pot and urine filled the air. I felt like I was in a movie. More specifically I felt I was at that part in the movie where you are screaming at the main character, “Get out! Don’t stay in the house! Don’t be a moron!” Randy ran out from around the corner frantic. His was wife in her chair watching TV, and his kids under his arms as he ran up to me. I sat down on the couch which felt lumpy, until I removed the Hennessy bottles that had been stuffed under the cushions. Randy’s eyes had regained their cloudy redness, and now started to fill up with tears. Getting on his knees he began to beg me for money. He said he owed the guys outside money for drugs they had already used and they were coming for him if he didn’t give them something. He said he needed about $3,000. I felt helpless as I was $2900. Short of that. I offered to pray with him but it only made him mad. He began demanding I give him everything I had. Mustering up the courage to threaten me physically, pointed at me and demanded my wallet. I stopped him.
“Randy, don’t go there.” Feeling a rousing surge of Godley zeal, I exclaimed, “Don’t you DARE turn on me. You KNOW I love you, and would give anything to help if I could! Don’t you dare try to rob me! That is NOT who you are!” He fell to the floor weeping, not knowing what to do. I sat on the couch praying, also not knowing what to do. I offered the guys outside the hundred dollars I had to get them to leave for the time being, and they did. I laid my hand on Randy’s head praying for him, struck with the realization that he didn’t need my charity, he needed a savior. Telling him I loved him, I grabbed my keys and left. It was the last time I ever saw or heard from him again.
Randy had a lot of needs. He needed sobriety, money, physical health, family care, friends that helped him not hurt him, food, a job. But of his needs only one would have fixed the others; the Gospel. I have helped a lot of different people like Randy, and still do today. Time after time the result is always the same because the impact is always short sighted.
Humans are eternal beings. Whether dwelling in glory with the Father, or dwelling in the flames of His wrath, everyone dwells somewhere forever. The greatest problem Humanity faces, and the problem that causes all other problems is sin. When Paul addresses the churches in Rome, he doesn’t give them a layout of how to fix poverty or political issues. Instead He gives them the message of the Gospel and tells them not to be ashamed of it. The Gospel is the only solution to the Human dilemma of sin. It is the hope of salvation for our souls, for our hearts, our minds, our government, our circumstances, our pain, our shame, our stress, our culture. The Gospel is the literal righteousness and justice of God revealed in our hearts. It’s more than hope for us to grasp, it’s hope that overtakes us. It’s the knowledge that Jesus isn’t our emotional Santa Claus who brings us gifts once a year if we are good. Instead He’s a king and a savior coming down from Heaven to dwell on the Earth in human form and physically rule it in Righteousness. It’s the revelation that Jesus is going to destroy the wickedness of this world in his wrath that is stirred by His desire for you and me. It’s the hope for men like Randy that they don’t have to be the product of their bad choices, but can be re-born as the product of God’s good choices. God’s greatest vision for the poor of the Earth is not that they would have money, but be the image bearers of His righteousness and glory that they were created to be.
If there is to be any sort of social justice revolution in our time, it has to begin with the revelation of God’s justice in the Gospel. Jesus and the good news of His coming is the only way for the worng things to be made right. Without the Gospel as the center of that revolution we’ll end up like the church in Galatia more concerned with the practice of the faith then the faith itself. For our faith is not merely the practice of morality and ethics, but is the ability of God to embody the moral and ethical values He created for us.
I hope I get one more shot with Randy. I pray he’s still alive. I will probably still buy his family groceries, but I will labor and not quit until he grasps the truth and hope of the Gospel. As it’s the only thing able to save him. It’s true social justice.