My kids were the first to notice him—the man huddled in his sleeping bag one Sunday morning on the far corner of our church’s parking lot. His name is Eugene. They asked several questions about why he was there, which I answered with compassion (I thought) and then we went on our way into church. I think I made some comment about how their dad or Scott would certainly help him, and I reasoned to myself that it probably wasn’t safe for me to take the kids over to talk with him or offer help by myself. A few weeks later, there was left-over cake after church and again, my daughter noticed Eugene and asked if she could take him some cake. I hesitated and almost offered to take it myself when God brought Matthew 25:40 to my mind: “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”
How could I take away an opportunity for Emma to minister to Eugene and in fact—to Jesus Himself all because of my fear? I told her to go on over and take the cake to him (sending her older brother along too). I watched from a distance, and soon, I just had to move closer as I watched my two children smiling and laughing while Eugene shared one joke after the next with them. We stayed to talk with him for quite awhile and slowly my anxiety disappeared. He was cheerful, kind and gracious. As we walked away that day, Emma noted that Eugene seemed to need someone to talk to much more than he needed or wanted the cake we gave him.
Mark and I often talk and pray about how we can intentionally teach our three children to be kind, compassionate and willing to give themselves for Christ and others in this “ME-centered” culture. I realized that day—it’s too risky NOT to stop and involve our kids in helping others! Keeping them “safe” and protected from homelessness, poverty and those who are hurt/abused will only keep them focused on themselves and I’m not willing to take THAT risk.
Now, our church has moved to a new location, so we have not seen Eugene in several weeks. My kids have asked about him and we pray for him. They have also decided we should get a care package together, so that when we do see him, we can stop to visit. I hope we do get to see Eugene again, because I would love the opportunity to thank him—for reminding me that serving others and loving Jesus cannot be separated. And, I have a new prayer these days—that God will help my family see and act in the moment to meet the needs of others. I’m realizing that living any other way is just too risky.