When a Homeless Friend Leaves Town

 

Now this isn’t a regular ‘living in a house’ kind of friend. This is a friend, I met on the streets who lingered and walked with me. Who laughed with me. Who came to my home for his birthday with three other homeless friends. And who invited me for coffee at his homeless camp numerous times.

He struggled with the bottle. He struggled to maintain employment. He struggled to engage with friends. He walked a million miles, up and over the bridge, going to get lunch at one place, attending church at the bridge, and strolled the sidewalks to get commodities. He took care of the needs of the day.

His camp was in order. His tent up. His cleaning rags used for cooking were rinsed out and draped on a line to dry. He cut wood for firewood. He had an old table for food. He had a stump for a chair, and an old rickety folding chair. He kept his camp clean. He carried off his trash. He’s my friend.

He’s lived among the restless for years, traveling the highways with his thumb, and landing in places for a season. He’s gardened and painted. He’s worked as a chef. He’s taken odd jobs. He’s been married. He’s divorced. He’s estranged from his children. But he’s my friend.

I’ve washed his clothes. I’ve bought him coffee. I’ve purchased new tennis shoes for him, only to give them to him on a day when he was drunk. He was grateful just the same. I’ve found his conversations intriguing, and his kindness ongoing. And yes, he’s my friend.

I’ve given him a ride. I’ve known of his lying to me. I’ve allowed him to connect his heart with mine. I’ve given him room to grow and to change, as he has with me. He’s my friend.

He joined me (after giving up the bottle) for weekly visits at the library after my inviting him four-zillion times. He never memorized the verses my friend and I studied, but for a few weeks he read to us, aloud. He shared Matthew, Mark, and part of Luke with us. His zeal at holding his new Bible and in reading from it–felt like perfection. I’m so grateful, he’s my friend.

Often I drive downtown on Sundays, to pray with anyone and someone, to make a new friend, to let someone not feel so lonely. On other days, during the week, I head to town after work, whenever I can, hoping for a chance to mingle, to share the gospel, to be a friend myself.

One Sunday, at a gathering for a meal, another person drove up, and had a gun. (No one got hurt, thankfully.) And he would put himself between me and this person. Because he’s my friend.

On the weekend he left town (a few weeks ago now), he asked for my phone number before the incident at his camp. Before the day when ugly rose up and people spoke, when stuff got muddied and misinterpreted. And then he would pack his stuff and leave during the night.

In the several years that we’ve known each other, he’s never had my phone number. He’s not had a phone, so it never came up. But on this day (the day before goodbye), we stood on Broad Street after the Bridge Service, and he’d scribble my cell number onto a piece of paper.

The next day, which was a Sunday, I left the recovery center where I hold church with ladies in the rehab, and I drove my little blue car downtown. A local church was providing the noon meal in the parking lot, and sharing the gospel.

I stopped by, mingled with a few, saw some old friends, and met some new. I remember looking around for him. He stands taller than most, always carrying his backpack. No one mentioned his leaving. No one told me he’d gone.

I’d find out that afternoon when another homeless friend (who gets minutes on his phone from working), texted me, and told me of his departure.

I would drive to the bridge with my husband in the pouring rain the following night, when I couldn’t get his face and friendship out of my mind. I also wanted to check on the friend at the camp who had words with him, words we friends tend to have when we fail each other, when life gets hard, when struggles become intense.

This friend was fine, and we’d chat for hours. And my husband would come back with a meal for this friend. I’d hug this friend and pray with this friend and love this friend. Oh, how I need friends!

On the ride home, I’d think of the one who left town, Of this dear soul who blessed me with his friendship, and I’d wonder about him, pray for him, and ask the Lord to guide him. Days have turned into weeks since he left, and I miss this tall lanky man who carries a brown Bible and WHO is one of my dearest friends!

I’ve come to realize why writing down my phone number for him troubles me, even now. It’s because in 1982, I wrote my phone number down for someone else. Before the next morning, she would be murdered in her home, and I never shared the gospel with her. I never knew if she was a follower of Christ! I never asked!

Some friends come and go, and I know why I cry—because each is so important to God, and to me! Because they are my friends! If I need Christ, then so do my friends!!

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