A Homeless Lesson
By Tim Manzer
One day I received a phone call from Lake Ann Baptist Camp, asking me to play the part of a homeless person at a youth winter retreat for a downstate youth group. The camp staffer stated that I was the only person that he could think of that would do such a thing. What he really meant was that I was the only one stupid enough to do such a thing. So naturally, I said "Yes".
I began to prepare for this new challenge. I took an old, wool jacket out of my dogís house--it was disgusting and filled with dog-hair. Then I bought an old beer t-shirt, and found my oldest and dirtiest blue jeans, which I then used to rub the winter dirt off my messy van.
After that, I went to the little machine shop where my wife worked, and emptied all the dirty contents of the ashtrays into my dirty, dog jacket, filling the pockets with all the empty cigarette packs I could stuff into them.
From there I went to the local costume shop and bought make-up that yellowed my teeth, giving them the worst fuzzy, gross feeling.
I didnít wash my hair for a few days before the retreat and then put Vaseline into it before I went.
Last of all, a friend gave me a little bottle of deer bow hunting juice. He told me not to put it on myself till I saw the bus of kids.
I was ready to play the part of an undercover bum.
I waited one night at a Shell gas station in Grawn, Michigan. It was raining a cold, wet, ugly snow that February night, and I was freezing! I heard the large church bus approach the northern gas station, so opened the little bottle of deer juice and placed a few drops on me. UGH!! I smelled like a buck had just urinated on me.
When the youth pastor left the church bus for the inside of the gas station, that was my cue to make my move on the bus.
I hurried to the bus door and knocked on the exit. The bus door opened and then it slapped closed. A female youth leader had run down the aisle yelling, "No, no close the door!"
I knocked again and again. This time the terrified youth team sent out the biggest male youth leader. I told the big boy my hopeless story. I explained how very cold and hungry I was. I asked if I could ride with them and how bleak I felt at that moment. The big, old, heartless sponsor spoke in a deep and firm voice. He stated, "Beat It."
My assignment to get on the bus was becoming desperate! So I went to Plan B and began to beg the big boy for mercy. He did have a heart, because he said that I could talk to the youth pastor.
The young pastor gathered all his youth sponsors in a circle and let me tell my sorry homeless story to the entire group. I did an academy award performance as I told a tale of hopelessness, hunger and cold. The youth pastor said, "We canít leave him out in the cold. Letís take him to the camp and see what they can do for him."
His youth staff looked at him as if he needed brain surgery. He received the most evil look from the female leader that had closed the door.
The noisy church bus went quiet. I sat down next to the only kid without a seat-mate. Jason was the rejected kidís name. We had a lot in common; no one wanted to sit by him either.
The girl in back whispered to Jason in a loud tone, "Jason are you afraid?" The big youth sponsor sat across the aisle from me with his meaty arms crossed. He was guarding the youth from the new, dangerous bum.
The youth pastor had told me to bring nothing and come as a mess. I was the mess. I had no towel, toothbrush, soap, food, clean clothes, toothpaste, shampoo, sleeping bag or any other thing with me. The plan was for the youth group to supply my needs.
The plan did not work! By bedtime, I had received only an offer of a banana. I had secretly asked some kids for some smokes. They told me, "We go to church and we donít do stuff like that!" Nice kids.
The youth pastor had brought an extra sleeping bag for me, if I received no help from the campers. Well I received the full course "NOTHING." As he bought the bag to me, Jason told him that he had forgotten his sleeping bag, so I was without a bag.
I tried to sleep in the cold winter cabin, and for warmth, I was sleeping with my dogís old jacket. The reason we have outdoor dogs is that I am allergic to them, especially dog hair. So I slept on a cold mattress, in a cold cabin in the winter, with only that dirty dog jacket for my source of heat. As the evening progressed, I had a full allergic reaction--watering eyes, itching and deep, choking fits. I looked the part of a drug user.
I was told that the girlsí cabin had a prayer service for their safety. The kid in the bunk next to me stayed awake all night. Later, He told me that he knew karate and planned to use it on me if I got out of bed. What sweet kids!
The theme of the youth speakerís messages where "What Would Jesus Do?" During each chapel, I acted bored and pretended to sleep. The youth pastor had placed the exact number of chairs as kids in the chapel, plus two extra chairs. During the three chapels the two chairs next to me where always empty.
During a devotion time where the youth group went off by themselves to have a time with God, another youth sponsor came to me and handed me a tract. I was excited! I have never had anyone try to witness to me. I had a bunch of questions to ask about salvation and God. However the youth leader merely said, "You ought to read this. Sorry if you canít read," then left on his mission to meet with God.
I was now angry. I felt homeless and rejected! I wanted to yell, "You idiot! Iím an ordained pastor with a masterís degree." I stayed in character, but that,
"bitter-chip-on-the-shoulder homeless look" was real.
I counted my losses during the retreat: a dirty body; gross teeth; awful oily hair; a sleepless night, itchy eyes and a very bad attitude. At the last chapel the youth pastor had asked me to be the chapel speaker. I was worried about my growing hostility. I was going to be one mean, crabby orator.
At the final chapel, I pretended to sleep during the lively youth worship. The big boy sponsor was sitting a few chairs away, keeping a close eye on the "dangerous bum."
The youth pastor announced that they had a special speaker for this chapel, since there was no unknown person in the crowd, they were confused. Then I stood up and stretched. The pastor introduced me as Tim, a pastor from Traverse City.
The group sat in silence. Then they began to talk. I had really fooled them and they where ready to share their thoughts. I just let them speak, it was better then my thoughts. The big guy said that he planned to go to town to buy me Carharts that day. Others talked about what they planned to do to help me. My thoughts were, "Yep, sure, I believe this trash."
After the chapel ended, without me ever talking (I really had nothing nice to say), a whole bunch of the youth leaders and youth came up to talk to me. A few of them wanted to express how sorry they were for how they treated me. The youth pastorís wife was one of them--she was the sponsor that closed the bus door and gave her husband the evil eye when he let me on the bus. The youth pastor was one brave kid--he had not even told his wife about the bum adventure.
One girl said the most unbelievable statement to me. It went like this, "Iím sorry! I would have helped you if I had known you were a pastor." She missed the whole point of the weekend! I was shocked! Sometimes we Christians are so dumb! That is why God compares use to sheep. You do not need to help a pastor playing the part of a bum--help someone who is in real need.
The Bible says in James 2:1-4, "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, donít show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Hereís a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"
It can be found in the Old Testament, Leviticus 19:15: "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great..." or Proverbs 21:13, "If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered."
And the Lord plans to meet the needs of the broken and hurting, Isaiah 61:1-3: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lordís favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn. And provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."
(Scripture taken from the New International Version of the Bible)
Tim Manzer is a pastoral care counselor, a former wilderness guide, a motorcycle accident survivor, a father of two, married for 22 years in a great marriage, shepherd of recovery groups, a lover of rivers and kayaks, a dog owner, a feeder of ducks and friend of God. You can write to Tim care of the Letters page of this magazine.