Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Work (07/27/06)
- TITLE: Work for Food
By Marty Wellington
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When I first saw Jimmy at the corner of 12th & Grand, downtown, it was during the busy Christmas season. I saw him as just another panhandler, some guy down on his luck, washed up, checked out—something like that. I didn’t give him much thought. He toted a small black vinyl backpack over his shoulder and wore a crudely constructed cardboard sign that read “Work for Food.” I couldn’t believe this guy could really do any work. His worn blue eyes nearly disappeared in large, dark hollows in his head and his clothes seemed to be displayed on department store hangers—not human arms and legs. He resembled a scarecrow of sorts, I thought, dressed in his flannel plaid shirt.
At first glance, his appearance made me shudder. I turned away from him many times, uncomfortable and unsure of how to respond. However, as the days steadily marched on toward Christmas, a terrible ache formed in my heart as I thought of this man alone on the winter streets day after day. I stared down at my shiny leather pumps, my dry cleaned wool suit, and meticulously manicured nails. Why did I have a good job and this man was on the street? What made the difference? Why had God blessed me with abundance and not this man?
As the work days melted away each week and my life turned frantic the last few weeks before Christmas, my attention turned toward gift-buying, tree-trimming, and parties. Two Sundays before Christmas, our Sunday School teacher asked for volunteers to serve meals and conduct worship services for the homeless at the City Union Mission. Discussion ensued among the singles in our class about who would bring guitars. Someone offered to prepare a short message and others raised their hands to serve meals. I sat frozen in my seat, avoiding eye contact with our teacher. My first instinct was to flee. Acids in my stomach churned at top speed. The homeless made me uncomfortable. What could I say to them?
Then I remembered the scarecrow man in flannel. His image burned in my mind and suddenly I knew God was speaking to me. I raised my hand slowly above my head and submitted to the inner promptings of God’s Spirit.
Friday night came quickly that week, as our single’s group mobilized to drive to City Union Mission. Upon arrival, we received our assignments and I was relegated to the food service area.
After arranging the chairs and simple centerpieces, one of the staff sent me to the kitchen to retrieve napkins and plates. A delicious aroma greeted me as I entered the kitchen. It was amazing to see so many staff members buzzing about, relishing in their acts of service. But one figure in a far corner, bent over a work table, caught my eye. I gasped as I recognized a full head of rusty hair teetering over a worn plaid shirt.
My stunned response caught the attention of one of the cooks who moved nearer, asking, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I’m just surprised to see that guy here.” I nodded my head in the direction of the farthest work table. “I’ve seen him nearly every day on the streets downtown.”
The cook’s face brightened, full of animation and pride. “That’s Jimmy. He’s been on the streets since he was a child, but he won’t accept handouts. As his sign says, he only works for food and nothing else. Over the years, he’s been one of our most faithful workers. From the time he first came here, he wouldn’t eat with the others until he had done his fair share of work. He even insisted on washing dishes after meals.”
Tears of shame spilled over my eyelids and slid down my cheeks as I realized I was a witness to God’s love in action, not truly a participant as I had always imagined. A simple man, a homeless man, a man shamed and neglected demonstrated to all of us how to serve mankind.
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