An old story keeps resurfacing in my mind. It happened awhile ago, September 8th, 2016 to be exact.
It didn’t happen in Uganda, but it is in Uganda that I’ve found the words to share it. I’ll never forget this day.
I was on my way home from school. I was on highway 96. Highway 96 is about the most stereotypical suburb highway that exists. I’m about as far into the suburbs as you can get, yet on the corner of the intersection, I see a guy holding a sign.
It can’t be someone who is homeless, I thought to myself. I wasn’t in the city. However, as I glanced quickly at the sign, my eyes scanned the black letters written in sharpie asking for help. There was some money in my pocket.
“Give him the money in your pocket”, I heard in my head.
At this point, I was not sure what I’m doing, but I parked and decided to go up to him. After greeting him and introducing myself I gave him the money. Of course, the amount of money I gave him was the exact amount he needed, down to the dollar. God does that. Then, I simply asked how I could pray for him. What happened next, I couldn’t anticipate.
“I love Jesus too!” He exclaimed. Those words seemed to hold some weight with him. They seemed to spark something inside him that started a train of words, thoughts, and ideas that I couldn’t stop. He started explaining testimony after testimony in his life. He shared with me that that day he had been assaulted and that his friends he was supposed to stay with stole his motorcycle and kicked him out. He started sharing how he had seen God heal addictions and save people. I nodded my head as he went on and on and on. I’m not sure if he even breathed in the 30-minute response he had to my 6-word question.
“You know what love is?” he said.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
Now replace the word love with God. That is who he is!”
He began to say it once more. Those words stuck with me.
“Did someone pay you to come up to me?” he asked in awe.
“No,” I replied, “I just heard God whisper to me to give you the money in my pocket.”
He couldn’t believe it. He just stared silently for awhile.
It was then he proceeded to tell me that before I had come up to him he was about to commit suicide.
He had thrown everything away, including his Bible. He had thrown away every possession he had, and when no one had stopped at his sign he was two minutes away from taking out his knife. He turned to me and looked me straight in the eye.
“Thank you,” he said, “God sent you. God sent you.”
He took out his bottle of alcohol and asked me where the next garbage can was. He was going to go downtown and tell more people about Jesus. Instead of taking his life, he was going to go share with people how they can have a new one.
He had purpose again.
I will never forget the look on the man’s face teaming with hope and joy.
I ran home, grabbed him a Bible, and he was on his way.
I often think about how my part in that story is so miniscule. Many times, all God whispers for me to do is say hi, offer a dollar, or give a glance in their direction, and yet each time a miracle happens. I firmly believe it’s not about the action but the presence- the presence of God.
I believe what saved this man’s life was not the act of giving the money in my pocket, but the presence that permeated that moment.
It’s never about the money, it’s about being there, hearing their stories, praying with them in that struggle, crying with them in that pain. Colossians says Christ in you is the hope of glory. It is simply about being there.
What if God’s presence in us and us being present with people is the actual thing that will change the world?
“In a time so filled with methods and techniques designed to change people, to influence their behavior, and to make them do new things and think new thoughts, we have lost the simple but difficult gift of being present to each other. We have lost this gift because we have been led to believe that presence must be useful. We say, ‘Why should I visit this person? I can’t do anything anyway. I don’t even have anything to say. Of what use can I be?’ Meanwhile we have forgotten that it is often in “useless,” unpretentious, humble presence to each other that we feel consolation and comfort.” -Henri Nouwen
We love to see the outward change and quick fix solutions, but what if it is the inward change and humble, real, gradual, and consistent love that will change the world?
What if we relied so completely on His presence to be present with people?
What if our obedience to his voice and compassion are so linked that they cannot be separated?
Being here in Uganda I constantly must come back to what I truly believe about God and if I trust his guidance in the everyday moments. The words of my friend on highway 96 replay often in my head.
“God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud. God does not dishonor others, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
God never fails.”
Each day I want to live as a listener, trusting that God never fails and his whispers of guidance won’t either. Each day I want to live as a listener, trusting that his presence in me is the way I will be able to be divinely present with people. That is what I believe might be the very way to save a life.