“Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you, but do you think that you might be able to spare any loose change you may have.” Esther stepped back and looked the scruffy looking young man over then asked him one simple question. “Do you love Jesus?” Steven lifted his head and pushed his dingy brown hair out of his eyes to see Esther better before answering. “Yes ma’am I do, with all of my heart.” Esther continued to examine the man from a safe distance. He didn’t reek of alcohol or look to be strung out on drugs; he smelled of out doors but nothing that a shower couldn’t cure. Esther cocked her head at the man then asked him a second question. “Do you talk to him everyday.” Steven let out a chuckle and gave a brown toothed smile before replying. “Ma’am being in continual dire straights, how can I afford not to.” They shared a laugh and then Esther replied simply. “None of us can afford not to baby. I’m Esther and you are…” Esther said extending her hand to her new friend. Stephen wiped his hand on his pants before shaking the lady’s hand and introducing himself. “I’m Stephen, Stephen Murphy, good to make your acquaintance.” Esther took a seat on the bench outside the store and then patted the spot next to her, directing Stephen to sit down beside her. “Son, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” “No Ma’am, go right ahead.” “Well, you seem like a nice man and somewhat intelligent. I was wondering how you got to be homeless. You are homeless, aren’t you?” Stephen chuckled again. “I guess my uniform here gave me away.” He answered while pulling at the bottom of his stained shirt, looking down at it. The two fast friends laughed together again. Then Esther chimed in. “You sure are in high spirits for a man in your situation.” Stephen allowed his face to reveal the sincerity in his heart. “Ma’am I’ve got the joy of the Lord’s love in my heart always. He sent you here to speak with me today and for that I am grateful. This is the first bit of kindness I’ve been extended in several days.” Stephen ran his hands back through his hair as he took a moment to reflect on his journey before sharing his experience with his new friend. “My story is quite the sorted tale ma’am. I am actually from Flint, Michigan, born and raised. I’ve been homeless the last three years due to a string of unfortunate events. I used to work construction for over ten years before I got injured. It was great, traveling to everywhere in the mid-west to do work. Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati; I’ve work in ‘em all. I had a house, cars, savings, a wife and a child on the way as well three years ago. Things were great and I was on top of the world, literally; I worked high steel, sky scrapers. That was until I got hurt on the job, back injury.
I was out of work only three months when the bills started piling up. We ran through my savings in no time. My insurance didn’t cover much so I took out loans against my house to keep the lights on. Then I sold one of my cars. My wife was pregnant and caring for me was putting a great strain on our relationship. She left me five months after I was injured on the job; then I found out something that tore me to pieces. I didn’t have a baby on the way. My wife was pregnant but the child wasn’t mine; it was a high school buddy of mines. They had been carrying on for years whenever I was out of town. I can’t tell you how much it hurt me to discover how I was being betrayed by two people I trusted. I suffered many sleepless nights in pain, emotional and physical. Within six months my back was starting to feel a little better and I could walk around without a lot of pain. By the seventh month, my house was foreclosed on and I was evicted to live in my car. My parents died three years earlier and I didn’t have any family in the area anymore. We never had much family. Most of my friends, except the one having an affair with my wife, had moved away and started new lives in other cities. I eventually migrated into Detroit to be in a more metropolitan area where I might be able to find work and shelter. When I arrived there, I learned what it truly was to be homeless. After my car was towed, my third day in Detroit and I was left with no shelter, I became a citizen of a new dangerous world. I was attacked on my first night sleeping in the streets, robbed of all the worldly possessions I had left and beaten with a chain and lock. I almost starved while trying to recover from my injuries. That night I learned not to be weak. I found a small community living in a downtown bus terminal and joined them, my fee for entry was two half eaten Big Macs I found in a dumpster behind a Mc Donald’s. I’d never been much of a fighter in my life, but I certainly learned to fight back, I had to if I were going to survive. I lay on wet cardboard out in the open like an animal many night’s of my life. I often shared my bedding with animals mostly large inner city rats.” Esther winced at the graphic detail Stephen gave of a homeless man’s life in the big city. Stephen continued on with his terrible yet true tale of torment.
“The people living in the street displayed behavior of survival; it was a dog eat dog world. I could somewhat understand their brutality and immoral conduct but the actions of the “civilized people” truly surprised me. I never realized how cruel we Americans were to people without homes. They spat at me when passing by, teens ridiculed me or stole my shoes, tied the laces together and threw them up on a telephone wire when I was asleep. I would hear well to do ladies tell their children not to get too close to me as if touching me might be hazardous to their health. I was made to feel as if I weren’t human. Sometimes I wanted to yell out to them “This is not my choice, I didn’t want this; this is something that happened to me.” That is exactly what they don’t understand. Most of them are just one pay check away from being where I am, lost in an outcast world of desperation. The police were never any help to us what so ever; they were sometimes worse than the citizens. They called us skells or lice heads when running us away from some area that “decent folks” didn’t want us in. That was the only time that they interacted with us, to show us how much we weren’t wanted by the rest of the populace. That was when I finally understood that I had been evicted from society.
