“Come with me and join me for dinner. One of the carts has awesome Mexican food.”
Published on: 07-01-2019
“He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go” (Ps. 91:11; The Message).*
Pastor Luis had traveled to a city a couple hours from his home. It was to be a short trip, beginning with a quick visit to his favorite doughnut shop.
He parked under a streetlight and walked down an alley toward the doughnuts, already tasting his favorite flavors.
The alley was dark, but Pastor Luis is one of those Christians who is at home meeting new friends in dark alleys. He never feels unsafe, because his walks follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
“I pray often,” Pastor Luis says, “that God will have me run into the people He has prepared for me to meet. When you’re walking with God, even dark alleys are safe places. You just have to be sure you’re following rather than running ahead of Him.”
Partway down the alley Pastor Luis saw a homeless man leaning on the side of a derelict building. The man was dressed in an ill-fitting jacket, inadequate for the cold night. He wore a motor cap, pulled down to protect from the wind. His dirty shoes were worn thin enough to be ineffective.
The man was obviously ill. An ugly tumor was growing from his abdomen, hanging out like the trunk of a young elephant. It was repulsive, and immediately drew Pastor Luis to his side.
“Are you doing OK?” Pastor Luis asked.
“I’m fine,” the man responded.
“No, you’re not fine. You look ill. How can I help you?”
“Really, I’m just fine,” the man continued, not pulling away but continuing to lean into the building, encouraging more conversation.
“But you’re not healthy, are you?”
“No. Not really. I got out of the hospital yesterday, but I’ll be OK. Thank you for asking.”
“Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat?”
Pastor Luis was feeling guilty for not being able to help someone who could obviously use some tenderness and love, and maybe a rather large sandwich.
“No. I don’t want to waste your time. You were on your way somewhere.”
“No,” Pastor Luis responded. “I’m the one bothering you, maybe even wasting your time.”
“You’re fine, sir,” the homeless man said. “I’ll eat something later. You’re good to talk with me.”
“Well, hey, there are some food carts on the corner right up here,” Pastor Luis tried again. “Come with me and join me for dinner. One of the carts has awesome Mexican food. Their burritos are especially good.”
The man paused a minute, then agreed to join Pastor Luis on the walk to the food cart. On the way the two men talked a bit more about the homeless man’s health and stay at the hospital. They did not exchange names.
* * *
Emerging from the dark alley, they arrived at the Mexican food cart.
“What would you like?” Pastor Luis asked. “Choose anything you’d like, and I’ll pay for it.”
Again, the man backed off and said he didn’t really need anything right then. Pastor Luis wouldn’t let that stand.
“Come on,” he coaxed. “Order something you’d enjoy tonight.”
“OK. Order me one awesome burrito,” the man smiled thankfully. “That will be enough.”
Pastor Luis jumped right in and ordered several burritos, a couple tostados, and something to drink.
They spoke as they waited for the food to be delivered, continuing to talk about the cold alley, the coming rain, the need for pain medicine, and all the other things friends talk about.
Suddenly they were interrupted by a tumult down the street around the doughnut shop. They saw several large motorcycles, handlebars reaching toward the sky like the curls of angry Cape buffalos, engines growling like angry tigers, and black-clad riders waving shotguns toward the crowd. Everyone scattered, diving into the doughnut shop, sprinting toward the alley, screaming louder than the bikers’ engines.
Pastor Luis and his hungry friend watched in horror as the mayhem grew into a tornado of terror. Windows shattered, car alarms screamed, doughnuts burned on abandoned grills.
It was over in a few moments, the bikers growling off toward their next target.
* * *
“Your food is ready, sir,” said the food cart cook.
Pastor Luis turned slowly, realizing that if he hadn’t stopped to speak to the homeless man, he would have been standing in the doughnut shop at the very moment the bikers showed up. He would have been at the center of the danger. He might not have survived.
“One burrito. Make that three burritos for my new friend. One tostado and a drink. You good with that?”
The homeless man took the meal gratefully, stored the burritos in his coat pockets, then turned toward his new friend.
“Thanks for the burritos, Pastor Luis,” he said. Then he walked back down into the dark alley.
Pastor Luis stood planted in the alley by the food cart.
I don’t know that man’s name, thought Pastor Luis. I didn’t tell the man my name either. There’s no way he could know who I was. How did he know I’m Pastor Luis?
The sounds of biker mayhem were rapidly being replaced by the sounds of sirens from police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. But all Pastor Luis could hear was the voice of a very ill, smiling, homeless man.