I know the New York trip was in July and it is now September and so much has happened since we were there, but I could not possibly talk about my experience in New York without introducing you to a couple of guys I met on the street while I was there.
The man wearing the red shirt in the picture above is Papo (pronounced pop-oh). I would later find out his real name is Juan Antonio, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. I met Papo during our first outreach at Tompkins Park on Sunday afternoon. He was sitting on a bench by himself and it’s almost as if a spotlight came down on him and God just kind spoke to me, “he’s the one.” I knew I HAD to go talk to this guy. I gave him a sandwich and I just began to get to know him. I eventually shared with him a bit of my story and how I believed that God had sent me all the way from Troy, MO. to talk with him. For some reason that statement seemed to resonate with him and I just saw his entire countenance change; like this posture he was trying to maintain completely melted away. I shared the Gospel with him and he accepted Christ right there in the park. It was amazing! We parted ways, but for some reason I felt uneasy about the way our conversation ended and wished that we had more time. As it turned out I did have more time and while everyone was waiting for a group to come back from the other side of the park, I snuck away to hang out some more with Papo and learn a bit more about him, how he was living, and the hope he had for the future.
So here’s where it starts to get a little weird. When I say, “weird” I mean in a good way. The very next morning while we were on our way to Queens to work at “Housing Works” I ran into Papo again! This time it wasn’t in Tompkins Park. It was outside of a little deli shop. We greeted each other like old friends, I gave him a breakfast bar, and our group was again on our way. The next day came and we were working at the NYC Food Bank. We had a lunch break at around 1:00 and I felt like God was telling me to fast the sack lunch that was prepared for us so that I could bless someone with it that really needed it; so I did.
We walked through Harlem, hit the subway, and headed back to church to get ready for dinner and not one time did I see anyone that I felt God was telling me to approach and give the food to. Frustrated and hungry, I made it back to the church and put the sack lunch in the fridge, feeling defeated.
Wednesday we headed down the street for something called, “Operation Thirst.” We walked around a couple of blocks (blocks in NYC are like a mile) handing out water, granola bars, and info about an outreach East Side Tabernacle was doing on Saturday. On the way back to the church guess who I ran into? If you said Papo, then you’d be right. Not at Tompkins Park and not outside the deli, but at a completely different place. We were staying in Manhattan; a city of 1.6 million people and I run into the same guy 3 times in 3 different locations…Incredible! We greeted each other again and told him I had something for him. I ran to the church, came back and gave him the sack lunch I had held onto from the day before.
I sat on a milk crate on this corner for 2 hours just listening to Papo tell the story about his life and sharing stories with him from mine and because of the amount of time I was there I was also able to meet his friends Maria, Sayed, Danny, Ricky, and Joe and share life with them. It was one of my favorite and most memorable times in New York.
This is my favorite picture from the trip. The man between me and Guffey in the picture above is Edgar. I met Edgar on Wall Street during our “free time” on Saturday. Some of the students stopped to buy postcards when I saw him with his hands clasped together as if he were praying. I put some money in his cup and just sat down to talk. He told me about how after his mother died he and his brothers and sisters just kind of went their separate ways. He fell on hard times due to the economy and has been living on the streets, but made sure to tell me that he didn’t plan to stay living on the streets.
It was about that time Guffey came over with a bottle of water and sat down to join the conversation. Edgar shared with us how he prefers to sleep on the street than the homeless shelters; says they’re too dangerous. He sleeps on the subway in the winter or gets a nice box and decorates it for Christmas. The thing that stood out to me was as he was telling us this he was smiling. I couldn’t help but ask how is it that he manages to smile and seem to be happy when most people would be depressed. As he gave me his answer my eyes welled up with tears. He said, “I am blessed. You see all of these people? (gesturing to everyone walking around) They are my family. They take care of me. I have everything I need.” Guff and I prayed with Edgar and we thanked him for spending time with us and we went on our way.
I can honestly say I love this guy. His words and the memory of the joy he had will be with me as long as I live. Those who have nothing can see more clearly and I want to see more that way. Edgar chose to be thankful. Edgar chose to have joy and peace. Edgar chose not to take anything for granted, but literally rely on God for everything. I’m so thankful for the experience I had in New York and I have a feeling I’ll be going back.