He hadn’t shaved in a few days. His short brown hair fell naturally on his head and a brown t-shirt hung over his bony shoulders. It was a cold night and he wore no jacket. He clearly wasn’t homeless; He just seemed worn down by life and desperate. He walked into the modular classroom unit at Arcade Church where Western Seminary’s Sacramento campus is located.
It was during the dinner break of my Thursday night class. I stood in the break room, which is the entryway for two classrooms, microwaving my pasta. All 20 of my classmates—mostly male pastors—drove to nearby supermarkets for food, so I was alone. The man halted in the doorway and stared at me. A bit startled, I greeted him and smiled. This part of Sacramento isn’t particularly safe, yet though I thought of every possible scenario that could occur, I wasn’t afraid.
He returned my greeting with a nod and then seemed as though he was going to leave. “Can I help you with something?” I wondered why he had walked into this building.
“I just—uh—” he sighed, then continued, “is this a church? Or a school?” Confusion echoed in his voice and humility shown across his face. He hadn’t been here before, but came here searching for something.
“It’s both. It’s a church, but this building functions as a school.” He nodded that he understood and began to walk out the door. “Sir—can I help you with something? What were you looking for?”
He turned back around and looked at me. His dark, downward-pointed eyes reflected hopelessness and despair. “I was just looking for a pastor…or a counselor. But maybe another time.” He walked out quickly after that.
My heart sunk. I wanted to yell, “We have 15 of them in this class—just wait ten minutes!” But he was gone. This man came to the church looking for help—how often does that happen? I couldn’t let it go. Minutes later, my classmates flooded in. I kept praying that one of them would find him and talk with him, but no one did. I asked a couple classmates if they had seen a man wandering in the parking lot and they said no. I didn’t know what to do. I thought about stopping class and asking if one of the 15 pastors would go find him—could I do that? I desperately wanted to, but worried that others would find it inappropriate. After all, they are paying $800+ for this one class. But seminary shouldn’t be confined to the classroom—it must extend to the mission field.
I went out to my car, called my husband and prayed for this man. I wept for him. I know I don’t know him, but I couldn’t help it. He came to church—where God’s body gathers together—looking for help. Did he find it? Did he see Jesus?
I don’t know why God didn’t have him walk in three minutes later. Or why no one found him in the parking lot. Perhaps God wanted to minister to him another way. I know God heard my prayer and maybe all this man needed was prayer in that moment. And I know God responded to my prayer as I felt the burden lift after we prayed.
I can’t help but think about the many people who wander into church Sunday mornings searching for hope, love and grace. Do they find it? Do they see Jesus? How often do they receive unresponsiveness instead? Or even more, judgment? They reach out their hand and no one grabs it. They try to catch someone’s eye, but everyone looks in the other direction.
If you have been that person, please forgive us! Jesus is still reaching out to you. Even if you go to church weekly, yet you walk in and out unnoticed, know that Jesus notices you and reaches back to you.
Our communities and our churches are filled with people in desperate need of a shepherd—someone to care for them, to respond to them, to know their name, to hear their struggles. We must respond. We must reach out without judging and show them the love and grace Jesus died for them to have. We must reach out, take their hand and put it in the hand of Jesus, the True Shepherd.
They are worth it. You are worth it.
“Lord, give us eyes that see this world as You do. Fill us with Your compassion and Your love for people. Enable us by Your Spirit to do Your work on this earth. Forgive us for our unresponsiveness and our judgmental hearts. Amen.”