I work one day a week, in a not-so-nice neighborhood. At my desk, there's a panic button which will alert the police and fire department if there's ever danger. The police often have confrontations at the motel next door, and some days, a cavalry of squad cars arrive with sirens blasting. In other words, there's never a dull moment around here.
People often ignore the No Soliciting sign on our office front door. Usually it's men who come in and request a few dollars for a sandwich. If we offer them food and they refuse, we presume it's alcohol or drug money they want. The next request is always money for a bus pass. They're trying to get home to family, they tell us, pulling on our heart strings.
I always keep the door locked when I'm the only one in the office, but the phone rang as people were leaving, and the stranger slipped inside.
When I hung up the phone and saw him looking down at me, I immediately panicked. He was a middle-age man dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans. He showed me his driver's license to prove that he was from Alabama.
"I want you to know I'm an honest person who needs work," he said.
"We're not hiring," I said, "but I could ask around and call you if I come across anything."
"I don't have a cell phone. You can't reach me," he told me. "I'm just going through a really rough patch right now. If you could spare a few dollars, anything would help."
This is not unusual. Everyone who comes in here begging for money starts off with this line.
"Are you a Christian?" he asked, tilting his head and rubbing his neck.
"Yes, I am," I replied.
"I need a prayer," he said solemnly.
This was the first time anyone who came to beg at our office has ever said those words. I promised to pray for him and he thanked me.
My initial nervousness dissolved a bit and then he said, "I have one more request."
"Now you're getting to be high maintenance," I said and laughed. He laughed with me.
"I have two hungry kids, no food, no job and no money."
There it was! He mentioned money again.
My normal response is to check with the church up the street, except that on my drive to work that morning, I had checked in with God.
"God, send me someone to help today in your name," I asked quietly, hoping He would do just that. I ask that often and no one ever arrives.
Maybe that's why I paused at that moment. Was this the person I was supposed to help today?
"Come with me, "I said, as I led him to the kitchen. I opened the stocked freezer and pulled out food for his family.
A flashing thought of danger hit me as I bent to reach the food on the bottom shelf. I didn't know this man. He was begging and I was alone with him. He could have knocked me out, robbed me or worse. No one would know. I gave him lasagna, broccoli and burgers and I'm not sure if he saw my hands shaking.
I handed him a large plastic bag and he filled it up. He was smiling from ear to ear when I added bananas and four tangerines.
"Do your kids like corn chips?" I asked. I added them to top off his bag and made a mental note of what food I had to replace. He grinned as though he'd hit the jackpot.
"I have just one more request," he said sheepishly. "I need to get a bus pass. I need some money, if you could find it in your heart."
I led him back to the lobby and held the door open for him to leave.
"We don't keep cash here," I told him. He nodded and said he understood.
"But you have dinner for your kids tonight," I said.
"Yes, I do! Thank you, ma'am. God bless you," he said as he closed the office door.
Was I a sucker? Maybe, I'll never know. In my mind, it doesn't matter. My intentions were good. I would've felt really bad if he was my stranger that God had sent and I ignored him.
The stranger from Alabama waved goodbye as he passed my window mouthing the words "God bless you" once again. What he didn't know was that God was way ahead of him.