SHARING COFFEE WITH A HOMELESS MAN

Tony Campolo is one of my favorite storytellers. He has the amazing ability to touch your heart with stories that challenge you. He tells the story “Party for a Prostitute” and not to long ago he told about a homeless man he met on the streets of Philadelphia. The story goes like this:

One day around noon when he was walking down Chestnut street in Philadelphia. He noticed a bum coming straight toward him. Tony was wearing his nice preacher’s suit. The bum was wearing layer upon layer of filthy clothing. His most obvious feature, however, was a tangled beard that hung nearly to his waist. Bits of rotting food were stuck in the beard. The teeth he had left were yellow and rotted. He was holding a cup of McDonald’s coffee in his hand. As he staggered toward Campolo, he said, “Hey mister, Ya want some of my coffee?” As you can imagine, Campolo really didn’t want any of the coffee but reconsidered and then said, “OK” and took a very small sip. He handed the cup back to the man and said, “You are feeling pretty generous today. What’s gotten into you?” The man answered back, “Well, I figure, if God gives you somethin’ good, you ought to share it with somebody else.” “Uh Oh,” thought Campolo, “he’s getting ready to hit me up for five dollars.” Knowing it was what he was supposed to do Campolo said, “Well, you shared your coffee with me. Is there anything I can do for you?” “Yeah, come to think of it there is,” the man said. Campolo started to reach for his wallet. “You can give me a hug!” Campolo said now he kind of wished the man had asked for five dollars! But he put his arms around the man. The man hugged him back – and didn’t let him go. There all of the business people in Philadelphia were streaming around these two men, a man in a suit and a man in rags, hugging on the sidewalk. Just as he was ready to push himself away, he sensed Jesus whispering to him, “I was hungry, did you feed me? I was sick, did you visit me? I was a bum on Chestnut street, did you hug me? For if you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”

As I read this story it reminded me that God often works in the world in unexpected places and unlikely people. We never know where we’re going to meet God. God is a God of surprises, and we are blessed to be called into this adventure of faith. The realm of God is a place of radical grace and boundary-breaking inclusion. It is a place where there are no outsiders, where we reach out to all regardless of color, status and gender. The church IS a place for those the world calls “weirdos.” The kingdom is a place where we do not erect boundaries and walls, but provide a place of healing. We’re called into a community in which the circle is expanding ever wider, to welcome all of God’s children and learn to live ever deeper in love and compassion. This is the good news! This is the church! This is God!

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Article by Trey Morgan

I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast. Read 1182 articles by
33 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Richard says:

    Wow. Powerful post. Thanks. Ever since being able to spend a week listening to Campolo preach and share with our college class many (and I mean many) years ago, he has been a real source of encouragement for me to go beyond myself in serving Christ. I had not read the homeless story you shared about. Thanks for refocusing my thoughts this morning.

  2. chris says:

    Wow. Great post. I too appreciate your sharing it with us.

    Would I have done the same? I honestly can’t say, and that is really sad.

    http://www.chrisclouse.wordpress.com

  3. TREY MORGAN says:

    I hear what you’re saying Chris. I’m doubt I’d have done the same either. :(

  4. Messianic Gentile says:

    Campolo Rocks!

  5. Brian Nicklaus says:

    I can’t listen to campolo without thinking of dick vitale…

    both are cool, though

  6. TREY MORGAN says:

    Brian … never thought about it till now. You’re right about the similarities. I hope you haven’t just ruined Campolo for me. :)

  7. DJG says:

    At least talking about it helps us consider it….thanks for shraing.

  8. lisa leichner says:

    I gave a homeless man a ride, touched his arm, offered him dinner with our church … someone offered him a drink & he jumped up and left. Not sure what that was about. I was a nervous wreck the whole time that my husband would kill me when he found out I gave a homeless man a ride … so I decided I’d better try to find a different way to help homeless people … we ought to get a group from our churches to go to a local shelter and help feed them … or something. Sorry, I’m really rambling, aren’t I?!

  9. Anonymous says:

    That’s not very safe, Lisa, but I know where you are coming from. I once picked up a hitchhiker. It was a hot day and I felt sorry for him. He had only one eye – so I reasoned with myself that I could jab him in the good eye if he tried anything. He didn’t. He was actually very kind and thanked me for the ride. I wasn’t scared at the time, but I probably wouldn’t pick up a hitchhicker again. Too many bad things can happen.

    I have since found that there are many other ways to help people who are having a difficult time without intentionally putting myself in potentially dangerous situations.

    -nb

  10. The Preacher's Household: says:

    NB your poke him in the eye theory made me laugh. It does seem like a good defense.
    When we lived in Phoenix, James would stop to help all kinds of people and my paranoia of him putting his son in danger finally brought us to a compramise. If we ate out and had left overs, we would give them to a homeless person. (One time one of them said, “What no fork? How do you expect me to eat it, with my hands?” I had never thought about it.) Or he would tell them to meet him at the nearest fast food place and would buy them a burger.
    It is a scary world and it is sad we cant just be nice to people. The Samaritan lived in a scary world and probably risked more than we know when he stopped to help.
    Kathy

  11. Anonymous says:

    It is sad that we can’t just be nice to people without being distrustful. Today, just to be on the safe side, I never offer a ride to a stranger when I am alone. But I struggle with that because…does that mean I don’t trust God to protect me?

