The First Time
by Rick Mester
It was cold. I remember dressing in many layers partly to shield myself from the bitter cold wind and partly to shield myself from those people that my preconceived notions had allowed me to both fear and loathe. I didn’t really want to do this. There are many reasons – all of which make me realize the depth of my selfishness now. I had no time to ‘gallivant’ around this city in dark places in hopes that we would actually find someone under a bridge, dock, or behind a trash dumpster. I am a Information Technology Professional by day. A full time job that affords me much stress and fatigue. I am also a singer in my band Sombrance. I have little time for other things in life. Besides, why should I help those who won’t even help themselves?
So I climb into the van and sat up front with Pastor Don. There were about 12 of us in total. I sat in the van and watched as we made the first few stops. The other guys were pouring out of the van with such zeal and enthusiasm. Finally, we pulled up on an overpass near highways 44 and 55 downtown. Pastor Don turned to Wade and I and said, “Why don’t you guys go out this time?” Not wanting to look bad in front of all the other guys who had been ministering all night, we crawled out of the van. But something happened along the way…
We could see two piles of sheet plastic that were standing about a foot and a half high (obviously covering a human being). Have I mentioned how unbearably cold it was? We approached the first. The thoughts and feelings of faking my way through this melted as I drew closer. I was filled with compassion that I scarce say I may have never felt before in my life. I wanted to cry. I am banking that Wade felt the same. I shouted out “Winter Patrol” and the plastic stirred. Before I could say another word, Wade was knelt down beside the man giving him hot chocolate and hot sandwiches. Wade asked him his name. He told us his name was Randy. Wade then took his hand and asked Randy if we could pray for him. Randy accepted and Wade prayed for him. I couldn’t speak… It was though my life had been changed in a matter of 2 minutes. I approached the next pile of plastic and sheets and met Wayne. I was able to give him food and pray with him.
Sadly, this winter, one of our homeless friends passed away. Word is that it was Wayne. I only hope and pray that he knew Jesus and that somehow we were able to reach him.
We climbed back into the van. People were talking to each other, having a good time. I just sat there trying my best not to cry in front of the guys. I couldn’t believe that there were people hurting and suffering all over the world like this. I felt hollow and empty. But I was changed. It no longer matter WHY they were there, just the simple fact that they WERE there. And I finally realized what it was like for Christ to permeate our beings. This is the love He spoke of. Not something I’m capable of conjuring… Rather it is He who is within me radiating outward. We stopped again… This time Wade and I were the first ones out of the van.
Angel, Jon, Wade, and I approached Nathan’s living area. Nathan had crafted a tent out of plastic sheets and even insulated it with a second layer to trap in the heat. He had chosen this spot right along the Mississippi River bank. We called out for him. He came out. He said hi to Angel and Jon. He knew them by name. It was at that moment that I realized that I wanted these people to know MY name. Not because I wanted an ego boost, but because that would mean that I was developing RELATIONSHIPS with them.
Wade and I introduced ourselves. Nathan noticed Wade and I looking at his tent. He invited us in and showed us around. I have never felt so honored. Nathan accepted our food and hot chocolate and then joined us in the van for the warmth and some conversation.
That ended the evening. The Lord began to open doors in my heart that I had so heavily guarded for years. Callings that I had and spent my life rejecting or pretending didn’t exist started to appear in a new light for me. I suddenly felt… willing to obey. For some, this might come naturally. But not for this stubborn mule! I am now taking the steps towards my callings as the Lord lays them before me. I hope that by the time winter arrives, I will be living in a house in Baden. I feel the pull of God drawing me into His will for His purposes. And all the fears that told me that I would hate obedience or fail in my efforts seem to dissipate with every step forward.
Peace and Love,