He was standing in line to get a warm meal, and I've seen him every week for the past five weeks. He was one of 72 homeless persons, or ones who are poor and really need a warm meal; the room can sit 72 at one time: 9 tables with 8 at each table.
His table was next to get in line, and I was standing close to the front where the buffet line begins. My self-appointed role, while people get in line for the meal is to say hi, look each person in the eye, and chat briefly. Some don't want to talk; some have a hard time looking at me, or anyone, straight in the eye. For different reasons. For some good reasons.
Since I just started going five weeks ago, I'm just getting to recognize some of the regulars. George, with his cap and ZZ Top beard, jokes each week. He loves puns. Ike is always the first in line for the Eucharist (for those who attend the service before the meal) and always picks up the lyric sheets left on the pews. Jim has a nervous disorder, always goes to the clothes' closet line, and asks for toothpaste- Sensodyne, to be exact.
So, Mark was standing in line. His life has been hard, from the look on his face, and while he looks older than me, my guess is that he is younger. It's hard for him to talk with anyone, I have noticed. I don't know his story; he doesn't know mine. But, we are in the same place each Tuesday evening at 6:00 p.m. for this meal that is served to those who are homeless, or nearly so.
While I don't like doing this (what I'm about to say next), it is necessary for the story. Gail and I have committed our giving to the church, but there are things we also want to support on occasion. We decided the week before to give a check to the ministry that prepares the meal each week, and we asked what it would be to support the meals for one week. So, earlier that evening, I gave that check to the deacon in charge. About 75-100 come in for a decent, three-course meal with dessert and coffee.
Back to the line. When I say hi to Mark, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a crumpled $1 bill, and picks at the loose change in his hand, pulling together 4 quarters. I wasn't prepared and I didn't know what to say when he hands me this crumpled bill and 4 quarters. I stuttered. "What's this?" He says, "I want to make a donation for the meal." Fumbling and thinking this may be about all he has on him, from what I can gather (did he get it from begging on the street corner when the light turned red??), I said, "No; it doesn't cost anything. The meal is free."
He said, again, "I want to make a donation." I realized I had it wrong at the moment. A voice within told me to shut up, take the money and thank him. And, I did. "Thanks, Mark; we really appreciate it. Thanks for your generosity." I took the $2 and gave it to the Episcopalian deacon.
Here I had another lesson in grace. Another lesson in giving out of poverty. Our giving seemed so small compared to that gift out of poverty. (You can read another story about this in the Bible: Luke 21:1-4).
I go each Tuesday night because that is something God has prompted me to do. It's in the same space where we meet on Sunday nights, where we, our church, have a meal together and another meal- Eucharist. Communion; a meal of "thanksgiving."
This is why I go on Tuesday nights, in part: so that I can be converted. My heart and life increasingly changed, in Christ, as we eat and pray and talk.