A Caring Life—Monday’s Musings

“Hi. My name is Pauline Hylton. Are you a visitor?”

I’ve said that countless times at my home church. Sometimes they are visiting and I show them to a Sunday School class. Other times, they’ve attended for 3 years and I either haven’t noticed, or much to my embarrassment, I’ve introduced myself 6 times and my middle-aged-menopausal brain doesn’t remember. I figure it’s more important to be friendly than to risk looking like a complete idiot.

Introducing myself to a stranger isn’t difficult for me. Raised as an Officer’s Brat in The Salvation Army, I had no choice. Like the regular army, we were ‘stationed’ at a ‘corps’ (aka-church) for a few years, and then my parents would receive ‘marching orders.’ Three weeks later, we’d show up in a new city, often a new state, a new house—and for me a new school. If you weren’t outgoing, you’d spend your life eating potato chips in your room. I didn’t. (Except the potato chip part.)

I also didn’t have a choice about caring. I rang the bell each Christmas, visited the sick, and handed out toys at Christmas to the less fortunate. And did I mention that my parents ran a transient lodge for homeless people? The lodge foreman, who taught me how to play pool, spent 17 years in prison for murder.

So when a homeless man began to attend our church in the evenings, of course I introduced myself. I didn’t remember his name, and I felt, well, awkward. What do you ask a homeless person? How’s the family? You like your job? How many children do you have? I was afraid.

Afraid of being taken advantage of. Afraid of feeling like I had to invite him to dinner. Afraid of the unknown. If I were grading myself on the Lord’s caring scale, well let’s just say I’d lose my college scholarship.

It bothered me. I sensed that he chose to be homeless, and that scared me, too. A few weeks before Christmas, I marched to where he sat and re-introduced myself. This time I remembered his name. Mark.

After some small talk I said, “How could I minister to you this week, Mark?”

He cocked his head and tightened his mouth. “I have a ministry that I do on Martin Luther King Boulevard on Saturday nights. Right after 7PM there is a local dentist who is throwing a Christmas party and I’d like to attend. I’m having trouble with my teeth.” With that he smiled to show a few were missing. “The trouble is that I need a pick-up to move the equipment.”

I had no idea why, but I knew Tom had a pick-up.

“Just pray about that for me. There might be a guy there who could help.”

I didn’t forget, and I did pray. I was familiar with the area since I’d run a Salvation Army girls group in that area as a young married woman. Often I’d pick up the girls or drop them off. The neighborhood wasn’t known for being safe. Tom and I agreed to be at the corner that he designated at 7.

It was a record-breaking cold night for The Tampa Bay area. I wanted to stay home in my heated house with my pink slippers, but we bundled up and drove there. We weren’t sure what we were looking for since we didn’t know what kind of ministry it was.

The streets were almost empty. A few Christmas lights adorned some old buildings. Newer buildings were added since I’d last been there. A group of young men hung out on a corner—pants low on their hips. I tried not to stare.

Then I heard a voice projected from up the street. A shabby, white van positioned itself in a vacant lot, with trunk-sized speakers placed on both sides. An African-American man read scripture interlaced with commentary in a Jamaican accent. Mark sat hunkered in the back seat.

He looked pleased to see us. We shook hands and talked a few minutes. Turns out Tom couldn’t move the equipment since his Toyota had a topper. The white van would do. He thanked us and we left.

As we rode back in the heated truck, I sobbed. This unnamed man from our congregation was faithfully ministering to people who weren’t listening and maybe even didn’t care. And until then, I didn’t care.

But God cared.

I’m studying the book of Isaiah in Bible Study Fellowship this year. No one listened to Isaiah. He wasn’t popular with Judah. God even had him dress in a loincloth for a few years to get people’s attention. I doubt that pleased his wife. He didn’t blend in with the culture of his day because God called him to be different. Like Mark.

I want to be different, too. My family and friends think I already am. What I mean, is I want to be obedient to God in whatever He has called me to do. Like Mark who ministers on an empty street in Florida. Like Isaiah, who ministered to a ‘stiffed necked’ people in Judah.

I believe He’s called me to be obedient to sit in front of this computer screen to tell you stories about others. So that we can all learn.

Happy New Year,

Pauline

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