    -nb

  12. The Preacher's Household: says:

    Great story, Tony always is. The less fortunate are always a challenge for me. I feel so much of the time we in america an my family in particular may be to much like the rest of the world about stuff. We have too much.

    Yes, I confess to helping every stranger I can. Remeber about helping angels unaware.

    NB, it is not a lack of trust. It would be testing God maybe to take danger situations too far.

    The comfort zone thing is so hard. We have ministered a couple of time to a homeless man in our area here. He came to a potluck one time and smelled greatly. We set him up with a place to sleep for the night and helped him get to where he wanted to go in another town. He came to see me again two weeks ago, first thing in the morning. We have no shelter in the area so he had been sleeping outside for a few days. I again set him up with a motel and made sure he had hygiene supplies. The next day he still smelled strongly. I was visitng with the guy who gave him a ride the next day and ask if he thought the guy bathed. At one time I was more on the ball, but am loosing my senses. The other guy remarked I am sure he bathed but probably needed new clothes. He didn’t have any where to wash his. I had to stop and think. If God sends him my way again I will have to see about helping more. We do have a clothes closet in town.

    On the other hand, he is very contented and we materialistic people think we need far more than we do. I need to watch I don’t impose my values on him in areas that are not important. Give the cup of water, plate of food, kind hand, … Don’t give money but meet needs.
    The touching is the hard part sometimes. Do I judge the dirty, smelly …? God help us.
    James

  13. TREY MORGAN says:

    nb … you made me laugh too. I like that.

  14. Brian Nicklaus says:

    I really struggle (and occasionally fight with me wife) about how safe we should be in serving others.

    I personally wouldn’t mind dying while trying to help someone with good intentions as opposed to ignoring them out of fear. and I know my wife and kids would be okay even if I died.

    but for the sake of saving my marriage, I try to be “safe” most of the time.

    as for poking out the lone remaining eye of a homeless person….ahahhahahahahahah….why is that so funny?? it really shouldn’t be, should it? hahahhahahaha. sorry if it isn’t humorous to you, sorry, but…

    little did the man know, he as in great danger than you, NB.

  15. Brian Nicklaus says:

    James and Kathy,
    you should always keep a fork on hand…in case you need to poke their eye out.

  16. Brian Nicklaus says:

    does anyone else think of the Good Samaritan story each time you passed a person/family stranded in their car???

  17. Brian Nicklaus says:

    is our responsibility to protect our bodies/lives or to do what is right?

    sorry,wanted to stir the pot a little.

    how much of our concern for saftey is completely “self-preservation” and when has that and being a disciple of Jesus ever coincided?

  18. TREY MORGAN says:

    Brian … I hate to keep harping on this too, but I can’t get past the poor hitch-hiker with one eye that was going to get poked out. Lea and I laughed at your post.

    NB… please don’t think we’re making fun of you, because we’re not, we just love your heart and the way you put it.

    Brian, the actual question is a good one. I think we’re in a little different circumstance than the good samaritan. He was stopping to help someone that was dieing. I’d hope we would too. As for helping a person having car trouble, I help when I can. Other times someone has beat me to it and is already helping. But I do worry when I take “transits” or the homeless around in my car. Because I do that occasionally. Probably shouldn’t but I do. I know God will take care of me. BUT … I don’t think I’d want my wife picking up someone.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s our responsibility to do what is right more than protect our lives. That is why I struggle with the decision I’ve made not to pick up two-eyed hitchhikers. Ha-ha.

    You guys are cool! I don’t mind the joking – really.
    -nb

  20. Anonymous says:

    But if I ever see you stranded along the side of the road… you’d better cover one eye real quick or you’re not riding with me!
    -nb

  21. Brian Nicklaus says:

    nb,
    gotcha! thanks for the warning/advice. lol!

    besides our rationalizations &justifications such as:
    -God wants me to take care of my family
    -I can do more good dead than alive
    -I have responsibilities to others
    -People are supposed to live a long time, etc

    What does the Book say about?

    otherwise (here, I am making generalizations, and taking things to possible logical conclusions, so pay attention, it may be faulty reasoning)

    We shouldn’t evangelize any Muslim country, right? that might involved danger.

    I feel that if we are only doing what we know is good and right when it’s safe, convenient, easy, etc. what is that worth??

    What is a biblical view of ‘risk’? (not the board game)

    NB, what about pirates?? if they have patch, will you pick them up?

    arrrggggg

  22. Anonymous says:

    …unless I’m armed with a fork.
    (Thanks for the idea Brian.)

