Note: This happened recently when I traveled to downtown Cincinnati, OH for work.
“Hey! Do you have money for food?! Someone give me money! I need some food, I’m f#$^@*& starving here!”
I heard his frustrated voice barreling down the corridor of upscale restaurants towards me, aggressively going from person to person with an echoing demand for food. Although I was facing the other direction, I could tell by the closing proximity of his voice that I was his next target. I said a quick prayer and mentally braced myself.
“Hey man!” he yelled to me. “Do you have any f#$^@*& money so I can get some food? I’m starving! #@$%!!”
“Yah man, I got you. You wanna come eat with me?” I smiled and asked as calmly as possible. His aggressive tone and combative demeanor had probably chased off those who would have even considered giving him some money under less hostile circumstances.
“Yah whatever, just give me some food. I’ve been out of jail for two days now and I haven’t eaten since,” he replied.
“Awesome,” I thought to myself, wondering what God was up to.
As I assessed his threat level (please do this if you do street ministry alone), I noticed how young he seemed to me. Though the roughness and age in his face would have said otherwise, I couldn’t help but feel like he was much younger than he appeared.
As we walked down the row of restaurants together trying to find a place to eat, I tried to start up conversation with him, but Mike wasn’t all that interested. We finally stumbled upon a Chipotle on the corner, which he mentioned he really liked; and it seemed like a fitting, unpretentious place to get him some food.
The Chipotle line was literally out of the door, but all of the other restaurants around us were formal sit downs, so we decided to wait it out. We got in the back of the line and I tried to re-engage at this point, but Mike still wasn’t having it. From the moment he walked up to me, he had yet to actually turn his body fully in my direction, let alone look at my face. His anger and bitterness toward the world was apparent, and getting something into his stomach was his only concern at this point.
“Look into his eyes.”
“Say what?”… I felt the Holy Spirit ask me to do something I didn’t really feel like doing at all. (Just to clarify, this wasn’t an audible voice or anything like that, but more like a prompting I felt.) Mike was rude, combative, and didn’t seem interested in actually talking to me. I was hoping to just buy him some food and go on our separate ways.
“Look into his eyes.”
Ugh… okay Lord. But how? The guy wouldn’t even face my direction. Then a question came to my mind and I blurted it out.
“How old are you man?” I asked him.
“28…” he responded.
Awkward silence ensued and then he finally asked in return, “How old are you?”
“Guess!” I replied.
And with that, sure enough Mike turned towards me and looked at my face. Our eyes finally met for the first time, and behind his course attitude and weathered appearance, I saw the eyes of a lost and scared kid. They say that our eyes are the “window to our soul”. Whether that’s true or not, I do agree that you can generally pick up on some things about a person by looking into their eyes. I don’t know whether I had a certain look of care or compassion in mine, but whatever it was, God had made a way to open Mike up to talking.
I won’t get into the whole conversation, but Mike guessed that I was around his age (he was WAY off haha); so I told him that, and he seemed pretty entertained by it. We finally began to talk, and from the time we waited through the line, to the end when we had all of his food packaged up and ready to go, we spent about 25-30 minutes together.
I learned about him, his family situation, his past, his work, where he was trying to go, what he was trying to do. What caught me by surprise, was that he asked me a lot of questions in return, and I could tell after a while that he was genuinely interested in learning more about me.
To be completely honest, my initial reaction to all of his questions was that he was trying to figure out whether I was worth mugging- but as time went on, I think he was more trying to figure out why I was even interacting with him in the first place. I had just come from a client’s office, so I was wearing business work attire, so he was probably wondering if I was just some lonely business dude that was desperate for company.
After I bagged his food and got him all of the proper utensils, sauces, napkins, etc. he needed, he took it, abruptly said “I gotta go,” and started walking off.
“Hey, before you go, can I tell you something that might sound strange?” I asked him. I knew God had introduced Mike to me for a reason beyond getting him food.
