My mom and I recently returned from a wonderful week in New York, with a side trip to Boston. We had a great time doing the tourist thing in NYC, seeing the sites and eating our way through the city. We had one experience though, that stuck with me above all others.
It was early afternoon, and we decided to head to Macy’s to continue our shopping. We headed down the stairs at the subway station to catch a train downtown. At the bottom of the stairs, an elderly man was sitting hunched over, surrounded by a few belongings, holding a sign that said “homeless and hungry”. I had some granola bars in my purse, so I pulled one out and extended it toward him. For a few seconds, he didn’t respond. But then, he looked up at me with piercing blue eyes, looking completely startled. He took the snack and thanked me. I walked away towards our train, haunted by his expression. It was clear that he had not made eye contact with anyone in quite awhile and had become accustomed to hundreds of people rushing by without stopping. Our train arrived, and my mom and I got on.
As it pulled away, she said to me, “Look, Katie, he’s eating it.”
I looked out the window and saw that he was. He really was hungry. We were laden with bags from the Plaza and F.A.O. Schwarz, headed to more shopping and more food, and he was hungry. And presumably homeless.
“Do you want to go back and buy him lunch?” she asked.
I agreed as we both fought back tears. We got off at the next stop, bought a sandwich, and headed back uptown to where we started.
We found him again and gave him the food. My mom hugged him, and we walked towards our train again. It arrived quickly, and we got on.
As we waited for the doors to close, my mom elbowed me and said, “Wave! He’s looking at us.”
He was watching us, and he looked at us with a huge grin and bright eyes. My own eyes filled with tears as the train pulled away. I waved, wondering when he had last been happy and what would happen to him.
I don’t know why this man caught our attention and stayed so firmly planted in our minds. We passed dozens of beggars without stopping or even really looking at them. I suppose God used us as a moment of grace to this man. We couldn’t make everything better for him, but he is a precious creation of God, and He wanted this man to know His love at that moment.
After we had given him the food, another man had said to me, “You did good. Much better than giving him money. He’d just buy a drink with it.”
I felt the words stick in my throat, and I got on the train without responding. What I should have said was this: That goodness you see is because our good God has rescued me from being a sinner without hope. He has changed me, molding me into His likeness. That goodness? It is the result of faith in the redeeming death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a gift of God that has nothing to do with me. I am made to do good works, displaying the glory of God to a world that desperately needs Jesus.
I don’t know what will happen to the man we bought lunch for or to the hundreds of other beggars throughout the city. I know that my own heart was moved to pray for God’s glory to burst forth in NYC. Various statistics and mission reports tell me that most people in that city don’t know Jesus. I don’t think our family is called to serve there, but I know we are to pray for New York and support those who are bringing the Gospel to this city and others throughout the world. Will you join me?