    Now I’m gonna be suspicious of every hitchhicker with a patch. Cause maybe they’ve read this blog and they’re just fooling me with the eye patch to gain my sympathy!
    Thanks a lot! Now I will be scared.
    -nb

  23. TREY MORGAN says:

    I hear you Brian. Get all those answers for me will you? :)

    I’ve made it a personal responsibility to always pick up pirates. I’ve never missed one yet! So there

  24. The Preacher's Household: says:

    Just a quick thought to weigh in again. The stranded motorist is so hard to pass by. I do think there are questions of safety to be considered. The Samaratan who stopped was risking his safety. If it is my safety I tend to stop. We are told on the other hand not to put God to the test, so, I don’t always stop.

    My family is another question. If Kathy and I decided to go be missionaries in some dangerous place because we believed we were called / gifted in that direction than that is one thing but for me to choose that for her is irresponsible. God is concerned about the lost. He expects me to strat with my family. I know the contextis financial but God still said, “if a man does not look after his own family he is worse than an unbeliever” it still applies.

    We had an interesting experience yesterday. The neighborhood we were in in Tulsa was not all that great but we saw a man broken down at a light. A driver next to him handed him some coolant and went on his way. He met the need. He didn’t have to stay around forever but just long enough to see the need met. Just a couple of thoughts.

    James

  25. Anonymous says:

    This is off the subject of helping someone in need…but I’ve heard a lot of people talk about being called by God to do this or that in their lives. I am wondering how people receive a message from God? I know you are to pray and to listen. But – do you just get a feeling of the right decision to make or does a part of the scripture just stand out in your mind? Or is it different for different people? I know that God has put me in different situations for particular reasons but I don’t know that I have ever received a direct message from God telling me what to do. But maybe I have, and I didn’t recognize it. Just wondering.
    -NB

  26. Marie says:

    There is a blog that is written by a homeless guy here in Nashville (http://thehomelessguy.blogspot.com/). He had a post once in which he replied to an email that asked how families can help, when you are a little worried about the safety of your kids. He gave an idea about bags with water, food hygiene products, socks, clean shirt, etc that you can hand out instead of money.

    If it was just me in the car I would probably stop to help (much to my hubby’s displeasure). I try to go and get food when I see a person on the corner asking for money for food. I would rather get food than give them money to possible use on alcohol. Is that bad- not trusting that they will use the money I give them wisely?

  27. lisa leichner says:

    Wow, I missed out on a great discussion this weekend! You all made me laugh with the pirate talk. The homeless man I picked up is one that stays around our town & I recognized as someone our church has helped before. I think he’s been to our Wednesday night suppers before, and someone even told me that he came once, checked out the menu, and decided it wasn’t what he wanted, so he went on his way. Maybe that means he gets plenty to eat. If my husband isn’t supportive of me picking up a stranger, then I think I ought to respect that, right? I struggle with justifying keeping myself safe when I think it’s more important to reach the lost … but do I need to also put my children in possible danger? When Nathan told me he didn’t really want to pick up a stranger, should I have respected that or used it to teach him a lesson?

    Anyway, it might be too late to be asking these questions, but oh well.

    NB, I also wonder some of the same things you asked in your last comment. Sometimes a thought pops into my head & I feel very strongly that it is the Holy Spirit helping me to recall something I’ve heard before that applies to the situation I’m in. I also think that we don’t always get a message letting us know where we’re called, but that God would use us wherever we go, as long as we remain faithful to Him & willing to be used. (I think James 4:13-17 applies here.)Maybe someone else could offer some wisdom on the matter.

  28. TREY MORGAN says:

    Marie … I checked out a blog kind of like that on Saturday. Good thinking on the bags of goodies.

    Lisa … you missed out on a lot of good laughs yesterday. And pirate jokes too. By the way, do you know what kind of movies a pirate likes to see? Those that are rated … RRRRRRGGGG. :)

    NB … good question on how God leads. I’ll get back to you on that this week in a post. If that’s okay.

  29. The Preacher's Household: says:

    NB, It is a great question. I look forward to the discussion on trey’s post. In the mean time you might look at Neva (Dancing-in-the-Light-neva.blogspot.com. I am cetain there are time when I hear God’s direction. It is not always audible (we will talk about that later). The main thing I want to share at the moment is the desireable andv undesireable. Someone talks to me about moving to Hawaii to preach. Some people would say are you nuts not moving there. I just did not feel an ovewhelming desire to move there. On the other hand my fondest memories include time in what some would see as the worst place to go. There was not always electricy, or running water. Violence and corruption are rampant. I will be returning there with my brother-in-law in the future, Lord willing.

    Trey, my son loves that riddle.
    James

  30. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like a plan Trey! I’ll be looking forward to reading what everyone has to say! Thanks!
    -nb

  31. Anonymous says:

    Oh… and thanks Lisa and James for your thoughts also!
    :) nb

  32. thomas says:

    Sharing your interest in Tony Campolo’s work, I thought you might like to see this video of him telling stories: http://www.eastern.edu/change

  33. TREY MORGAN says:

    Thanks Thomas

About Me

Trey Morgan Here are my thoughts about marriage, family, raising children, humor, faith and the life God intended for us all. I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast.

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