For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
I live with one of my heroes. Randy, my husband, is one who feeds, gives drinks, invites, clothes, cares for, and visits the marginalized. It is not a choice he makes of a good thing to do; it is whom he is. For the thirty-four years we have been married, Randy has befriended people in each of the places we have lived. It has not been a large number, but there are always one or two lucky souls to whom he is a friend. It is his calling—God made him for this purpose. It doesn’t matter what he is doing for his day job, he eventually gravitates toward this population.
The beauty of these relationships is that they are not projects. They are friendships. There is not much reciprocal gain and I’ve watched Randy grow in his understanding of how to be a friend in these situations. He learned to not take things personally and to not require gratitude for what he was doing. One woman I’ll call Hazel was a toughened, caustic 60-year old when they met. She had lived on the streets for most of her life. Randy and a few others helped her get cleaned up and into an apartment. If they got too close to her, she would get prickly and at times disappear for a couple of days or even weeks. She then would call and settle down again for a while. He would scold her and reason with her, but continue as her friend.
Another friendship was with a young couple that Randy met on a cold winter day. He drove them “home” after a breakfast for homeless that he was facilitating. They directed him to drop them off behind an abandoned restaurant. There in a small alcove they had made a home for themselves with a mattress, a metal barrel and a shopping cart. The woman was pregnant—six-months pregnant with twins. He called me later that day and said, “I just dropped Joseph and Mary off!”–another homeless pregnant couple. Randy organized an effort to get them in an apartment and to a doctor. Sadly, this story did not end well as the husband went to prison for accidentally killing one of the babies. The other baby was given up for adoption and the young woman disappeared.
The most recent friendship is a man (we’ll call him “Sam”) who was housed by a city initiative. Randy was working on a counseling degree and needed a practicum as part of his requirements. He arranged to see some of the recently housed homeless who were part of this initiative. Some were having a tough time and needed help with the transition from the streets to living under a roof. Sam, like others, needed help converting from following the law of the streets to middle class rules. You cannot take justice into your own hands when someone bothers you in an apartment complex. That might keep you safe on the streets, but will land you in jail in other contexts. Randy helped him think through these rules and acclimate to the new living situation.
Since that time, the two have remained friends. Randy has walked alongside Sam regardless of whether he was making good choices or not-so-good choices. It was disappointing to Randy when Sam began drinking again. He had been clean for a year, but in a stressful time gave in. Randy tried to convince him back on the wagon. He set some firm boundaries that he would not talk with Sam if he was drunk when he called. It has not been easy but Randy has continued to be his friend.
Sam ended up back on the streets because of his drinking and Randy was called to the hospital the other day. The weather has been below freezing and Sam was dying of exposure to the cold. Sam was unaware for a couple of days, but he has rallied and is sitting up and eating. Unfortunately, both legs will have to be amputated below the knees due to the frostbite. The hospital asked Randy to serve as his surrogate to make medical decisions. I expected this to be a burden, but Randy says it is an honor. He wants to do this for his friend. We’re not sure what will happen to Sam. He is in God’s hands.
I share this not for the sole purpose of honoring Randy (although he is a star). There are so many lessons here. Each person is precious in God’s sight. No individual is unworthy of our care—no matter what their past. Love is not about reciprocity. It is about giving and giving and giving. It is about caring enough to stick with a person even when they continue to make the same mistakes. It is about being an advocate for an individual when the system is so difficult to navigate—even for a person with transportation, money, time, and identification. It is about following Christ’s mandate to feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit those in prison. It is about recognizing the responsibility we each have to befriend the friendless.
Mother Teresa spoke of the poverty in the West as being of a different nature than that of her beloved India. She said,
“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
Lord, make me an instrument of your will.
 Matthew 25:35-36
 Mother Teresa (1995). A Simple Path: Mother Teresa. New York: Random House.