The least of these

For the past five years around Christmas, I have gone down to help with a homeless ministry called 7 Bridges. The ministry gets its name from its founder, Pastor Seven and the seven bridges that it ministers to throughout Atlanta.  I usually take a large group of young people, girls and guys. Many who have been or still attend my Bible Study.  In the past, families of my girls have gone. I did not think I was going to be able to go this year, as I am working next  Saturday and this was the only day that I thought I could get some Christmas shopping done. One of my college Bible Study girls called me last night and asked if I was going.  I had just returned from a very tiring trip and told her I would decide this morning.  I woke up early and miraculously refreshed from my trip. Emily called and I told her I still did not know but would call her back. As I was contemplating going or not, I thought to myself  “what would Jesus do?” Well, the answer came back quickly and of course He would choose to go and feed the homeless and minister to “the least of these” instead of running around shopping for gifts that everyone on my list does not need.  These people have real needs.  Most are living on the streets, cold, addicted, and without hope.  I called Emily and we both decided we should go.

When we arrived, we were amazed at all of the people who were there.  I was thinking that it really did not matter that we came because there were so many others.  But I was to be proven wrong later.  The ministry always meets in a parking lot on Cleveland Road and prays and then splits up into two groups.  One goes to all of the bridges and the other goes to the Bluff, the worst section in Atlanta.  I usually choose the Bridge route because I  am very fond of one of the leaders and it is safest( if you consider walking sideways thirty feet up beside traffic going 70 miles per hour safe).  But today, there were so many new people and they all wanted to go under the bridges, that I chose the dangerous section of town.  The last time I went to the Bluff, I temporarily lost one of my girls and was panic stricken.  In her sweet and naive way, she walked off to talk with a homeless  woman, and we could not find her. I was crying and imagining calling her father to explain what had happened. Thank goodness, she showed up unharmed and was very remorseful for the anxiety she had caused me and the others.  So, today I take another one of my precious girls literally into the hood.  Pastor Seven was not there today, and his assistant, Anthony was our leader. Anthony is in a wheelchair and ten years ago was living on the streets of the Bluff.  He knows exactly what it is like to be homeless and without hope.

Our first stop was a big parking lot over near Antioch Baptist Church.  We had two vans full of food and clothing and blankets that we give out to all in need.  There were about a dozen people who showed up. Anthony gathered us all in a circle and we sang a couple of songs.  Then Anthony began to tell the people who had come to see us that we were there because of Jesus.  He explained that each of us could be doing something else like being home and warm and drinking hot cocoa, which at the moment sounded great to me.  It was much colder today than I had dressed for.  But I had to remind myself that these people are always out in the cold. They don’t have a nice warm car to get back into or a warm bed to go home to or even a hot shower.  He then told them that we are all here but for a brief time and that one day each of us will spend eternity either in heaven or hell. He asked the group gathered if they knew where they were going.  One woman named Chris stepped forward and shared how she had given her life to Christ and was trying to turn things around.  She had been on the streets using drugs and living a bad life but now she had a place to stay and was so thankful.  Anthony looked at each person in the eye and asked them, “Do you know where you are going?”  Most said they knew, but one man when Anthony questioned him said, “probably hell.”  I cannot explain how my heart felt when he said that, but it truly hurt.  Anthony asked him to come over  so he could pray for him, but the man told Anthony he was not ready.  Several minutes later, when we were about to hand out lunches and toiletries, Anthony asked if anyone would like to pray.  I immediately said I would like to pray for the man who said he was probably going to hell, and before I could finish, Emily chimed in too and said she wanted to pray and explained to him that it is a free gift and he does not have to do anything but receive it.  He walked up and Emily and I put our hands on his shoulders and I asked him his name, which is Johnny.  I prayed he would realize how much God loves him that He was willing to send His only, perfect, sinless son to be born to die a sinner’s death.  I prayed that if today he heard God’s voice that he would not harden his heart and that this very day he would ask Jesus to be His Lord and Savior.  Anthony asked him if he was now ready and he said “yes.”  Anthony led him in a prayer to forgive him of his sins and ask Jesus to take control of his life.  Emily and I were hugging and tears were streaming down my cheeks.  We rushed to hug him and sweet Emily prayed the dearest pray for Johnny.  I asked him if he was excited and he said he was.  I may never see Johnny again this side of heaven, but I know I will see him there.  I also know I made the right decision to go and share the gospel with ” the least of these” instead of buying presents and spending money on things that will eventually burn up.

Today has been a great and sobering reminder to me what the true meaning of Christmas is all about.  It really will not matter in eternity if I don’t get my Christmas cards mailed, or if I don’t find the perfect material gifts for others. The greatest gift that I can give is the one that was given to me.  I can share that gift by telling others that God loved us so much that He chose to wrap Himself in flesh to show us the depth of His love. He had a mission and that mission was to die for our sins so that we might have life eternally with Him.  I am so grateful that I did not miss that lesson this morning. I came so close to missing a huge blessing.  Yes, my list is still sitting right beside me, but I know that it really doesn’t matter in the scheme of eternity.  There are many more Johnny’s out there, and you may even be one.  You don’t have to be homeless to be without hope.  There are many with all the trappings of this world, but are truly poverty stricken without Jesus.  I pray if you have not accepted the greatest gift of all, the gift of salvation that today will be your day too!

Merry Christmas! May you truly experience the love and joy of Christ this year.

“And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”  Matthew 25:40