If one of us got attacked they would receive no medical treatment; the assault would even go uninvestigated unless someone was killed and sometimes not even then. If a person on the streets is sent to prison for a crime they commit, it is almost a reward for them. They knew that they’d eat and shower everyday. But, in actuality they were just being removed from one jungle and dropped into another. Tax payers came first; that’s who justice and medical treatment was meant for. It was certainly not essential to care for a man, woman or child who was not currently paying into the system no matter how many years of their lives they worked and paid taxes. I saw many people freeze to death in the cold winter streets of Detroit. I eventually migrated east to Philadelphia where I found survival to be just as challenging. I traveled by the same means as the men they once called Ho Bo’s. I hopped freight trains. There in Philly I slept on the subway platforms or heated grates around the city. ATM vestibules were a safe place to sleep sometimes until the mayor started cracking down on that as well. Police would often jar you from your sleep with a whack from their baton on your lower leg. That was your alarm, pain and ridicule. After another horrid winter outdoors, this time in Philly, I decided that it was time I moved to a warmer climate. I gave thought to settling down in Charlotte or Atlanta but I knew that it never got cold in Orlando so this is where I came. I thought that I might be served up a little southern hospitality and a steady day laborer’s job. Unfortunately, neither came to fruition. I was still viewed as a scary, smelly, subhuman being shunned from civilized society. Pan handling even became more difficult when they made the poor register for cards granting them the permission to pan handle then band them from being in certain areas of the city at certain times. If found you were detained and arrested. A lot of people, including myself, have gotten arrested on purpose just to get out of the rare cold, get a shower, a bed or meal.” Stephen paused and shook his head while inhaling deeply as he thought about his last shower and how good it was. “Showers are like a little piece of heaven in our world. To be clean and smell good is a luxury to a person on the street. I’ve done many things that I thought I’d never do while living out here. The way we live is a social injustice. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that a large number of people living on the street are there because they are addicted to drugs or alcohol, mentally ill or criminally insane. There are ways to help these people and to make the streets safer for everyone. There is no reason that even one American citizen should live on the street. We are the richest nation in the world. Rich enough to be involved in several wars at one time, explore outer space continuously and provide humanitarian efforts all around the world. A person’s mental health is not essential to treat if the person or their family has no money. Rehab facilities are big business now, there’s money to be made. They can’t be admitting anyone who is unable to compensate them handsomely for treatment. The criminally insane are never brought to justice as long as their crimes are against the undesirables. Some days can become mentally depressing as the anguish of a bleak future and the struggle to find food can overwhelm even the strongest of people.” Stephen pulled a napkin from his pocket and dap a tear from his eye as Esther listened intently. “There has been only one comfort during my three year decent into the world of homelessness. JESUS!
I was raised in a Pentecostal church as a boy in Flint and my parents were devout Christians. As I got older, I moved away from Christ and further into the ways of the world. I no longer attended church, tithed, prayed or read the Bible in my adult life. Things were going good, I had everything that I wanted and I thought that it was all because of me and the greatness I possessed. I never once gave thanks or praise to the Lord although I always knew the truth. It even took two and a half years of not having a home for me to turn to him. I have now and because of that, I have peace in my heart and spirit during these trying times. I know that he will deliver me from this and that’s what keeps me going. I understand that our time on this planet is temporary; it’s just a test. When I am done with this trial the Lord will call me home; he can now trust me with this life because I will use it to serve him until my time here is done. I don’t know exactly when my life here will get better or if it ever will but, I am grateful for my suffering. If it were not for me having to endure such hardship, I would never have turned to Jesus. I could have died the richest man on earth and been headed straight to hell for eternity. So, I remain grateful and thankful.” Esther threw her arms around Stephen’s shoulders and held him tight. She then started praying to Jesus that HE would give her the wisdom in her efforts to help this man and that they may both use his struggles to help others. She thanked HIM for allowing their paths to cross on that day and for the opportunity for them both to serve in a greater capacity. When she finished her prayer, she pulled back from Stephen and looked him deep into his tired eyes. “Stephen, our lives are going to change today, yours and mine. Oh how we are going to do a powerful work in our Lord and Savior’s name. I’m so excited. I want you to look around at your surroundings, say goodbye. When you return to these streets it will be as a champion of the people, your people. The people you will never forget.” Esther stood and pulled Stephen up from his seat by his shoulders; he stood 6’2” when upright. That evening Stephen met Esther’s large Jamaican family and the following Sunday morning he met her congregation and pastor. That Monday he was working, helping to build a new church sanctuary. He returned to the streets to minister to people and serve food every Tuesday and Thursday. Three months later he helped to organize Esther’s home church’s first food drive for the homeless. Three months afterwards he helped to start and worked at a soup kitchen for Orlando’s homeless. He conducted a small service at every function. Reverends and pastors from around the city joined him in his causes. Stephen created a Christian workshop and job training facility that offered lodging to its enrollees. Stephen spoke at churches all around the city on the plight of the homeless and his call as a Christian to assist them in their time of need. He always shared the story of his rise and fall and rise again through Jesus. Within two years of first making Esther’s acquaintance, Stephen ran for councilman of the district where most of the homeless lived and he worked for their causes. He even started a voting drive amongst the poor and homeless and got a large number of them to register to vote. Stephen won in a landslide and continued to be a champion for the forgotten. Clothes drives, book drives and more food drives were held around the city until peoples’ perceptions of the homeless became more positive and realistic. They began to realize how close some of them actually were to joining them or how close they had come to being homeless at different difficult times in their lives.
Stephen took his hardships and adversity and turned it into triumph through his faith in Jesus. Enduring devastation and destitution is possible through faith. When faced with challenges and adversity, you should pray that much harder and be that more grateful because often times these are the things that help us to see much more clearly. Strengthening our faith and bringing us that much closer to the Lord. The next time privation and poverty present themselves, pray and praise HIM that much stronger. Trust that your faith in HIM will not be in vain. HE will deliver you; just ask Stephen. Thank you Sister Esther and all those like you!