A few years ago I was in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida with Katie visiting family. The afternoon we got there our friends, Dusty and Wess, decided to come to FWB to hang out at the beach with us. Katie and her Mom were out running an errand when Dusty and Wess rolled up. They were both hungry so we went to Firehouse Subs. Pulling into the parking lot I noticed a young African American guy wearing a backpack. I didn’t really think much of it until we parked the car and I noticed that he was walking on the sidewalk right in front of the restaurant. Dusty and me were a few feet in front of Wess as we walked to the door and since I hate walking by people, shifting my eyes like I don’t see them, and pretending they don’t exist, we both said, “Hi.” As soon as we did, he stopped to talk.
His name was Erving. While we were talking an Asian guy walked by with a pack of cigarettes. Erving asked if he could have one and the guy obliged. Erving was pretty young, probably in his mid twenties. He was dirty. You could see the dirt on his forehead and in his hair. He was wearing a Kentucky Derby shirt and claimed that he used to breed horses all over the United States. He used the f-word with inventive regularity. He used it solo at times, he added i-n-g at others, and he even coupled it with other profanities.
After talking for a few minutes, Wess asked him if he was hungry. He was, so he came in to eat. As we talked more over the meal it became obvious that Erving was really drunk, really high, or mentally challenged. He talked about this castle he visited for awhile in some town in Alabama. Wess is from Alabama and he later told us that it was a mental hospital. As I looked and listened it was hard for me to hold back tears.
Erving is the type of guy that it would be much easier to ignore because there’s no easy way to fix his problems. It’s not black and white. There’s no formula. It was hard to know whether he was crazy because he’d been on the streets so long or if he was just crazy and that’s why he was on the street. I don’t guess it really matters. He is a person, a person who has probably been looked past, pushed aside, and forgotten. The one thing I wanted to do for him was find him a place to stay. Thankfully he said he was staying at the Rescue Mission in town.
Eating with Erving that day gave me a helpless feeling. He couldn’t carry on an intelligent conversation or I would have shared Jesus with him. In fact we tried to but he frequently inserted Santa Claus for Jesus and Jesus for Santa Claus. When the meal was over I honestly didn’t think there was anything else we could do. He had a place to stay and he had a hot lunch after a long day of fishing. We drove away and I felt somewhat empty and helpless about the whole situation.
But on the other hand, I felt very content knowing that I had just eaten lunch with Jesus. Because Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt. 25:35-36). He went on to say, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:40). Erving is certainly one of the “least of these.” I walked away from Firehouse Subs able to say, “I ate lunch with Jesus.”