I will never forget that crisp, winter day when the weather called for a scarf and a thick jacket. My family and I were enjoying our Thanksgiving break in Chicago. It was my first time being outside of my small, hometown and riding a train to the Windy City. Little did I know that this was where God was going to open my eyes and convict my heart for the first time in my life.
I remember sitting in our hotel room with my cousin, flipping through the TV channels while my aunt was curling her hair. Today’s plans were to go shopping, site seeing, and then out to dinner. My heart felt so full. I had money in my pocket to spend, I had a brown fur coat on, and I was exploring the nicest place. I never felt so wealthy as I did that day.
Throughout the early afternoon and into the later evening, my family and I walked from block to block carrying shopping bags with us into the next store calling our names. I vividly remember feeling so proud that all my materialistic needs, ones I never knew I had, were finally met within the bags dangling from my arms. There is something about Chicago that I love! It is the City where I could build my empire. It is the place where the wealthy and fortunate can live out their dreams. It is exactly where I want to live when I am older. These thoughts ran through my mind as we walked across the street to the last store on our radar. As we walked with a crowd of people to the other side of the street, I saw something I had never seen before. I saw what poor looked like.
I stopped in my tracks and stared at a tall, skinny, black man. He stuck out from the crowd like a sore thumb. It was 40 degrees and he didn’t have a coat. Instead he was holding onto himself while hunched over and wearing a raggedy shirt. He had on holey, worn sweats that didn’t meet his ankles. His shoes were a piece of cardboard that was taped to function like a thong sandal. I’m not sure where this poor man was going but when he slowly passed by me, I saw his cracked, chapped skin and sunken eyes that said he hadn’t ate in days. I looked around the crowd, waiting for someone to react to this poor man, but was shocked to find that he was invisible to everyone. Give him your shoes. Give him your scarf. My conscience prompted me. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my sleeve.
“Kimberly! We thought we lost you! Come on, hun! We’re going to run into one more store and then we will get a bite to eat.” I turned my head and saw the man shivering as it started to snow. Yet, I was the only person, the only child, who could see him. Not with my eyes, but with my heart.
That night my family and I enjoyed a hot, cheesy pizza at a nice restaurant. We laughed in the heated cab all the way to our cozy hotel room. After changing into our pajamas, looking through our shopping bags, and finally turning out the lights to go to sleep, I found myself thinking about that poor man. I wonder what he is doing right now. I wonder where he goes to sleep at night. Why didn’t I give him my shoes or my scarf? Why didn’t anyone care that he was in need of help? I stared out the window, watching the buildings light up outside. I had a bed to lie in and a warm room to sleep in. I couldn’t picture where he was and if he was going to be okay in the snowy night with cardboard shoes.
As a twelve year old girl, I didn’t understand much about life or what it meant for people to be homeless. I can feel this pulling in the pit of my stomach every time I think about my first trip to Chicago because my heart still goes out to that poor man. Sometimes we get caught up in why people are homeless or why they put themselves in a situation, but we don’t ever think about how God calls us to help the least of these, regardless of what caused someone to be in need of help.
Matthew 25:41 talks about the final judgment when Jesus separates the Sheep from the Goats. The Sheep are those who gave their time, talents or finances to the least of these. But the Goats are people who did not give of their time, talents or finances. Scripture tells us that on the final judgment Jesus will say to the Goats, “‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'”
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
How we treat others affects more than ourselves, it also affects our walk with Jesus. Scripture tells us that we are to love each other. In fact, Jesus says in Mark 12:30-31, “ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” If we started to love each other as ourselves, our world would radically change! If we woke up every morning with the mindset that we would take advantage of every opportunity to help those in need, our world would be different!
The sooner we understand that being a Christian is more than merely believing, the more positive impact we can make. Being a Christian is putting action to your faith (James 2:14-17). In all reality, the poor are not always the ones with cardboard shoes. It’s those who cannot afford to love.