“Sometimes it’s easy to walk by because we know we can’t change someone’s whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realize it that simple kindness can go a long way toward encouraging someone who is stuck in a desolate place.”
― Mike Yankoski
While in Atlanta for Passion 2014, Erica, Lauren, Anna and I encountered many inspiring people who were homeless, or worked with the homeless. I felt led to share their stories with everyone.
We had just arrived in Atlanta and only a few minutes from our destination (Hyatt Regency Hotel), per Ginger, my Garmin GPS that the girls named for me. We were waiting to turn left at a stoplight when we noticed a man on the side of the road wearing a gray sweatshirt, blue jeans, and a baseball hat, holding a sign, “Homeless and Hungry. God Bless You.” Erica and Lauren looked into their bag of snacks their mom had packed for our road trip, deciding which ones to give away. I looked down and saw what was left of my Chick-fil-a nuggets I hardly touched just an hour ago. Erica called the man over to the car and asked what his name was. “Wayne. My name is Wayne.” Erica started a small conversation with Wayne and proceeded to give him our food. He grinned from ear to ear, thanking us, repeating, “God bless you.” As the light turned green and I drove off, we looked back and saw Wayne eagerly open one of the bags of snacks. This was just the beginning of what we would experience over the next three days.
After two amazing days at Passion had come and gone, each of us were exhausted and were looking forward to being able to sleep in Sunday morning (we had asked for a late checkout so we could sleep in, eat breakfast, and do some sightseeing around Atlanta before Passion City Church’s 5pm service). We had planned to eat at the Corner Bakery across from our hotel, an amazing bakery and café we had eaten breakfast the morning before. As we were approaching the street, a man, who was wearing a dark coat and toboggan, stopped us saying, “Oh, you won’t be able to eat there. They are closed.” Disappointment settled inside of me but immediately left as our conversation with Fred began. There was no doubt in my mind that God orchestrated our paths to intersect on the street in front of the Hyatt Regency and Corner Bakery. You see, once we began talking to Fred, we learned that he, himself, was homeless working temp jobs in the area. He told us he had been washing dishes for Hard Rock Cafe but left when he found out they did not need him that day. He was on his way to the Salvation Army to see their doctor for his diabetes, then proceeded to show us his feet during the conversation, which were ulcerated due to the disease (we also noted he did not have any socks on). We asked Fred where he was from and to our surprise, and his, he is from Myrtle Beach. Each of us looked at each other and shouted, “We are, too!” I thought Fred was going to jump out of his skin. He immediately ran towards the street, jumping up and down, yelling, “Lord, have mercy!” He came back towards us and gave us a fist pump, asking if we knew about Surfside Beach, Brookgreen Gardens, Georgetown, etc. Fred told us he had only been in Atlanta 6 months to be with his 20-year-old daughter and was trying to get back on his feet again. He asked us to pray that he would be able to see the doctor. He then proceeded to tell us that the homeless shelters in Atlanta were horrible and he would not let a dog live in them, with one in particular killing 30 rats this past week alone. It really shocked us to hear Fred’s perspective because we had not noticed any homeless people sleeping on the streets going to and from Philips Arena the past two nights. We just assumed there were plenty of shelters that were taking care of these sweet people. As we wrapped up our conversation, Fred suggested we eat at the Metro Cafe two blocks from the hotel, which is where Erica and Lauren’s mom suggested we eat at least once during our trip. We thanked him and Erica led in praying for Fred before he left in attempts to see the doctor.
After eating at the Metro Cafe, we bought tickets for the MARTA (Atlanta’s “subway”). We were shocked at the number of homeless everywhere. They were sleeping on the benches, on the train, and anywhere else one would consider quite uncomfortable. I sat next to a guy going to our destination and when we came back, he was still there – sleeping the whole time. Once we got off the train, we huddled in a circle, which peaked the interest of an Atlanta police officer – Officer Jude. He walked over to ask if we needed help. We told him our plans and he said, “I saw y’all huddled together and I thought y’all were going to make a play. Which one of you is the quarterback?” We all laughed, which opened the door for our 20-minute conversation with Officer Jude.
While boarding the MARTA to head back to the hotel to pick up my car, a young man reading his Bible caught our eye. We naturally gravitated towards him and began a conversation about the Lord. You could tell Shane was filled with the Spirit and loved the Lord. We shared about our experience at Passion the past 2 days and invited him to Passion City Church’s service that afternoon. He gladly accepted and we said our good-byes as we got off the train.
We were riding the escalator making our way to the street when we heard a very familiar, angelic voice singing. We immediately knew who it was without even having to look. It was a lady we had passed by the previous two nights while walking to the Phillips Arena for Passion. The first night we passed her, she sung so loudly we thought she was using a microphone and speaker. Last night, she had stopped singing to talk to a young lady, who told us she sings opera. On our way back to the arena for the night session, Lauren offered her Chinese food, which she politely declined. So when we heard her singing leaving the MARTA, we each were ecstatic and stopped to talk to her. We did not anticipate what would happen next. You see, though Pearl appeared to be homeless, standing outside the MARTA on Peachtree Street with her cart, she was far from it. In fact, she was not homeless at all! She is a missionary, retired from the cooperate world, singing hymns and songs of praise. She was ministering to people walking by without them even recognizing it. She appears to be homeless and sings, collecting donations for local university ministries in the area (she is also a current seminary student at Emory University). With all the college-aged students in town for Passion that had passed her, Pearl told us only three stopped to talk. We circled around to pray for her before leaving, and she closed with the most encouraging prayer to us, that our eyes be opened to what God is doing all around us. At the end of the prayer, she closed with, “All in.” We asked why and she replied, “When you close a prayer with ‘Amen,’ you stop the prayer, but I close it with ‘All in’ because I never stop praying to my Savior.”