Editor’s note: Tim Madding, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in the U.S. state of Maryland, is spending seven days as a homeless person as part of a seven-week initiative called “Living Matt. 25:35-40: Seven Days Without.” He is living seven days without a basic human need and then sharing what he has learned in Sabbath sermons that encourage church members to live out their faith in practical ways.
I have my bedding situation under control. I sleep safe. It’s not great sleeping, mind you, but safe.
With my allotted $20 for the week I can grab a cheap drink at McDonald’s and charge my phone every day. I wouldn’t have to — I could go to the local library, where I filled my water bottle yesterday — but I have a thing for soda.
I know where I can get a hot breakfast and lunch, as well as a daily shower. So far I’ve not needed money, only to buy my cheap drink. That could change if the blister on my foot doesn’t improve. I may need to buy Band-Aids.
I walk into McDonald’s to use the restroom and charge my iPhone. As I make my way to a table after getting my drink, someone asks, “Can you spare some change?”
I can honestly say, “Sorry man, I’ve only got a few dollars to get me through the week. Mind if I sit with you, though?”
I sit at the table next to him.
His name is Anthony. A black man in his mid-30s. He’s been on the streets and in and out of prison for most of his life. He says he was in for drug dealing. He lifted his shirt to show me the scars from being stabbed four separate times: one in his right arm, another above his heart, a third in his lower left side, and the final in his stomach. The stabbing to his stomach left a large, painful scar.
He has never used drugs (so he says), just sold it to support the rush from his gambling habit.
“I just need change to get me somethin’ to eat.”
Was he telling me a story to get sympathy, hoping I’d give him cash, or was he being straight with me? I don’t know. But I’m here this week to understand and help people like him, people who both need and want help.
Hoping to help, I asked, “You hungry?”
“Yeah. Real hungry.”
I said, “Well listen, man, I just had a great breakfast at SOMEs. And they will be serving up lunch in a couple hours. Get yourself over there and they’ll feed you. Yesterday they had chicken, rice, and beans. Man, they even had ice cream. Go figure that. Ice cream.”
SOMEs (So Others Might Eat) is a local Washington D.C. program providing services for the homeless.
“Really?” He seemed excited.
Anthony’s curiosity subsided. “But you gotta sign in and stuff and I …”
“No you don’t,” I said, interrupting him. “I went there for lunch yesterday and breakfast today. I even got a hot shower.”
“And you didn’t have to sign in?” he asked, seemingly a bit curious.
“You homeless?” he inquired. Not as obvious since I smelled better today than yesterday.
“I am,” I said. “You go there and they’ll take care of you, too.”
We spent the next few moments talking about his story. I shared my experience from my childhood. He talked about his grandmother, I talked about my brothers.
About 15 minutes passed.
“Listen,” he said, clearly indicating he was done with the conversation, “I gotta go.”
“Yeah. Be sure to head over to SOMEs. Get yourself a good lunch.”
As Anthony stood to walk out, I headed to a different table to charge my iPhone. I wondered if he’d go. I wondered if he had been straight with me. I don’t know.
I sat down, plugged in my phone, pulled a book out of my backpack, and began to read. Moments later, as my mind contemplated the message of the book, it was interrupted by a familiar voice: “Can you spare some change?”
Thinking I was gone, Anthony had returned to his seat and his plea for change.
Real change was just a few blocks away.