This past Friday, we served dinner to members of our street family under the Jefferson Street bridge. The evening held little humidity and offered a delightful breeze as volunteers set up tables piled high with clothes and shoes. Our Salvation Army canteen was parked in its usual spot, serving salad and pasta out of the sliding window and more staff and volunteers manned side tables with bottled water, juice, silverware and condiments.
Over 150 hungry men and women stood patiently in a single file line as each person shuffled to the window of the canteen, arms stretching upwards to receive their evening meal.
As I stood off to the side, a man, perhaps in his late 50′s walked over to me and thanked us for what we were doing. He wore a weathered navy ball cap, grey -t-shirt and boots. He clutched the to go box filled with food that he had just received and shared, “that he had never imagined ever having to ask for food. He’d worked his whole life and was recently laid off and was struggling to find a replacement. ” He went on to say that, “he’d never lived on the street before and now has an understanding and empathy for those who call it home.” He said, “it humbles a person.” He went on to say again that , “he couldn’t believe that he was asking for food.” I told him, “consider it a gift and that God will provide a way in the future for him to serve someone else once he gets back on his feet.” He smiled and as he did, his eyes became red and swelled with tears. These tears slowly escaped from the corners of his eyes and slid down his cheek, he whispered, “please don’t tell anyone here that you saw me cry.” I said I wouldn’t that is why I won’t mention his name, which I asked him for and let him know that he would be prayed for.
For those we see throughout Nashville and in neighboring suburbs standing on street corners, selling papers or asking for some type of assistance. For those sitting on park benches for hours and walking up and down various streets and intersections and sitting beneath overpasses and bridges, let’s pray for them. And let’s try and meet the need, whatever that may be. Find a way to serve and give back to those who are struggling, those who feel hopeless and unloved, those who feel rejected and alone. Even if it’s just knowing their first name and calling them by it, this creates impact, this opens a door of hope, this can show them you care. To hear their story, to see their eyes recall lives past, loves lost and to feel their hands in mine, roughened by the elements allows me to enter into their world. It enables me to step outside of my life and into that of another and with it comes a greater desire to help. With it comes a mission to help others feel accepted, loved, treasured, encouraged and safe. It’s a mission that can’t be accomplished with just one person, it needs an “Army” and this is where you come in. The Salvation Army has many ways for you to give back and make a difference, all it takes is serving that first meal, having that first conversation and you will be in it for life. So what are you waiting for? Operation: Love Thy Neighbor has been initiated.