“Sure,” he replied.
“You’re probably wondering why I did all this,” I began.
“Yah I was,” he said.
“Well, I did it because God wants you to know, that He sees you, exactly where you are… and that He loves you.”
Mike stared at me, not saying anything. But he was listening. So I continued to tell him that Jesus loves him. That Jesus loves him so much that He died on the cross for him and rose again just so that He could have a relationship with him. That no matter what Mike’s done in his life up to this point, it didn’t matter because Jesus offers us complete forgiveness, hope, and a future that goes beyond any mistakes we’ve ever made in our lifetime. That his life can be completely changed if he lives it with the Lord.
Mike seemed conflicted, but I could see a 180 degree change in his expression, and God had his attention. I think he wasn’t sure about what he was hearing or experiencing, and it may have caught him off guard. So I asked him if I could pray for him before he left, and he agreed.
As we stood outside of the restaurant beside the growing line of Chipotle customers, I prayed over him for a few minutes- for his life, his family, his healing, his purpose, and for him to find the saving grace and power of Jesus. After I finished praying, he began to walk away. But after a few steps he stopped, turned around, looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. This means a lot to me… and I won’t forget what you told me.”
And that was it. Mike disappeared into the busy streets of downtown Cincinnati, blending into the after-work, rush hour mass of people walking briskly to their next destination. Mike had thanked me, but I think I was more thankful; thankful for the experience of meeting him, and thankful that God had at least used me to feed him and share His love with him. The repeat convict who was so contentious and threatening when we first met, had morphed into a polite, respectful, and appreciative young man by the end of the encounter.
As I walked back to my hotel, I’ll be honest with you guys… although I was thankful, I wasn’t really happy. My heart became heavy as I heard his story, and I wish I could’ve done more. I wish I could’ve shared more with him; that I was just as much of a sinner as he was, and that I was just as much in need of a Savior as him… and that it was only Christ that mended me. God and His love for us is so amazing, and I felt like I didn’t do the Lord enough justice in that short moment.
I will trust in God that He has His hand upon Mike, and that He used me to plant a seed in his heart and mind that will continue to be watered until the day he gives his life to Christ. If you guys can, please say a quick prayer for Mike today, that he would come to know and trust the Lord fully for the rest of his life.
So what’s my point in sharing this story with you? Here are a few things God’s put on my heart that will hopefully encourage you today:
A) There’s always someone in need around us. Whether it’s a physical, emotional, or spiritual need, or whether it’s an immediate short-term need met by a loving smile or a long-term need for sustenance and healing, there’s always an opportunity for us to share God’s love. Look for your opportunity today in the people you interact with! “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Heb 13:6
B) Look into their eyes. While the Lord was calling me to do that literally in this particular instance, I want to generalize this to simply mean, build relationships and get to know people’s stories. Brothers, ask God to show you other men to minister to. Sisters, likewise ask for guidance as to the women He would have you connect with. As Christians, if we’re afraid to associate and build relationships with people outside the 4 walls of church, then how can we reach the lost? Don’t only function on the surface-level with people you are ministering to, but allow them to see God’s Spirit living and working in you. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Rom 8:9
C) Let love talk. Or let love shine, or let love lead the way… however you want to say it. But just let love do its thing through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in you. Someone asked me during my men’s group how I’m able to just go up to random people (esp. if they are homeless) and talk to them, while he struggles to do the same. I told him that we all won’t approach people in the same way. We may all certainly share the same heart, but God has designed each of us uniquely, and we all have our own unique make-ups. Ask God to reveal to you what your strengths are and how you can use them. Based on your design and where you are in your walk of faith, you ministering to someone may look completely different than how I or anyone else ministers to that same person. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Eph 2:10
Take some time today to ask God how He’s built YOU to engage with and love others. Whether it’s a simple smile, helping hand, kind word, or looking into their eyes, you may be surprised at how easy and natural it is to share God’s love when your heart is open and willing!