Caring for the Poor

Twenty years ago, I was shifting my ministry focus from the Texas prisons to the streets of the inner city. My wife wanted to tag along and take our three children. After church one Sunday afternoon, we bought a lot of bread, peanut butter, apples, and bottles of water. We made fifty sack lunches. We set out for the area of the old Star of Hope men’s shelter in downtown Houston. (The Astros baseball stadium now occupies the area.)

The plan was to hand out sack lunches and talk to as many people as we could, maybe even pray with a few of them. We were more than a little apprehensive about it. I actually got out of the car and engaged people. Nancy was skittish, particularly about our children, and sat in the car with them. I remember when she rolled the car window down a few inches and handed a sack through the narrow opening to a wretched looking man. We would later laugh at that incident.

The lunches were quickly gone and it had been hard to talk to many of the men. We learned several things that day. First, apples were a poor choice to give to homeless people. Most of them had bad teeth and could not comfortably eat an apple.

We also learned a mathematical principle when only one man in fifty responded by letting us pray with him. The “one in fifty formula” almost always worked. In the future, if we wanted to pray with five people, we took 250 lunches.

I finally finished talking to the man, whose name was Harry. He was to become a friend of our family and church. We had run out of lunches, so it was time to go. As we drove away, Nancy and I were slightly discouraged because it seemed like nothing significant had happened.

In fact, something significant had happened, we just had not noticed. Our children were sitting in the backseat crying because we had run out of lunches and there were a lot of people still wanting food. That let us know that we had accomplished something when we saw how our own children’s hearts had been touched. We would soon be meeting, feeding, and making friends with a lot more homeless people. We were being drawn to the disadvantaged people of our city.