Dilapidated buildings sheltered the popular refuge from the biting north winds. The narrow passage, sprinkled with patches of straggling weeds, was dotted with ragged mattresses and rusted grocery carts, teetering on three wheels. Scattered broken bottles, promising drunken warmth, speckled the ground, while discarded clothing lay strewn in the deserted alley. A current newspaper sprawled lifelessly on a stack of tattered quilts. "Someone's slept here recently," thought Collin aloud.
Finding a spot clear of clutter and broken glass, Collin hunkered down to see if anyone would return to the alley to sleep. His mission was to locate homeless people, informing them about a new designated warming shelter - Solid Rock Community Church.
A taxi edged into the alleyway, headlights illuminating remnants and shards of broken dreams. A man slipped from the rear seat, balancing a tray of paper cups, wisps of steam whipping wildly in the north wind. The man dropped fare into the cab driver’s extended hand and waved him on as the late evening shadows lengthened. Collin peered into the darkness, but could only identify a silhouette shuffling in his direction. Collin stepped from the shadows into the dim light of a solitary street lamp.
"Hello," a friendly voice welcomed. "I've got coffee."
"Hi…uh…Mr. Parker?... Is that you?" Collin questioned.
The man placed the tray atop a fragile cardboard box. Mr. Parker studied the face behind the voice more closely, recognition registered in his eyes. "Collin Stevens...What are you doing out here?" he inquired.
"I was about to ask you the same thing sir," he stammered.
"Relax, Collin. This isn't my office," his former principal chuckled.
"And don't I know it. I had your decor memorized," he laughed nervously. "So, Mr. Parker, what are you doing out here?"
"Well, Collin, this,” he announced, swinging his arm in a grand flourish, “is my second home."
"You live out here, Mr. Parker?" Collin asked, eyes wide.
"Well, it seems that way. Let me explain. Have a seat," Mr. Parker encouraged, pointing to a wooden crate. "Coffee?"
Collin accepted the proffered drink and settled onto the crate, cautiously sipping the scalding drink.
"Collin, how long has it been since you graduated from high school? Ten years? Fifteen?"
"Fifteen," Collin answered.
"Much has happened since then. Three years ago my wife and I celebrated forty-two years of marriage. Shortly after our anniversary she became ill. We got the dreaded prognosis...cancer. I had my years in at the school, so I retired to take care of her...hoping...believing…she would get better. Six months after the prognosis, she was gone.
"I'd never embraced her faith in Christ. I'd never thought about it much until the last few months of her life. Her faith never wavered...not once. In her final days, she talked about going home...her true home, and she kept praying for me.
“I was at her bedside the night she died. Before she passed," his voice choked with emotion, "she whispered, Roger, it's more beautiful than I'd dreamed. Please get ready to come home. Then…she drifted away. In her darkest hour, I observed a peace beyond comprehension. At that moment, I knew I wanted that kind of peace. Days later, I scheduled an appointment with her pastor; shortly thereafter, I came to know Christ."
Mr. Parker wiped his eyes and nose on his coat sleeve. "Ruthie's final words 'please come home' resounded deep in my heart. I realized my earthly home was but a shelter. I'm a homeless man, but my true home waits. There are many homeless folks frequenting this alley, needing to know Jesus offers more than stained mattresses, tattered quilts and a strong cup of coffee. I come here to lend a hand and offer hope," he said, eyes gleaming. "By the way, are you looking for a place to stay?"
"Me?" Collin asked, teeth chattering. "No, sir. You're going to find this very hard to believe after all of our frequent visits in school, but I'm the pastor at Solid Rock Community Church. I came to offer people a warm place to stay, but it looks like they've taken refuge someplace else."
Snow began spitting down, blowing about, stinging exposed skin.
"Mr. Parker, let's take the coffee back to the church. We can talk about old times...how God brought me to where I am today…in my office."
"That will be a change," Mr. Parker laughed.
"Amen, sir. Amen."
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