The first time I met Willie (name changed) was when he stopped by the church needing $5 for some gas money. He told me he was down on his luck and if he could get a little gas, he could get some work. I didn’t have a 5 dollar bill so I gave him a 10. Despite having nothing in common, little did I know that almost a year later, Willie and I would be friends.
Willie is a 44 year-old black man. Although he’s just a few months younger than me, he looks much older. The years of rough living have been hard on Willie. I guess we’re an odd pair to see together at church and around town, because I had someone ask me the other day, “How have you two got hooked up together?” I just laughed and said that it must be a God-thing.
I’m learning from Willie how tough it is to be poor. Things don’t come easy when you have nothing. Little things I take for granted, he does without. Willie lives in a house about the size of a shed that most people have in their backyard. His house does have electricity, but no water and no heat. This winter has been tough on Willie. It’s been cold and he’s down to one small space heater. We’ve taken him lots of blankets and have been looking for a way to get heat to his house, but no luck yet. A shower for Willie consists of bathing in a cold bucket of water that he gets from his neighbors water hose. And yet, I give little thought to the hot showers I take everyday. I take for granted being able to whip a few bucks out of my pocket to buy something, when Willie doesn’t even have a few bucks.
Right or wrong, no one really wants to give Willie a job. He’s made some poor choices in his life … but so have I. Willie has no source of income at all, but someone did give him an old pickup about a month ago. We were able to get it running, gassed up and tagged and for a month he was able to have a little income from some odd jobs around town. Didn’t take long before the pickup died, and he was back to walking everywhere and no income.
This past week I had Willie help me do some painting and work at the Augment House. I’d told him if he’d help me that we’d go to United and get some groceries for his house. My friend John had given me a $50 United gift card to give him and he, as always, was more than willing to work.
We spent the afternoon working and about dark we took off to United to buy him groceries. Little did I know that this trip to the grocery store was going to break my heart. Willie was as giddy as a kid at Christmas. I’d never seen him so excited. He’d pick up a package of bologna, show it to me and excitedly say, “Man, it’s been FOREVER since I’ve been able to buy bologna.” He grabbed chips, a whole chicken, eggs, coffee and other things I buy without thought and would say, “I love this. I haven’t had it in months.” Again, all things I buy without a second thought. I asked him if he had a refrigerator to keep all this in and he gave me a silly grin and said, “Of course, but if I didn’t my house is cold enough to keep it fresh.” Then I asked him, “What have you been eating lately, Willie?” To which he replied, “Just cans of beans and things that you guys have given me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for what y’all give me, but these (as he pointed to the basket with a big smile) are real groceries.”
His basket was filled to the rim when we checked out. I had no doubt he had more than $50, but I wasn’t going to tell him to put stuff back. On the way back to his house he rambled on and on about all he was going to cook for supper that night. He also mentioned that he’d like to cook for me sometime. I told him I’d love to have a Willie-cooked-meal anytime. Amazing, he has absolutely nothing in this world, yet he was wanting to share with me.
When we got back to his “house,” I helped him carry in his groceries. As I drove home to my warm house where supper was waiting, I fought back tears. I really don’t cry all that easy, but this whole grocery store trip had set me off. I prayed and thanked God that a guy that had started out as a “mission project” … had become my friend.
(Disclaimer: I don’t tell you any of these things to bring attention or praise to myself. BUT I want to share with you about Willie to say … there are Willie’s out there EVERYWHERE! Go find one and bless him. When you do, you’ll be blessed too.)