“Jeff” is 34-years-old, but when I look at him I wonder how many years he has truly lived and how many he has survived. You see, Jeff lives in a tent on the outskirts of town in a place called Tent City, along with dozens of other homeless men and women. Jeff’s parents were both drug addicts and at age 14, he was rolling his parents’ joints when they were too high or drunk to do so themselves. Soon after, Jeff was using drugs himself. At 25, Jeff was arrested for selling marijuana with intent to distribute, a felony in Georgia. With no job — since employers are not falling over themselves to hire anyone, especially felons — and no work in sight in a floundering economy, Jeff became homeless. That was six months ago. Today, Jeff’s hair looks like wet corn husks, his clothes are torn and filthy and his teeth, dear God, his teeth. Looking at this man, my peer, I can see nothing but pain and hopelessness in his eyes. Sure Jeff made bad choices, and yes he is a felon. No one, felon or not, should have to live like this.
I met Jeff through a program at our church that brings homeless men and women, among others, in for a meal and a prayer service. Sitting across from this man I begin to ask myself, “What can I tell this guy?” God loves you? There is hope? I believe that God does love him and there is hope in Christ. I believe God has the power to transform any life. But my words are not putting clothes on Jeff’s back. They’re not getting him out of the cold or the brutal Southern heat. They’re not getting his teeth fixed. They’re not getting him a job.
Later that evening I shook Jeff’s hand and said goodbye, but I didn’t sleep much that night knowing he was wrapped up in a sleeping bag in a tent while his jaws throbbed with pain. How dare I complain when my food doesn’t taste how I like it at a restaurant? How dare I whine when gas costs $4 a gallon? How dare I take anything for granted? How dare I!
Later something very important dawned on me that I already knew, but hadn’t thought about: God’s love manifests itself in people. By caring for Jeff, by simply listening to him, I am showing some of God’s love to him. The person who offers Jeff a meal or a place to stay or bathe is showing some of that love. The saint, who offers Jeff a job knowing he has a drug problem, knowing he has a felony, is showing God’s love. We can all do our part to show God’s love to the homeless. I believe one person cannot do it all, but all of us can do at least some.