As I stand there as Santa going HO HO HO, and waving at the passers by at the downtown Library, there is a lady sitting on a bench smiling and waving at me. I leave some of the kids and walk over to the small lady who looks unusually out of place. This is after all a place where the homeless congregate through the day. Next to her is a man in layered clothing, a stocking cap, looking me in the eyes, swearing he has seen me someplace before and telling me that he knows me. He takes off his stocking cap to reveal his balding head and asks me if I think he looks familiar. I smile, “I haven’t seen you since you were a little boy.” As I laugh, he responds in all sincerity, “No, I know you from some place.”
The lady sitting next to him on the bench is dressed in nice clothes; she has on rather expensive fur covered boots. Her designer stocking cap reveals she has had money. It is clean enough that it is clear that she has had some income recently. Her nails are done up quite nicely, they are bright red and covered in snowflake decorations. It is clear, they were professionally done. She is smiling now, she has nice, clean, well kept, teeth, and I later find out that she has only been on the streets for a few days. She is scared; she knows she is in a dangerous place. Ken, the man with her has kind of adopted her to keep her safe. It seems as if Nancy was recently had some bad things happen to her that wasn’t all her fought, yet, she suffers the consequences of a bad economy bad luck, and of having no one to help her in this time of crises. Nancy looks to be in her early to mid fifties. She has maintained her age, but the few days she has been on the streets have already started to weigh on her, not just her looks though, but her spirit.
Ken asks Nancy, “Do you want to tell Santa what you want for Christmas?” Nancy simply responds with a smile and motions with her finger for me to come close to her. She wants me to give her a kiss on the cheek, so I do. She then whispers in my ear, ‘Santa, I just want a better life and for people to respect me.” I am ready to cry; I pull a way, keep it together and start to speak. Nancy takes her finger and puts it up next to her nose as she starts to cry, she whispers, “shhhh.” I know her wish is between her, me, and God.
I see another man come by on his bicycle. He is a lucky one because some punk(s) in town have been stealing bicycles from the homeless. It is why several of them have requested that someone consider giving them measured cuts of chain with a lock. It will help them keep their bicycles. Some of the men I speak to today have stated that they are walking as much as 15 miles a day. So much for the idea that the homeless being lazy. I ask this man if he wants a cup of coffee. He gladly accepts. Who knew that an inexpensive cup of coffee would go so far as to show a human being that they are cared for and loved? I ask him if he wants any food. I can tell he wants it, but he is too embarrassed to take it. There are about around 10 cans of food in the bag, a box of crackers, simple things. I ask him if he would like a backpack. He is more inclined to jump at the offer. I then ask him; “Why don’t you just take the food with the backpack?” He gladly accepts then, knowing that he can at least now carry the food, plus other things that he needs. He isn’t unlike others, all of our backpacks and gloves were quick to go along with around 40 or so coats and sweaters. That was about half of what we started with, and with each one there was a story, a life, a human being who wants to feel loved and cared for at Christmas.
I was amazed at how open many of the individuals I came into contact with today were far more open to going up to Santa than they were a regular person. Many still believe, not in the myth, but the concept. They all asked for simple things, things many of us take for granted. The asked for things like, a place to spend the night, a warm winter, a job, a better economy, that the children could have a good Christmas since so many people were out of work.
Several men walk over toward where Chris, Adam, and the two Mary’s are serving coffee. They see Santa over waving at the cars, two of them garnish huge smiles, they ask for a hug. “Santa, thanks for coming to see us,” one of them says with a big smile on across his face. He doesn’t have clean teeth; after all, he doesn’t have any real way of keeping them clean. Seems this man has been homeless for awhile, he is lucky, he and several other homeless people actually have a friend they are crashing with. I ask him if he wants a coat. He quickly picks out a small brown corduroy coat; it isn’t quite big enough for him and is used. We talk awhile; before long he is calling me Pastor Mike instead of Santa, in fact, most everyone is now calling Santa, Pastor Mike. I have to remind them, “Today, I am Santa. Tomorrow I am Pastor Mike.” “Okay Pastor Mike, I mean Santa.” They respond with a big grin.
