|Photo by Jennifer Foster|
Occasionally, something happens in your life that shakes you to the core. Something so disturbing and convicting that it never leaves you. It is a conviction that haunts you. The memory serves as a reminder that we are not here to "go through the motions".
About a year and a half ago, a homely looking middle-aged black man walked into my office for a cup of coffee. He made his cup of coffee, cleaned up his sugar papers, said thank you and left. I did not think anything of him coming into the office for a cup of coffee. It was not uncommon to have shoppers and medical patients stop in from time to time for a cup or two. Little did I know that one cup of coffee would change my life!
Our office is located in the middle of town, adjacent to a physician’s office and a few department stores. We keep a few refreshments out at all times just for those types of occasions.
A few days passed and the stranger entered my office again. This time, God was prompting me to minister, but I did not say a word. He politely asked permission to make himself a cup of coffee, thanked me and left. I noticed that he was wearing the same baggy, homely looking clothes he was wearing the last time. I decided to make an effort to talk to him the next time he came in. I prayed and asked God to give me one more chance. I purposed in my heart that I would make every valiant effort to minister in any way that God led me to do. (Does this sound familiar to anyone?)
This time, a few weeks passed before the stranger entered my office. I thought that I had lost my chance to minister. Looking back, it was God’s perfect timing. I paid careful attention to those that passed by our office. I was continually coming out of my office to walk around the lobby and outside the door to make sure I didn’t miss him. Finally, the stranger came in the office. Trying not to seem too eager, I walked up to him and formally introduced myself. We shook hands and he said: "My name is Dave Bolten."
Hoping not to sound too blunt, I told him that I noticed that he was wearing the same clothes that I had seen him wearing the previous two times. That was the open door that we both needed. Dave began to explain how he was having some marital disputes. I asked him where he lived, to which he replied, "Wherever I can find a comfortable place." This man was homeless! I asked Dave where he was living and what he was doing for food. (He never asked me for money.) Dave told me about the house he and his wife had together, but due to the marital strife, she kicked him out. (I know what you’re thinking – please tell me you didn’t contribute to his cause!)
We talked for what seemed like hours. I didn’t make a forceful effort to Bible beat him or tell him "the way". Before he left, I asked him if he would like for me to pray with him, he gladly accepted. That day began a relationship that I will always cherish. From that day on, Dave Bolten frequented my office at least three times a week for coffee and conversation. To this day, I can’t recall one single time when he asked me for money. He did most of the talking and I did a whole lot of listening. There would be opportunities that would come up when the Lord would prompt me to say a few words, ask him a question, or pray. But, for the most part… I just listened.
I think a lot of people- especially ministers- think ministering means leading as many people as they can to Christ through a formatted prayer. If I recall, Christ commanded His disciples to go out and make more disciples. To me, that’s more than just a formatted prayer. It seems nowadays Christians are more concerned with adding another spiritual notch to their belt than making a difference in someone’s life and actually making disciples.
An entire month passed by without a single appearance. I was starting to think this was just a testing of my boldness and openness to minister. I started asking myself if Dave Bolten was even a real person. I looked for him in the park behind our office, on the side of the road as I was driving, and a few other places - nothing! But one morning, unexpectedly – Dave showed up.
Elated to see him, I quickly made a fresh pot of coffee and had small conversation with him. He told me that he hadn’t been around because he was trying to find a job. He was walking up to 15+ miles a day putting in applications and having small interviews… WEARING THE SAME CLOTHES. He was getting a bit depressed because no one wanted to hire a homeless man… or so he thought. He told me that he had an interview the next day with Walmart.com and didn’t think he would get hired because he didn’t have proper clothes. I asked him what size shoe he wore and, from my experience working in a men’s clothing store, I sized him up. I went home that night feeling a little confused about what I needed to do.
