For more than a year, we watched a peculiar member of our Micah community work a full-time janitorial job that paid plenty for him to afford a place of his own. Yet, he was sleeping in his car most nights, and had faithfully appeared at the cold weather shelter for several seasons.
On Sunday mornings, I’d often see him perched in the very back of the sanctuary, sometimes for more than one service. His employer spoke well of him. He was never a problem, and his education level was such that housing himself shouldn’t have been a problem.
We had offered to help him find a place, but on each occasion, he passed on the opportunity. So puzzled we were that we had even theorized on what else he might have going on to prevent him from moving indoors.
Then, six months later, a money order began to appear in my mailbox. Sometimes $50, other times $100 or more. Our peculiar neighbor became diligent about making his regular tithe to Micah. Each time, I said to my staff, “You can’t let him do this; we are supposed to be helping him, not taking from him.” They tried to return the money, and every time he insisted that we keep it.
For a long time, I couldn’t cash them because I was so concerned he was giving us something he needed. I secretly stocked them away in hopes he would rethink the decision or at least tell us something we could buy for him. Each month, the pile of contributions in my drawer kept growing. Then, just before Christmas, our guest brought his end-of-year contribution to me in person.
“You can’t keep doing this,” I said to him. “Don’t you need that money? We really want to see you housed and settled out of the cold weather. Can’t you use that to get off the street?”
“It is important to me that you accept this,” he said. “It gives me great joy to be able to give back to something that means so much to so many people. It is my responsibility to give from what I have because God tells me so.”
His wise words made so much sense.
Philippines 4:4-9 reassures us that the way we carry ourselves in the world and truly accomplishing the right thing is all about the ways we demonstrate our allegiance to God. Our Father in heaven asks so little of us in exchange for the great blessings he bestows upon our lives. The least we can show for it is honoring his request for “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.” And with those certain things in mind, we cannot fall short of the practices we have “learned or received or heard” from Him.
In further conversation with our neighbor, I learned his refusal of housing had come from some great trauma he experienced when he fled a war-torn African country. His years of homelessness and joblessness hadn’t helped his lack of confidence in the idea of stability.
He was without many things in his current state of homelessness, but at least he knew what to expect. Housing came with too many unknowns: Would he have a job next month? Would the landlord continue to rent to him? Would he have enough money for all the new bills?
At least for now, he was content. He assured me that I would be the first to know when he was ready to take me up on my offer, but in the meantime, all he needed was for me to accept the thing that gave him joy.
May we rejoice in the Lord this season.
May our gentleness be evident to all.
May we present our requests to God in all cases, and do “whatever” is necessary to honor the kingdom with all we have, no matter how much or how little we perceive it.
Meghann Cotter is executive director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that offers holistic care to the Fredericksburg’s street homeless.