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The Man in the Park

I used to be a road-warrior, who had averaged 26 weeks per year of business travel. The Covid pandemic gave me a great break from that hustle and bustle and a welcome period of relaxation while staying at home for a change.

This past week, I took my first business trip in three years. The business schedule was its normal high quality and it was great to finally get to see, and work with, my Industry friends, face-to-face. However, one non-business activity or circumstance, really stood out to me and tugged at my heart.

This business trip took me to one of the original 13 colonies, a beautiful location in the Northeast. I’m not going to mention the town because I don’t think it’s important to the story. Although some of you may recognize the location by the photos shared in this message.

This town has a very nice, yet simple park, across from the hotel, where the Aerospace Industry Supply Management Leaders met all week. For context, let me explain that I stayed at a hotel around the corner from the hosting hotel and walked the three blocks, through this park, to the meetings. The park had a lot of green space, was laid out quite well, and paid tribute to the veterans from the area. A lot of benches, a gazebo, public restrooms, a welcome center, and about a dozen, apparently homeless people, spread throughout the park

My first thought was what a nice park and nice tribute to the veterans. I also thought it’s a shame there are so many homeless, how unfortunate for them. Then a man, about my age, actually fairly well dressed for a man who appeared to obviously be homeless, walked by me with a large cart, full to the top, with a camo tarp covering the carts contents – it had to be all his worldly possessions.

The man was very well spoken, he spoke eloquently and obviously was quite intelligent. His dress was fairly neat and clean, and although he didn’t seem dirty, there were glimpses of his appearance that indicated he probably hadn’t had a good hot shower for some time. He didn’t seem to be suffering from any illness nor did he look undernourished. In fact, had he walked into a store to do business, I’m not sure anyone would know of his homeless plight.

I probably walked through that park 6 times a day for three days, and each time he was there, although usually hunkered down in a different portion of the park. Each time I walked past him, he pleasantly nodded and even uttered “HI” a couple of times. Yet there never was a time that he and his cart were not in the park.

Each time I wondered, why is this guy homeless? What traumatic event caused this man to lose everything or to choose to walk away from what we would call a productive life? Did he lose a wife and not being able to handle it, just walked away from all he knew? Did he have some mental health issue that was not apparent to the passer by that kept him out of the workplace? Did he get evicted from his home, for whatever reason, and never could afford a place to stay? Did he lose, or was he loosing, a battle with drugs or alcohol, which by outward actions and appearances, certainly did not seem to be the case? Did he come back from Viet Nam or some other conflict and just couldn’t deal with the emotional strain and thus walked away from society? Did he perhaps lose his parents when he was young and has been wondering the streets ever since? Why did this man apparently loose everything and be forced to become homeless…or did he choose to be homeless? Seems unlikely it was his choice but there are documented cases of people making such a choice.

I was at a loss to understand and he wasn’t answering questions about himself. I really felt for this man, and kept thinking did he need help…or…somehow it felt more like, did he really even want help? It didn’t seem like it. I know a hundred places that would be able to find work for this guy, so again I had to wonder if he wanted to work. This was all so very very sad, at least I thought. But maybe he wasn’t sad at all? Maybe this was exactly the life he wanted? Certainly, none of us would think so by any normal standard of our society, but maybe that was the issue? He felt like he couldn’t live up to society’s standards so he removed himself from society. Just about every possible scenario crossed my mind!

The fact is, I had more questions than I could ever get answers. I had seen homeless people many times before but this man became more personal, and I shamefully have to say, his situation became more real to me than all the others I had seen before.

The one thing I do know, is that I am no better than he, just more fortunate – I think? I know I am not more loved by God than he – in fact, God loves us all equally but Jesus Himself said there is a special place for people like this man. I also know that as an American, I have no more or less rights than he, even though many will treat him as if he should have less rights.

I guess my message here is to beg each of you, reading this message, to never look down upon these people. Never judge them in any way. Pray for them, ask God to help them get whatever they are seeking. Yes, I know there are people who are lazy and just want to live for handouts. But judging which people are lazy, or choose to be homeless, or have had some mental health or tragic event causing their homelessness, is for God, not for us. Pray to God on what to do – if He moves you to help them, help them. If they trick you and take advantage of you, that is for God as well. Judgement is not ours nor can it be ours because if we judged what we thought God wanted, no one would ever measure up – not even you and me. So, leave the judgement to God and help in any way you can.

Oh, and by the way, while you are praying, pray a giant thank you that God has blessed you, because by the grace of God, and one potential unfortunate event in our lives, the man in the park could be me…or…you!!!

There are an estimated 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in America, of which 408,891 are individuals, leaving 171,575 families that are homeless. 110,528 of the total are people who are chronically homeless, with 37,252 being veterans, and 34,210 being children. I know it’s a bit depressing, but please think about these numbers because they are real people like the man in the park. The total amount of homeless would fill the Indianapolis motor speedway TWICE. The number of homeless families would fill the Rose Bowl stadium TWICE. The number of chronically homeless would fill the largest college football stadium, the Big House at the University of Michigan. The number of homeless veterans would fill Wrigley Field, and the number of homeless children would fill Indianapolis’s Victory Field THREE TIMES!

What can we do to help? As I said before pray. Support mental health programs. Support shelters, who better understand the issues and are better equipped to help. Shelters like Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis. Support places like Samaritans Purse run by Franklin Graham and the Billy Graham association. Find you’re local shelter and/or food bank and ask how can you help.

Jesus said there will always be the poor and the downtrodden so we need to pray to him to give us the guidance and the heart to help. Matthew tells us that during the sermon on the mount, Jesus told us; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Let me close with more Words from Jesus, which I believe is the ultimate statement on how we should treat the man in the park, and all others with a similar fate. Jesus was eating with a prominent Pharisee and the other Pharisees who were looking on, were trying to trap Jesus with His own words. Luke recounts what Jesus said to them: “Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” If we do as Jesus has instructed, our reward will be in Heaven, and maybe, just maybe, we will see the man in the park, and he will answer all our questions.

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