Hospitable Barbarians and Homeless Hearts

We gave him one safe night, a shower, laundry services, a meal and a half, prayer, and an invitation to change his mind. It was all we could do.

Yesterday friends from out of state contacted us to let us know a young man from their community was in our city. He had chosen a homeless life, recently turning down a job offer in favor of a life that he thinks will be a greater adventure of imitating a homeless Jesus and telling others about him. But when he contacted friends back home yesterday morning they learned someone had tried to rob him since arriving in Atlanta. So our out-of-state friends contacted us, also giving us some background on the young man, background that includes attendance at their church gatherings and some family history that would be challenging for any one of us to process well. We gave our out-of-state friends permission to pass our contact information on to the young man, and he called me yesterday afternoon.

So I picked him up at Centennial Park, and he spent the evening and the night with us. Last evening I put him on the phone with our out-of-state friends, giving him a chance to hear their concern and their desire that he come back home. But he admits little sense of the dangers of his chosen path, so was not deterred. Then we called one of the shelters downtown that he had heard about, to see if they had a room for the night. As I expected, they didn’t. “Come at 6:30 in the morning,” they told us. So he slept on our sofa instead.

Just now I returned from the shelter, after helping him find the line of men waiting for a bed or other assistance. When we first pulled up, a couple men along the sidewalk wondered why we were there. They saw the young man’s guitar; “Are you here to sing?” When they learned he was looking for a room, I heard them wondering why he was carrying a guitar. Actually, he was carrying a guitar, a big backpack, and an over-sized duffel bag—about three times as much luggage as any other man I saw there. Does he realize this may make him the target for more robbery attempts like the one he experienced at gun point the other night? And will the shelter allow him to keep that much luggage there? Will he manage to keep it all dry as the tale end of Hurricane Michael blows through here the next few days (as I showed him last night)? How long will his laptop survive if his phone has already broken during his first week on the road? What will he do if he loses communication? How happy will the over-worked shelter be to host someone who purposefully left home and declined a job offer just two or three weeks ago? They are overwhelmed already with people in desperate need, people mastered by addictions, people without anyone who is calling them home.

But he has the armor of God like Ephesians describes, he told me last night. And when I asked him how I could pray for him, he told me he’s not really concerned about his safety. Rather, he wanted me to pray that he can have good conversations with people about Jesus and that he will find other church people along the way as he hikes northward. Church people who will need to host him while he declines their advice that he choose a safer, self-supporting life? There are plenty of people where he came from who need Jesus, our out-of-state friend reminded me on the phone last night. Why couldn’t he talk to others about Jesus there? Why not stay near people who know him, who truly care when they see signs that he is making dangerous choices?

You seem to have lived your life between two poles, I told him last night—between the southern state you left and the northern state where you are headed. And he’s usually traveled between the two, he acknowledged, at the wrong time of the year. So now he’s heading north just as the weather there is turning cold, expecting to arrive within six months but without any real travel plans. He has been homeless once before, he said. But that was in the South. Things will be much harder northward as winter nears. But the other pole is pulling again, and I think he hopes to find himself on the road there.

And so, as I left our young friend at the shelter this morning, I felt a sinking feeling inside. “You know how to find me if you need me,” I told him before I left. It was still dark.

Last night after dinner we read the first half of Acts 28, which tells of how the shipwrecked Paul received hospitality on the island of Malta from the hands of the “native people.” That’s the ESV’s nice way of translating a term that more literally means “barbarians” (i.e., people who didn’t speak the Greek language that civilized people used). As we read this passage with our new young friend at our table, I couldn’t help mentally noticing that we were cast, ironically, in the role of the hospitable barbarians. Unlike the barbarians in Acts 28, I’m under no illusions that our new friend is a god. I’m pretty sure he’s not an apostle, either. (We might be barbarians, though.) But he did need some hospitality, so we gave it as best we knew how.

Northern friends, if you see our friend or one of his brothers, consider helping him a little if you can. He will probably thank you for a meal or a chance to read the Bible together. You might even, as I did, see a bit of yourself in his face.

We gave him one safe night, a shower, laundry services, a meal and a half, prayer, and an invitation to change his mind. It was all we could do.

PS: I wonder how often God feels the same way about me…


Thoughts? Share them in the comments below. And thanks for reading. 


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