Rob and random people

Sometimes your life can be changed by someone just saying hello.

I met a man last week. His name was Rob. This story isn’t going to follow the normal boy meets girl storyline. There is no happily ever after. No breakups or makeups. Just a story of a girl meeting a boy and her life changing.

My photography partner and I were walking up and down one of the grittier streets in town. We had the assignment to create a photoessay on our interpretation of the street. The photographs were in black and white. We shot photos of crumbling sidewalks, of people trying to eek out a life, and empty glass alcohol bottles glittering in the sunshine beside a stinky dumpster.

As we walked, I noticed a piece of brown cardboard lying on the grass.

Fellow Christians, in Jesus name, please help.

The words sunk into my brain and I stopped to pick up the sign. It made me sad. There are so many Christians in the church who would never think to help a homeless person, let alone call them a fellow anything. I looked around. There wasn’t anyone around. No one to claim the sign or talk to. Just me and my photography partner. I handed her the sign and asked her to pose with it. After all, the sign reflected the street. That would help complete our assignment.

Soon it was my turn to hold the sign. As my friend directed me to pose, I started to laugh. The position was uncomfortable and I was about ready lose my balance and tip over.

“So you think my sign is funny?” a male voice asked.

“Yeah, I think it’s hilarious,” I answered without thinking. A few seconds later, my mind made the connection between “my” and “sign.” When it did, I wanted to disappear.

“Well, it’s not,” replied the man.

He was right. There’s nothing funny about suffering. About people in pain or about being faced with an uncertain future. When I looked up at him, I noticed that he wasn’t too much older than myself. He had brown eyes but they didn’t sparkle. They were sad. As we talked, he tried to smile but it never made it past his lips. It was a hot day but he had a jacket on, as if he was trying to thaw the chill that had taken over his heart.

One of his friends, Michael, came to join us. Michael was much more at ease, chatting conversationally as he ate out of a small pint of ice cream. We walked over to the gas station, talking about life and his future. He told me that he had taken photography classes in college. That college wouldn’t keep you from losing your job or facing the streets. I felt like a heartless monster for laughing earlier. I tried to explain that yes, I did agree Christians needed to do more.

Rob just tried to smile.

I wanted to stay longer. To buy the guys groceries and find out more about their journey. To see where they were coming from and if there was any way that I could help them. As it was, my partner and I were going to be late for our class. We had to leave. Before we walked away, we prayed with the guys. When we got back to class, our hearts were heavy. We both wished we could have done more. We were both ashamed of posing with the sign.

The next day, I saw Rob again. He was standing on the street corner, holding up his sign. I was in my car, waiting for the light to change. Our eyes met. He smiled and waved. The smile still didn’t quite meet his eyes but at least he wasn’t looking away in disgust.

I went home that night thinking about Rob and Michael. About all the people who are facing eviction and the streets. Last year, I worked on a book that told the stories of people on the street. While working on it, I spent weeks hanging out with homeless people, sitting under bridges, eating cheap food, and talking in alleyways. During that time, my eyes were opened to the way that people treat the homeless. Most of the time we pretend they are invisible. That if we don’t see them, we don’t have to help them. When we do “see” them, we treat them as second-class citizens. Like that’s really loving like Jesus.

So fellow Christians, please, in Jesus’ name, help. Take your Christianity out of church and into the streets.






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