We talk some more, I am told over and over again, “Thank you so much, you have no idea how much we appreciate this.” “What you all are doing is so wonderful.” They say with as much sincerity as any thank you I have heard in a very long time. Charles and I speak for over thirty minutes; on occasion we are stopped by the children running out of the Girl Scout meetings and celebration being held at the Century 2 Civic Center next to the library. They want to have their photos made with Santa, they are thrilled, cars at the busy intersection are blowing their horns waving, and the Trolleys are driving by, every single one of them ringing their bells. Everyone seems to be happy to see Santa, except for the city busses and police officers who drive by. I guess there is some kind of law that these folks, on this day, can’t show too much joy. Charles though, he asks about the church, he can’t believe that anyone would go out of their way to show love like this. I point out to him, “Hey Charles, there is a nice big, brand new coat, would you like that one as I reach down to pick it up.” His eyes get as big as a kid at a candy store. “Wow, look at that, that is a really nice coat, it is brand new.” “Can I have that one?” He asks, “Sure.” I respond. “It’s yours.” He takes off the older coat, and immediately puts it on. “Wow! If I would have had this one earlier in the week when it was below zero I wouldn’t have been so afraid of dying.”
I’m back with Ken and Nancy now, in front of the library at the bench. I am now sitting on the bench with them. Nancy is crying, she gets a phone call on her cell from her mother. Her mother lives out of state; she is worried about this new situation her daughter is in. She asks to speak to me. I tell her mother that I am praying for her, that I really am a pastor. She says to me over the miles: “Thank you so much, this year you really are Santa, just encouraging my daughter is important, to say you love and care for her means so much.” I about tear up, but I hold it together. Ken then tells me, “Pastor Mike, I just want her to be safe, I am concerned. I would normally make up a sign and go panhandle for her, but I hate doing that scam. You know what I am talking about?” I tell him I do. “The streets aren’t a place for a nice lady.” He tells me. My heart breaks. I decide I need to pray for these two. Nancy is still talking on the phone with her mom. “Mom, Santa Pastor Mike is going to pray for me.” Nancy holds the phone up so her mom can hear the prayer I offer as I hug these two human beings created in the image of God.
It isn’t much later and I have to leave. I long, I pray for, I wish I had the property to buy a three story building in downtown Wichita. The first floor, church, then through the week, a place where people in need, the homeless, the abused, the runaway, can come and get services, a place to be safe, warm in the winter, cool in the summer, get some food to snack on, and drinks. We would have computers and wi-fi so these individuals could touch base with others, and then use current technology to do the things the rest of us need to do. The second floor, it would have a place to offer emergency housing for those needing it, in a safe environment where people like Nancy wouldn’t have to be afraid. The third floor, well I would reside there and if large enough find a way to house others who worked with the program. Of course these are dreams but dreams are all we have sometimes. Of course when those dreams come true, we can experience part of Heaven on earth.
That was my day, my day until on the way home I tell my wife about Nancy and her request: ‘Santa, I just want a better life and for people to respect me.” Earlier in the day, I held it together; I only started to tear up. On the way home, in our dark car, I didn’t do so well, this time, well this time I broke down. Nancy deserves both of her wishes; my prayer is that she will get it.
Today was a good day, I think we do it again next week, then maybe the week after, and if Santa gets his wish, each and every day, why, because God created all humans in his image, not just those with nice homes, good jobs, and fancy clothes, but the down and out, the hard luck, and yes, the homeless.
Words from Jesus follow:
(31) "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. (32) All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (33) He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
(34) "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (35) For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, (36) I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
(37) "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? (38) When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? (39) When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
(40) "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
(41) "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (42) For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, (43) I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
(44) "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
(45) "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
(46) "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." ~ Matthew 25: 31-46 (NIV)
The following is an older Christmas Song, one many has heard but with new images, watch, think of these individuals and others that need warmth and love this Christmas. To view the video, simply click on it, if the video don't appear, click on the link:
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