God frequently uses people in unpredictable ways to provide for the needs of the outcast. One of the people God used in this manner is Timothy.
Late one night I spotted a man in the distance pushing a grocery cart. His clothes were new and clean, which automatically made me curious about him. As I got closer and could see the contents of his cart, I recognized the familiar logo of a well-known fast-food restaurant. He had a cart full of hamburgers! “No way,” I thought.
“Not here on Skid Row.”
As I approached, the man reached into his cart for two hamburgers and gave them to me. I was taken completely off guard and had to know what he was doing there on the streets, giving hamburgers away.
“I hope you enjoy them,” he simply said. Then he turned to walk away.
I called to him, “Sir, can I go with you?” He smiled, “Sure, you can help me hand these out.” “To whom?” I asked.
“To anybody who wants one,” he answered.
I observed him closely as we passed out hamburgers to the guys on the street. He seemed to genuinely love these men. After the burgers were all distributed, the man prepared to leave.
“Thanks for helping me,” he said. He stopped pushing the cart, asking, “Would you like to talk?”
“Sure,” I replied, anxious to find out more about him. We sat on the porch step of a nearby building. He asked my name, what I was doing there, and how I was getting along on the streets. He was truly surprised when I told him I was not one of the homeless, but was living on the streets with the bums to give them encouragement and love.
He said his name was Timothy and told me this story: “I was a homeless man who was ministered to by a group of people who were living on the streets. Missions supported them. There are several of them on Skid Row now, and they do good work. I’m the product of a mission. Most derelicts think of missions as a place to get a free meal. The real purpose of a mission is to present the gospel to men who are in need. Most missions are disliked because you have to listen to a sermon before you’re fed. If it didn’t happen in that order, the bums would eat the meals and leave.
“I went to such a mission, as I had done several times before, and I listened to the sermon so I could have a hot meal. Most of the time it was meaningless to me because I was drunk and unable to concentrate on what was being said. This one evening, however, was different. While I was eating, the pastor came over and sat down next to me.
“He asked about my life. We began to talk, but I really didn’t want to be bothered. At first, I felt I should at least answer his questions; then an odd thing happened. I began to feel genuine concern from him. His tone of voice and sincerity made me think he really cared about me.
“All the other people in the mission were leaving, but the pastor and I were still talking. I told him about my past life—how I’d been a successful businessman with a beautiful home, a wife, and kids. I also confessed to him about my need for alcohol—how I used to go home from all the pressures at work and have a few drinks to relax. Then I started needing a drink in the morning to gain enough courage to go to work. At work, I needed a drink to keep me going. Soon, I’d become an alcoholic. I needed it to sustain my life. Alcohol was the main reason I lost my job, and it was also the reason my family left me. Skid Row was the only place for me to go and keep up my alcohol addiction.
I lived on Skid Row for six long years. “The pastor told me, ‘It sounds like your life is a mess now. You know, Timothy, Jesus gives new life. It takes a lot of work to overcome alcoholism. But if you want to change your life, you can. Are you prepared, Timothy, for eternity?’
“I had heard that same pitch before, but it never really got through to me like it did then. As we talked, I realized what a disaster my life had become. I had never really thought about the possibility of eternal life before. As I sat there listening, I began to think that maybe there was a chance for me. I was bewildered and didn’t really know how to answer the pastor’s question. I left without giving him an answer.
“Time passed, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that pastor’s question. I found myself drawn back to the mission. I had to hear more.
“I found the pastor washing dishes in the back of the mission and asked if he had time to talk to me. I helped him finish the dishes and clean the kitchen, and then we sat down together.
“We talked for a long time, and I asked him many questions. Finally, he said, ‘Timothy, when you’re ready to think about eternity, let me know.’ And he got up from the table and walked away.
“That pastor always seemed to let me think things through. He never pushed anything on me, and I believe that’s the reason I found myself returning once again to the mission. I confessed to him that I desperately needed something to make sure my eternity was secured in heaven.
“That beloved man led me to the Lord that night. He found a small room for me at the mission and then spent the first three or four weeks with me, helping me while I fought my battle with alcohol. He was with me night and day, caring for me, holding me, encouraging me, and making sure I was keeping my promise to serve the Lord.
“Those first few weeks were hell, but it’s been almost four years now since I turned my life over to the Lord. I’m a living testimony to what God can do for people if they have a sincere desire to change their lives. God doesn’t promise success in financial terms, but he promises to be with us throughout our lives here and in eternity.
“I’ve blown it a couple of times over the years, but the pastor was always patient with me and always showed love toward me. I saved a little bit of money as I worked around the mission and soon got a job as a janitor at a nearby fast-food restaurant. The pastor allowed me to keep the room at the mission for low rent, which helped me save my earnings.
“Before long, I moved up from janitor to cook. Then I moved from the cook’s position to handling the money in the front and waiting on customers. Because of my prior experience in management, I was able to help by hiring and training personnel. I ended up being one of the night managers.
“I still lived at the mission and continued to save as much money as I could. About three years later, the restaurant was being sold to a private firm. A couple of the managers asked if I wanted to go into partnership with them. I had enough money saved, so I’m now part owner of one of the restaurants.
“I made a promise to God that if I ever got a chance at success again, I’d give something back to the street people. Maybe I could be an encouragement to someone, like the pastor was to me. I started handing out burgers every other night. In this way, I gave them physical nourishment as well as companionship.
“I’ve always been open for opportunities to talk with these guys whenever they want, but I don’t push. Success is sometimes slow in terms of people changing their lives, but I’m patient and persistent.”
I told Timothy that he was an encouragement to me. There are times when I’m so discouraged and wonder, “Can God do anything here?” Many times just thinking about Timothy has given me the encouragement I needed to continue, knowing that God cares. Timothy is just one example of how God can change a life—of how those on Skid Row, given another chance, can make it again and become a part of society. For Timothy, success isn’t a fancy house or a big car; it’s the chance to go out and minister to others.
Lord, there are times when we need people like Timothy to come into our lives and bear witness to the fact that You do change lives. Thank You for pastors and others who are working in missions and in places where they receive little recognition or glory. Timothy is a man who loves You and Your perspective. Thank You for his love, persistence, and encouragement to others. Amen.