The Choice

Asian city at night
Photo by Jimi Allen for TEAM

Every so often, we’re going to post glimpses of the daily life of missionaries at work, in an occasional series we’ll call Field Journals. This is the first post, written for us by a TEAM worker in East Asia who will remain anonymous.

Walking home one night from church, I glanced down the street while waiting for the light to change at an intersection and spotted a homeless man digging through a trash can. He was dirty, with long, unkept hair and a scraggly beard. Though the temperature was in the lower 40s, he was wearing almost no clothes. He had on only a pair of short, ragged trousers. No shirt. No socks. No coat.

The light changed, and instinctively I started across the street. But as I got to the other side, I thought more about the poor guy who must be freezing. I began to question myself. Why didn’t I think to do something to help him? Why aren’t I going back now? I could give him my sweatshirt. My shirt as well. My pants? That might be a bit much.

Fifty yards later, I made up my mind. I turned around and went back to the intersection. By now, the guy was far down the street and going away from me. To catch up, I would have to run. “That would look pretty weird,” I thought, me running down the street to catch a homeless man, then stripping off my clothes, handing them over, and walking back home in the freezing cold. I hesitated.

If he were closer…

If I had thought of it sooner…

I turned around and headed back home. I berated myself. Why couldn’t I be the type of guy who is willing to chase homeless men down the street on a freezing winter night to give them my clothes? Why can’t I do something now? I could, you know. There’s still time to do something.

“Like what?” I asked myself sarcastically. “Go home, gather up some clothes, hop on the scooter and start searching the dark streets for a semi-naked homeless man?”

“Yes,” I found my redeemed side answering. “Why not?”

Why not. I climbed the five flights of stairs to our apartment and, once inside, began grabbing clothes from the bedroom wardrobe. “What in the world are you doing?” asked my wife,  who was already in bed. I explained as I continued to scrounge. She jumped out of bed to help. Soon we had two plastic bags stuffed with clothes, and I headed back out to search the streets.

After ten minutes of frantic driving, I thought it was a lost cause. I was freezing. The guy was nowhere to be seen. How far could he have gotten? I widened my search area and lifted up a prayer.

Five minutes later, I spotted him going up the opposite side of a divided road. I sped to the next intersection and did a quick U-turn, ignoring the red light. I pulled up a little ways in front of him, stopped the scooter, and jumped off carrying the bags.

“These are for you,” I said.

He turned and looked at me. I had expected the wild eyes of someone with mental or emotional problems, but was surprised to see a measured calmness. Give him a bath, a shave, and put him in a suit and he would be right at home in the boardroom.

“No thanks,” he said, and continued to walk.

“But you must be freezing,” I argued, while trying to keep up with him. “Please take them.”

“No thanks.” He walked on into the night, leaving me on the side of the road with two bags of clothes in my hand and a dumb look on my face.

It didn’t make sense. The guy had to be freezing. How could he not want some clothes? Was it pride? Did he suspect my motives? Had he been in this state so long that he didn’t realize how bad off he was? It didn’t make sense.

That’s the way it is, I guess. You chase half-naked homeless guys around the streets at midnight to give them clothes, and sometimes they turn you down. You go halfway around the world to tell people good news of great joy, and often they aren’t interested. You leave heaven, become a man, suffer and die for all people so that they can be saved, and those very people give a casual, “No thanks.” It makes no sense.

The opportunity has been given us to make a choice. That’s why we travel halfway around the world, to give others the opportunity to hear the good news and make their own choice. And ultimately, that is why we mount scooters to chase half-naked homeless men around at midnight with bags of clothes. It is our job — our glory, if you will — to give them the opportunity. They make the choice.

Written by a TEAM worker in East Asia

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About the author

Andy Olsen
Andy Olsen

Andy Olsen is a former senior writer and editor at TEAM. He is especially interested in exploring and sharing the metrics and best practices of great missions. Before joining TEAM, Andy served as Director of Communications for Latin America Mission. He has worked as a writer, photographer and videographer for NGOs in Haiti and for newspapers and magazines across the country.

 

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