He would not look me in the eye…

Nor would he tell me his name.

It was Tuesday night at the Radiant Inn where we were knocking on doors, handing out food and praying with people.

While doing that I noticed a man pacing back and forth in the parking lot.  He approached me and took some food but wasn’t very responsive. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, and wouldn’t tell me his name.

He had that weather-beaten, dirty look that characterizes many homeless people. Life outside leaves them that way.  So worn and dirt-covered that it is hard to tell where skin ends and clothing begins. Maybe 35, he was already missing teeth.

About all I got out of him was that his mom had died three months earlier. It was a conversation that was going nowhere and I figured that I would move on to someone else.

Just as I was going to turn away, I felt like the Holy Spirit kind of “slapped me upside the head.” Our first calling is to a ministry of presence to the people we serve along East Colfax. We start by simply being present with people in the name of Jesus and loving them. We do that regardless of who they are or their prospects of change.  That night the Holy Spirt said “You know all those brave things you say about the ministry of presence? How about you practice that RIGHT NOW.”

Chagrined, I turned back to him, slowed down and began to ask more about his life. His story came out. He lived alternately on the streets and in the motels, often working for the motels in trade for a couple nights in a room. He was from Missouri. He talked about how hard it was to call his dad and tell him that he was again sleeping on the streets.  He told me that one of his dreams was to own one of the motels on East Colfax.

However, the same pattern continued. He wouldn’t look me in the eye and when I again asked him his name, he wouldn’t tell me.

There was more: There had been a house fire when he was a kid and two siblings died in it. His parents divorced after that; not unusual when a child dies. He told me his mom had remarried and his step-dad was “not a nice man.”  When I asked about that he said his step-dad had sexually molested him.  About that time he began to look me in the eye and said, “I’m glad he lives in another state because if he lived here I would want to kill him.”

Then, with a clarity that many followers of Jesus lack, he said, “I know I need to forgive him. I know the only person I’m hurting with my bitterness is myself, but it is really hard.”  I asked if I could pray for him that God would help him with forgiving his step-dad. He said yes and once more I asked him his name. He looked me in the eye and said “It’s Craig.”

I prayed that Jesus would help Craig forgive his step-dad and that his life would get to a better spot, but before I prayed any of those things I prayed something I had instinctively started praying with the people who live in the motels. It captures what I believe is at the heart of God and needs to be in our hearts as well.  Here is a summary: “Jesus, I thank you that you know Craig’s name. I thank you that know who he is and what has happened.  You know his hurts and his dreams. I thank you that Craig matters to you and that you love him and came for him. I thank you that you are with him.”

I started praying this prayer because the people we are around are mostly faceless and nameless to our world.  They live at the margins of our society, hidden in far-away corners and shadows. Often, they don’t matter to other people. Were they to die, few would miss them. 

But they matter to God! God knows their name and God loves them with an infinite love.  If God knows Craig’s name it seems that for me to show the love of Jesus to him, it begins with knowing Craig’s name, looking him in the eye and loving him where he is.

Now when I see Craig, I call him by name and he looks me in the eye. That brings joy to my heart!

I challenge you to find your own “Craig”. Be present with them, learn their name and love them.