I would like to tell you about my friend, Fred.
I met Fred while I was downtown Boston this past week. I would guess that Fred is in his mid to late 40s, but I've never been a good judge of other people's age. His brown hair is turning gray pretty quick, and it goes without saying that he hadn't shaved in a good while. He wore glasses, the thin kind that you don't remember seeing unless you really think about it. When I met Fred, he wore a t-shirt that used to be bright red, but was starting to fade a little bit into orange. Fred has been living in Boston for two months. He really likes lemonade. He has a tattoo of roses and a sword on the inside of his left forearm. Fred puts up a tough front, but his high moral standards and compassionate spirit are close beneath the surface; he has immense respect for women and will always defend the underdog. Fred stopped an abusive boyfriend from killing his girlfriend; both individuals were total strangers to Fred. Though he doesn't show it, Fred really has a soft heart.
Fred is also homeless.
Fred isn't shy about his rough situation. He speaks openly of his gang involvement in Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (a world-renown gang). He brags about the guys he's knocked out with one punch. He talks about how much he doesn't like Boston cops, and how he's told them off; evading arrest by referencing his 'colleagues' and giving threats.
With my mentor an chaperone Charlie next to me, I talked to Fred for an hour and a half. Charlie and I gave him a sandwich and more than a few glasses of lemonade. We broke thru Fred's exterior. We even prayed for Fred. While Charlie prayed, I could see that Fred was moved. He was becoming a little more anxious, but at the same time curious about why two random strangers, very unlike each other and himself, would do this for him. After a few more minutes of letting Fred talk, Charlie suggested that I pray for Fred, too. I probably prayed for 10 minutes, but I have absolutely no idea what I said in that time other than "God, show to Fred...to me, to all of us, that You are more than enough." After I said "amen" and raised my eyes from staring at the ground beneath my feet, Fred was reaching under his glasses to stop tears from falling. I had to do the same thing, and Charlie kept saying "That was beautiful."
Moments later, I said goodbye to Fred. I'm fully aware that chances are pretty slim that I'll ever get to see Fred again. He had had a lot of negative experiences with the church: pastors that were unavailable, congregations that excluded him, sermons that preached condemnation over grace...all very real and painful stories that could happen to anyone, but were amplified because of Fred's disheveled appearance and "homeless" label. Yet, Fred was receptive in a way that I only hope we can all learn from. Though he had every reason to walk away from the love we were trying to extend, Fred stayed. Fred let us pray for him, and he gave us a glimpse of what his life was like.