Janette was her name. And when I met her, the very first words she said were,
“Isaiah 58: 6 – 8.”
“And tell me about that,” I said looking straight into her kind eyes.
At that prompt, she recited from memory these verses:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”
She said them without stuttering or pausing.
Then, she added, “This is my personal ministry mission statement.”
“Wow,” is all I could manage to say.
Then, she told me that she had sold everything she owned and lived for two years among the homeless in Savannah and Atlanta so that she could minister to them.
I was blessed to meet Janette while serving at the Loaves and Fishes Christmas Day Meal at St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in Atlanta, Georgia. This ministry feeds a hearty meal to the needy 5 – 6 days a week, every week. Christmas is an extra special day in the program. On this day, a sumptuous four course holiday meal of turkey, gravy, green beans, hot vegetables, breads, desserts, coffee and tea is served sit-down fashion. A choral group comes from another church to sing Christmas Carols while the “clients” dine. The vast majority of these needy and homeless people are men; but occasionally a woman will join. These people live their lives on the streets and sleep under overpasses and in shelters. Most do not offer up their stories to us servers. They have struggles and addictions and pasts that you and I could never imagine.
During the meal, I like to walk among them, shake their hands and introduce myself. If I am lucky, I can strike up a conversation with a few who tell me their names and where they are from. One man said that he was a minister and another said he had a college degree. There were several, who when asked how they were doing, said, “I am Blessed.”
On the way out the door, we hand them backpacks full of food and hygiene items to help them with the uncertainty of their lives on the streets. Naturally, this was every client’s favorite part of the Christmas meal!
As one of the last visitors was leaving, backpack in hand, Janette called out, “Hey Sam… have ya got a cigarette?”
“No,” he called back.
Janette looked at me, knowing somehow that I was witnessing this exchange and said, “The Lord told me that it was okay to smoke so that I could build a bridge with these people.”
Not knowing how to respond, I smiled.
She had a point, I figured.
Janette has found little ways, albeit unconventional, to connect with the needy here. I am not sure if she is still living on the streets. But, I can say that she makes herself available to serve and I am humbled by her generosity.