Saturday, October 6, 2012

Eyes be Opened

I met Patrick Johnson on a warm September day in Charlotte. As the sun shone down upon our group of students and staff and we listened to him speak, I realized the potential for darkness in this man's life. Surrounded by soaring glass statements of success, enveloped by the shadows of skyscrapers and Charlotte's elite, Patrick was the very antithesis of affluence. Patrick has become well acquainted with the bottom rungs of the social ladder. Patrick is homeless. And yet he is the happiest, most joy filled man I have encountered in our city thus far.

His story began with a confession, "I got four police that hates my guts." This was followed by a grin and an explanation of just how one survives on the streets. Through a series of ministry centers and the donations of people in the community, he manages. But that certainly doesn't mean it's an easy life. Tears came to my eyes as Patrick shared some of the things he's been told - things he wouldn't repeat out of respect for us. Names he's been called. Insults thrown haphazardly at him out of spite from people just like you and I. And then there was the mention of those Patrick's seen killed. Despite the loss, discomfort, and unpredictability in his homelessness, he smiled throughout the duration of our time together. There was an undeniable life coursing through Patrick, he was constantly moving, talking, observing, feeling.

Having progressed from one side of Charlotte to the other, we turned our backs on the metropolis scene and walked downhill, toward the outskirts of the city - the parts nobody really wants to see. There was a permeable sense of dejection all around us. Simply the act of walking down into poverty fostered a physical degradation and despondency I hadn't encountered before. Our group accompanied Patrick to his last stop for the day, a men's shelter that would feed him and ensure he had a safe place to sleep for the night. As we returned to Queens, one of Patrick's earliest comments continued to resonate with me.

"I'd rather have love in my heart than money."

I hope that love is always at the center of my heart. Patrick knows that God provides for him and always will. He doesn't fear because he knows that God will abundantly bless him if he is faithful.

So next time you pass the Charlotte skyline, take a moment and think about the irony of those buildings. Displays of fortune and financial victory, they serve as symbols of status and wealth. Status and wealth that can be gone in an instant. Look again. In actuality, they are towering reminders of life's instability. For me, they're now beautiful in that they remind me of my need for sustenance in an unshakable force - God's steadfast love. Thank you Patrick Johnson for opening my eyes - and watch out for those policemen.

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