By Chris Roberts
It was a typical winter Sunday morning in Atlanta. My friend John kindly offered me a companion seat for the Green Bay – Falcons game. I’m at the age now where I can skip church for an event such as this and have no guilt feelings. After all, fellowship is a necessity of life and John and I would certainly benefit from time spent together. I had not been to a Falcons game in a couple of decades. Even though I considered myself to be a dedicated football fan, I felt no compulsion to have to attend games, either pro or college. Between the hassle and the expense, I would much rather sit in my man cave and watch in comfort.
But this was a free ticket. Who can pass that up?
The game was one that begged to be forgotten. It was anything but a great game. Once the final buzzer sounded, we all headed for the exits. Anyone that has been to a well-attended game understands what I’m about to describe. Always in attendance are those that leave well before the end of the game. They cherish the idea of getting out before the mad rush for the exits. Then, when the end of the game comes, there are two groups remaining. The first group takes the lead; they’re determined to get to their cars first, so as to beat the traffic. The second group knows the first group well, so they intentionally take their time and know that a long traffic jam is waiting for them. So they purposely hold back and have reconciled in advance that rushing is wasted effort.
I’ve never claimed to be a patient person; consequently, I was in the first group. In fact, John and I were almost leading the pack. As we went up the long escalators that would eventually put us out adjacent to the parking lot, I happened to notice a young mother sitting on the cement ground strategically located so that the mob would have to pass right by her. She was holding an infant on her lap and two other children leaned up against as if to ward off the cold. As I passed her, I was determined not to look directly at her, but she was in my periphery. At the very last moment, I turned my head and the very thing that I had hoped to avoid happened—our eyes met, and she looked directly into mine. Her look was of a person who had no hope. Her eyes were dead. I knew that she was one of the many homeless that filled the streets of Atlanta. I looked away and headed to the car in order to achieve our objective. Get the heck out of there. Beat the mob. Be the first. However, I was ruined. This young mother had captured my heart, and I was haunted by her look.
I said nothing to John. He was oblivious to the sequence of events that had so impacted me. Upon arriving home I relayed the story to my wife.
What condemned me was knowing that if this had happened to me twenty five years earlier, I would not have hesitated; regardless of the situation, I would have stopped and given whatever assistance I could. That’s because at that point in my life, caring for others and expressing the love of God was a reality I lived with daily. What had happened to me in recent years? What enabled me to pass by one who I knew needed someone to express love and concern for both her and her precious children? The question haunted me. In my morning devotions, I repented before the Lord and asked him to give me as chance to redeem myself. I thought often of just driving around the streets of downtown Atlanta and trusting that I would find her. When she crossed my mind I would lift her in prayer. Her look would not leave me.
A few months later, I received a call from Anita Beaty, Executive Director of Taskforce for the Homeless in Atlanta. Anita and I had been good friends almost three decades earlier as we worked to assist the ever-growing problem of homelessness. I eventually went on and focused on my small business, while she remained focused in serving the poor. Her shelter feeds and provides beds for almost five hundred men every night. In addition, they try to provide training, proper medical care, counseling and other services based on available finances. That particular morning, her call came as a great surprise to me. She told me that she had an emergency and I came to mind as someone she should contact.
One of the local shelters for women and children had been shut down unexpectedly. This resulted in a dangerous situation for all those affected. In response, Anita had opened up their lobby and invited them to stay there each evening until proper shelter could be provided. It stretched everyone to their limits. Anita had been alerted that several beds had become available at the City of Refuge. COR was another local effort designed to support and enable women and children to move back into independence. These beds needed to be filled that day by Anita’s group or they would be offered elsewhere. Her problem was that she had no way to transport them across town. Therefore, her call to me was to ask if I had a way to help her out.
Didn’t she know I was in the suburbs? I told her I would see what I could do, but I had absolutely no idea where I would get a proper vehicle. I made some calls, but I wasn’t really expecting to be able to help or find a vehicle. However, to my amazement, within the hour I was heading to Atlanta behind the wheel of a fifteen-passenger van. And, I was very aware that God had intervened and answered our prayer.
Upon arriving, I waited for the mothers and their small children to board the van, and we headed to our destination. Upon arrival, we were shown by the guard at the gate where to park and the next steps to take in order to properly deliver our precious cargo. I helped the mothers and their little ones out of the van. Each carried a plastic bag or small suitcase that contained their sole possessions. One woman in particular (because of the young age of her children) needed more help than the others, and we became immediate friends as we worked together to gather up her children and her plastic bags containing her belongings. She told me her name and then introduced me to her young children, one by one. She also explained that she and her children were from Nigeria and that many of her family had entered the U.S. hoping to escape their country’s dangerous conditions.
At that moment, we received the orders that we had been waiting for, so it was time for the young woman to situate her children and for me to return the borrowed van. As I began to walk away, I looked back and proclaimed God’s blessing upon her. As our eyes met, a shot of recognition flashed into my mind—she was the woman who had been on cold cement outside the stadium all those months before.
That morning as I drove back to the suburbs, there was a new song in my heart and God’s grace and redemption danced bright in my eyes; He had answered my prayer, healed my pain of regret and given me a second chance to help someone.