My wife cooked us an awesome dinner that night but couldn’t stay to eat with us due to a previous engagement. So, it was the youngest and I to fend for ourselves. As my wife and our oldest daughter pulled out of the garage, the rain began to fall. It was pouring in a matter of minutes. As I fixed our plates full of fresh, hot food, and wearing comfortable clothes in a great big house keeping us dry and warm - Dave Bolten’s face came to my mind. I prepared our youngest daughter’s plate and told her we were leaving as soon as she finished her food. While she ate I went into my closet and neatly folded dress shirts, pants, and flannels into a duffel bag. Along with those items I grabbed a few dress belts, some hats, toboggans, dress shoes, blankets, and a poncho and stuffed it all into the duffel bag. The bag was packed so tight, the zipper barely closed. I came back into the kitchen and grabbed a to-go Tupperware plate and put some of my wife’s gourmet, southern cooking in that plate.
While getting things ready, our youngest ask me where we were going. I told her to find a man and give him some clothes and hot food. Her curiosity provoked an onslaught of questions. "Why are we going to find a man?" she asked. "Where is he? Why did you get clothes out of your closet?" The questions were more than I could keep up with. I told her that Mr. Dave didn’t have a house to live in or food to eat or good clothes to wear. Her eyes widened and looked at me in disbelief. She asked me: "Why doesn’t he have a house? Does his mommy not cook him food or buy him clothes?" My eyes filled with tears as I attempted to explain to a three-year-old, extra-privileged girl why Mr. Dave was homeless and hungry.
We set out that night expecting to find Mr. Dave (as our youngest called him). We looked in an old abandoned van that he had mentioned to me weeks earlier that he was living in. We searched the park where he said he frequented. We searched and searched for about an hour and a half and found nothing. Rain was pouring down. My youngest asked, "Do you think he’s okay daddy?" … What could I say? I replied, "God is watching after him." And we headed back home.
Feeling discouraged and defeated, I prayed for Dave Bolten and lost sleep thinking about what I could do to help him. The next morning, I arrived at work with the stocked duffel bag and food. I put the food in the refrigerator at work and carried the duffel bag in my truck for weeks.
As the weeks passed, the feeling of defeat crept in more and more. As I rode around, I made every effort to look for Mr. Dave. Carrying the duffel bag with me everywhere I went, I made it my mission to deliver what God had moved me to do. With every fleeting day the green Wilson duffel bag annoyed me as it stared me down from the floorboard of my truck. From that morning forward, my mission became filled with more intentionality than the previous morning. I had to deliver this "Gospel"! I had to give away the great blessing that God has entrusted me to do. I began praying that God would remove whatever was hindering this arrangement and open the door for us to meet again.
As the year was ending, I received a job offer to manage a new clinic. Taking the opportunity, I couldn’t help but think about the missed opportunity to bless Dave Bolten. It was the beginning of October 2011, nearly 8 months since I had first met Dave Bolten, and I would be leaving at the end of October to take my new job position.
One day before my scheduled departure – I saw Mr. Dave Bolten. I explained to him how my youngest daughter and I frantically searched for him in the cold rain, and how we had prepared food and clothing for him. He started to cry and explain that things had gotten better at home. He had been living back at home, gotten a part time job and seemed to be mending a broken relationship with his son. Wow! Great news - but it did not end there. He was now homeless again living in a near by park and "camping out" in a nearby wooded area.
I invited him over to my truck, explained that I was leaving for a new job and gave him the duffel bag full of clothes. His eyes filled with tears and he gave me one of the biggest hugs I have ever received. I gave him my contact information and told him to call me anytime he needed something. Inside that duffle bag was one of the first Bibles I had been given. There were special remarks from youth pastors, and friends in that Bible, that I felt it needed to bless someone else. It has served me for years as a source for encouragement. We prayed together and departed.
One year has passed since our emotional parting and I have very few encounters with Dave. I see him, occasionally, walking along the side of the road. I pray for Dave and hope to one day reconnect with him. Reflecting back on those months of ministering, I feel like Dave ministered to me so much more than I ministered to him. Perhaps, God used Dave to convict me as much as He used me to bless Dave.
What should all ask ourselves- What Can I Do Now?