Daniel and the Wal-Mart
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25:40
We’ve all experienced this before, in some shape or form. Some see it as an interruption to their day, others an invitation to help. I’m talking about when you find yourself in the presence of someone who needs assistance. Call them “homeless”, “needy” or “down on their luck”, the truth is, we all know that feeling. Maybe it’s when you are on your way to work, and you pass by someone looking for help but you’re late so you throw some money at them and continue along. Maybe you always see the same person at the same spot every day, wondering what their story is. Or maybe you’ve heard from someone who read on Facebook that the people on the corner don’t actually need any help, and that their fulltime job is to just scam suburbanites like you and me into giving them something. I’m sure you can relate.
I’d like to think I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with the homeless community over these last few years. You see, every Summer we take our high school youth group on a week-long mission trip to help those in need. We have come into contact with all kinds of people who needed assistance over the last few years. We’ve learned to refer to them as “homeless friends” or “homeless neighbors” to remind us that they are people – just like you and me. I thought this would prepare me for when these interactions happened in my normal, everyday life. At least, that’s what I thought.
This is where Daniel comes in. Daniel is a homeless neighbor my wife and I met in early 2017 at a Wal-Mart in Orland Park just a few miles from my house. As we circle around to try and find a parking place, we see Daniel on his bike at the entrance trying to get the attention of incoming shoppers, clearly striking out. We park and my wife says to me, “we should give him something.” She is very caring like that.
So, I walk up to Daniel very confidently because I have been in this situation before. I have all of the answers because I work for a church, I tell myself.
“Hey, we’re going into Wal-Mart here. Is there anything we can buy for you? Are you hungry?”
Now that Daniel has my attention, he takes the opportunity to vent. Rightfully so.
“No, I’m not hungry. Food is actually the last thing I need. If someone would just stop for a few minutes and talk to me like a real person, maybe they would know how they can really help me.”
It was like Daniel slapped me in the face and took me on this out-of-body experience. I think back to all of the times I served with our students on mission trips. We didn’t have a single thing to offer these people besides our friendship. And the crazy thing is, that’s all they want. I tried to fix Daniels problems by offering to buy him things, while ignoring that he is a person just like me who has way more needs than food. It was like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
As I came back to earth, we continued our conversation.
“I’m sorry. You’re right. My name is Andrew and this is my wife, Stephanie. What’s your name?”
“My name is Daniel. It’s nice to meet you both.”
As we continued to talk, we learned more and more about Daniel. A friendship was made that day.
We ended up helping in a small way that day, but Daniel left a large imprint on the both of us. We continued to talk about him for the next few days, always watching for him as we ran errands around our home. We prayed for him and planned of ways to get him the proper assistance he needed the next time we saw him.
But we never did see him after that. And I remember thinking to myself, “but that’s a good thing!” Maybe he found a place to stay, or maybe he found his family and everything is good now! Daniel serves as a cold reminder to me that people hurt, each and every day regardless if I see it or not.
Fast forward to December of 2017, almost a year later. Stephanie and I were running errands late at night. We were going to Home Depot right by our house. Hey, when you’re handy like I am, you go to Home Depot at all hours of the day. We pull in to park and Stephanie turns to me and says, “I think Daniel is here.”
Almost a year later! My wife would tell you that she is awful with names. So the fact that she remembered his name tells you that he was important to us. We make our way to Home Depot and recognize him, on his bike just like the last time we saw him.
“Hey, Daniel! It’s Andrew and Stephanie. We met you earlier this year at Wal-Mart!”
“Hey. I remember you.”
What followed was a mix of emotions. We spent time asking questions about each other, almost like we were catching up. But it’s been almost a year and he is dealing with the same, if not more, problems. We knew his name, we knew his problems and we knew that we couldn’t fix all of them for him. That wrecked us.
Again, Daniel served as a reminder that there is brokenness and hurt right in our backyard, no matter where you live. This time, Daniel has our attention and we are committed to helping him, and others we meet along the way, recover and take control of their lives.
We are starting to ask the right questions, beginning to see the things that we so often overlook in life and learning to be uncomfortable with some aspects of life.
We look forward to connecting with Daniel more and in other intentional ways. We will learn from him and hopefully help him take his next steps in life along the way.
Our story is still writing itself. God is still working on us. God is not yet done with Daniel.