"Excuse me, sir. My car broke down. Do you think you could give me a ride?"
(Reluctantly) "Sure, hope in."
In the space of just a few minutes, he asked me my name, occupation, and age (but not my weight, party, or military experience). I felt free to ask the same questions in return.
As 27-year-old homeless unemployed DJ and I headed downtown, he laid out a sad story I'm familiar with. (It's critical to lay this groundwork before one asks for charity.)
Sidenote: I'm guessing knowing that I was a pastor was empowering to him, although I'm pretty sure he would have asked me for financial help anyway.
First, he asked me for money for food. I told him I'd be happy to stop at McDonald's and get him a meal, but I did not have cash on me.
Next he told me what he really needed money for was for a phone card (apparently not food). He had applied for several jobs, but his phone died, and no one could therefore get a hold of him. Could we stop at an ATM and get some cash for him?
Nope. I don't do ATMs.
"Where downtown?" I asked.
"I really need to go further."
The Marathon at Oxford and Hanna. And could I get him a phone card to boost his phone?
"I can do that."
Going in to the store he asked me, "Get me some smokes, too?"
(Smiling) "No, just the phone card."
He smiled, too. "All right, man."
Waiting in line, he said, in a questioning sort of way, "$50 gets me unlimited minutes for a month."
"No, I'll just do the $20."
Guess what? Marathon only takes cash for phone cards. At this point, he and I are both bummed. He then asked me to take him to another place, close by.
I agreed, and finally there, on Clinton, at a small Boost shop, we got his phone card. He grinned, thanked me, and shook my hand ... and asked me to drop him back at the Marathon.
Dropping him there, he thanked me again.
In retrospect ...
- This was one instance where I was glad I didn't have cash on me.
- I got to see where Ward School is. A friend of mine taught there not long ago, and I never knew where it was. Turns out it's just down from the Marathon I visited twice today.
- I'm sure this guy was lying to me about some things--maybe the homelessness, maybe the broken down car, maybe the job apps, maybe his name. But I don't know that I would have done anything different if I could have.
- I could have been in danger. That's why common wisdom is not to pick up strangers. Sara asked me, "Did you pray about this?" I didn't have time. I didn't know he was going to ask me for a ride. At this point I was trusting in God's sovereignty and protection, and I was consciously trusting in it.
Jessica told me her mom's instructions: When you see a hitchhiker, don't pick them up right away. Pray about it. Circle back. If the hitchhiker is still there, then pick them up. They're meant for you.