Have you ever met someone that was so different, so alarming, so unique that you could hear God telling you to take notice? Someone that is so outside what you understand to be the norms of life that you almost can't help it when you find yourself watching them and marveling at all that they are? This was my experience when I met Jeffery earlier this year.
It was the morning of February 21st, 2021. I remember the exact morning because I had just come off an overnight shoot for my brother's film and had been awake for nearly 24 hours (by the end of the day, I had been up for 36 hours with thirty minutes of sleep). It was a Sunday morning and I was at work beginning our first of our two Sunday services in the courtyard. I was bundled up in a coat and a beanie because it was quite a cool morning. A few hours earlier during the shoot (which had coincidentally been on the church property overnight), I had opened a side door to the alley and had run right into a very cold-looking, homeless man; young, shivering, and hungry (and from what I could tell, high on a number of substances). I had never encountered any homeless sleeping in our alley doorway before (though I knew sometimes it happened), but I fed him and then he left into the night. I said a small prayer asking the Lord to take care of our unknown friend and to help him find his way to Jesus, before going back to my long day of work. Why am I telling you this? Well, I believe all of this has to do with Jeffery.
As the sermon began in that first service and the sunlight began to peak through into the courtyard (though its warmth never really soaked into our skin that day), my colleague came rushing to my side.
"Whitney," She whispered so as not to disturb the congregation. "I know that we are only accepting reservations right now, but there was a man here and he wanted to join and since we have some space I let him sit in the back. Is that okay?"
My heart said yes, but I remained silent as I leaned over to peer into our early morning Sunday gathering. There, in the last row of seats, sat a homeless man, bundled up in a blanket, shivering from the chill of the morning, clearly hungry, alone, and lost. Though in the sunlight, he looked older than the man I had met a few hours before, I felt almost certain that they were the same person. To this day, I cannot tell you if I was right in that assumption, but I believe I am. He sat with his eyes toward the ground, but something told me the words of our pastor were getting through. I let my colleague know that what she had done was more than alright; then, very clearly I had a thought: "You need to feed this man."
"With what?" I wondered. Before the pandemic, we would have had some sort of food placed out for our congregates and visitors to eat; but that hadn't been so for nearly a year. We didn't even have any donations for the food bank I could pull from. Still, I knew I needed to find this man some food. I silently grabbed my keys from my bag and headed inside and up the stairs to a storage closet I had once seen a large box of Cracker packets in. I searched high and low with haste as I could hear the sermon winding down outside and found the box. I filled my hands and pockets with cracker packets and scrambled back down the stairs, hoping our visit had not yet left. There I saw him sitting, so I waited for the sermon to be over. I had a handful of crackers and went to grab a cup of water, only to find that my pastor, from his stool where he had been preaching, had had the same idea.
Armed with goods, we approached the man and welcomed him into our courtyard. He kindly took the food and the water and, in a quiet yet respectful voice while using words like "sir" and "ma'am" told us his story. He said his name was Jeffery and he was from the Midwest of the United States... but, his name (he said) was actually not Jeffery, but Jesus Christ and he was really from the Middle East. He said he came to bless us, even though my brain thought we should be the ones blessing him (we weren't sleeping rough after all)! Pastor took hold of his hands, something we had been told we should not do during the pandemic (though God's power sometimes transcends the place, time, and situation) and we all stood and prayed with our new friend Jeffery. Then, he stood from his chair, pulled his blanket around his shoulders, and asked me to guide him to the exit. I did so, not really wanting to. I kind of would have liked to see him stay.
Well, Jeffery came back a few times over the next couple of months. Every time he looked a little different. He didn't look as hungry the next times I saw him (though I always offered up something for him to eat), his blanket was replaced by a sweatshirt, and he seemed more lucid. A few weeks ago he came in during office hours and spoke to our pastor and pastor gave him a bible and told him to take it and read it. A couple of weeks after that, while we were preparing for our services to move back inside for the first time in fourteen months, he came by and let us know he was no longer living on the streets, but in a halfway house, and he had found a job! He seemed so proud of himself, and let me tell you, we were ALL proud of him!
Two weeks ago our church opened again to indoor worship. It's something we have been looking forward to for months now and the day was incredible and brought me to tears! I was able to teach Sunday School in my classroom during second service once again and the energy in the room was like it had not been since even before lockdown. Something amazing also happened in that service, and it had to do with our dear friend Jeffery. I only got to hear about it afterward and watch it on our livestream feed because I was in my classrom at the time. When service was over, Pastor came up to me with so much joy on his face, I was sure he could probably fly off to the moon.
"Miss Whitney! You missed what happened!" He said.
"What did I miss?!" Now I was feeling a little bit left out and curious.
"Jeffery came! In the middle of service! He walked right up the middle of the aisle as I was preaching and brought back my Bible! He said he read it and that he wanted to bring it back, then he said he loved me and left! It was so amazing! We all got to congratulate him on his new job! It was such a Holy Spirit moment!" Pastor was almost jumping our of his shoes.
Well, I did go back and watch it and Jeffery did, in fact, do exactly what Pastor described. He looked WELL! He looked happy and it did not seem like there were any drugs in his system. In just under three months, Jeffery had gone from homeless, hungry, cold, and ill to a man of hope, happiness, and full of redemption! Man, I love Jeffery's story. It makes my eyes fill up with tears just thinking about how God is moving in his life. It makes my jaw drop to know that in such a short amount of time, the Word could get in like that two-edged sword and cut away so much from Jeffery and set him free. It also amazing me how much God has taught me through Jeffery's story. I now keep my mailbox in the office stuffed full of snacks I can easily give to someone who might need something to eat. Jeffery did that. I open doors softer as I walk out in the alley, so as not to run into someone hoping to take a nice nap. And most importantly, my eyes are now opened to the possibility buried deep down in every single person, despite what their situation looks like.
There are so many people like Jeffery that we write off everyday as being no good, hopeless, or beneath us... But, God doesn't see it that way. Everyone has the ability to rise above what this world has thrown at them. Everyone has equal opportunity to be loved by Jesus and used in mighty ways. If you don't think so, just look at my friend, Jeffery. When he walked into that sanctuary to return the bible to Pastor Chris, his testimony was evident. Even for those who had never spoken to Jeffery AKA "Jesus" and didn't know him before could see that he was working through extraordinary pain, failure, and former shame and trading in the ashes of all those things for the beauty of God's plan for him. He was a walking witness of the glory of God right in that moment and he was changing hearts as he proclaimed his love for our sweet pastor who had given him a few crackers, some water, and a Bible. He was exclaiming the truth that all we need are crackers, water, and a Bible to bring someone to Christ! Jeffery shows us just how amazing the power of God's redemption is!
Have you ever met someone that was so different, so alarming, so unique that you could hear God telling you to take notice? Someone that is so outside what you understand to be the norms of life that you almost can't help it when you find yourself watching them and marveling at all that they are? This was my experience when I met Jeffery earlier this year and I will never be the same again.