The Homeless Veteran: Guest Post by Bobby Hegedish

Engaging with homeless people I encounter has become a joy and a passion for me.  My friend Bobby Hegedish has discovered a similar calling. I think you will love his story of a homeless veteran.

Orlando (although a city like Cleveland where I call home) has a much different vibe than most of the cities I have been to. Ethnic, cultural and economical diversity paint the town colors that make it known as “The City Beautiful.”

I don’t usually find myself walking the streets of downtown Orlando past 11:00 PM. However, walking the streets recently to where my parked car was located gave me a sense of being small.

Surrounded by skyscrapers and people, from wanderers to third-shift workers, I had a sense of being invisible. But in a moment of discrete observation and contemplation, the city around me became like a scene from a good documentary. What happened next would have made a great scene in such a film.

Muttered words I could barely understand came from a man passing by on my right, head to the ground and papers in hand. From when I was a child, I have had a particular burden for those who had less and the homeless. Regardless of how they got there, it was their reality. Yet in small suburban Cleveland growing up, there weren’t many people with those situations to interact with.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Stopping in my tracks, I turned to the man in a split-second decision to attempt a conversation with him. I’ve tried many ways of serving the poor throughout the past several years: giving money or food, taking them out to eat, giving rides, and even a place to stay. These have been exercises as well as tests of faith for me. However, it is so easy to dismiss and project critical, judgmental thoughts onto folks like this man, who I found out was named David. These initial heart-level responses are inherent: external circumstances which trigger pre-disposed responses. Call it “flight or fight” if you will, but the heart responds before we decide what to act on.

My initial heart response was to stay in my zone and keep walking, but one look into David’s face had me standing square with him on the sidewalk. He handed me a poem he had written. It was about his journey and how God has pulled him through. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that lingering deep in the corners of my somewhat guarded heart were questions of this man’s intentions. Did he want money? Did he need food? A friend? Regardless, it didn’t matter anymore as he began to pour out his life story to me.

Homeless veteran, divorced with children he hasn’t seen in who knows how long, and ill with lupus--my interest in the affairs of David’s life grew with each insight he gave me.

“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:13-14)

After close to an hour listening and sharing, he asked for a bus pass. At this point the realization came that regardless of what brought this man to the place he is, providing a bus pass for him was something I had ample ability to do.

We hugged, said our goodbyes, and left with the subtle joy of having made a new friend. Let me be honest. Even after a rich relational experience with an unlikely friend, I had doubts. Doubts about what he would do with the bus pass money I gave him. Doubts about his story. Doubts that I truly served him rather than enabled him.

It was at that very moment of clouding doubts that I came to a man lying on a bench attached to the sidewalk. Getting closer to the man, I noticed he had holes in his feet. Yes, holes. This would have caused me some alarm if I didn’t immediately realize this was a bronze statue, molded into the bench itself. Standing somewhat baffled at the placement and intention of such a piece of art, the plaque to the right of the bench gave me clarity to what was before me:

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

This moment seemed surreal. The timing of my interaction with David, my ensuing doubts, followed by stumbling upon this sculpture was too timely to not be an acknowledgement of the Divine hand behind this orchestrated experience.

Honestly, I felt broken. This night was pivotal in my walk with Christ and the way I am challenged to live out the Gospel of grace toward all people, especially the poor and needy. It was as if I touched a fraction of God’s very heart, or rather, that He touched mine.

Weeping on the bench from a mixture of emotions, including the regret that burdened my soul from judging David’s motives and the pure joy of having a real-time moment with our living God, I asked Him to change me and take me on the adventure of entering other’s stories. To help me love and serve those He calls me to love and serve--because He cares deeply for them, regardless of status. It is in His ability to soften a heart of stone and indifference that I put my hope.

“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:21)

What about you? How have you been challenged to love outside of your comfort zone?