Editor's note: It's happened to all of us, at intersections, shopping malls and parking lots. Our minds are elsewhere when out of nowhere we come across a homeless individual. What ensues can be a few awkward moments in deciding the best course of action. How should we respond? We explore the topic in our four-part series, "Close Encounters of the Uncomfortable Kind," which launches today. Part 1 features Cru Inner City staff member Nate Wood and an encounter he had with someone in his neighborhood. Next week, we share Nate's personal list of how to build relationships with the homeless.
Nate Wood stood at the kitchen sink as "deep and manly" screams pierced his ears. As the shouts came closer, the words, both obscene and bloodcurdling, ricocheted into the night.
"This person has experienced some deep trauma," he said to himself. "(It) reminded me of a horror movie."
As a staff member with Cru® Inner City, Nate was accustomed to ministering on the unpredictable streets of Los Angeles and its surrounding communities. That's why he wasn't concerned about relocating his family near a Long Beach rescue mission, with its often-addicted and mentally ill clientele. Although he was used to the commotion of troubled souls walking along the alley behind his house, the deep voice he heard that night was haunting.
Days and nights passed and Nate heard the bellowing screams again. This time he was on the patio overlooking the alley. He waited to put a face to the screams.
"(I) realized that the voice was coming from a tall, slender, blonde-haired woman with a backpack," a stunned Nate recalled.
The voice he assumed was coming from a Jack was actually coming from a Jackie, whose name he later learned.
"I watched Jackie smoke a crack pipe as she sat down in the alley," Nate said. "She was having an 'episode,' and I assumed the way (for her) to find some relief was to smoke."
|“The contrast between the voice in the alley and the voice that was Jackie is still chilling to this day.”||Over time, the Wood family got to know Jackie as much as she would allow, including surprising moments when she was clear-headed.|
"The first time I passed her on the street, I was with my daughter," Nate said. "We said, 'Hello,' and she responded with a tender, soft, 'Hi.' The contrast between the voice in the alley and the voice that was Jackie is still chilling to this day."
Over the next two years, the Woods had several encounters with Jackie, and Nate frequently prayed for her. His oldest daughter called Jackie by name anytime she saw her walking past their home.
"Jackie clearly had addiction and mental health issues," he said. "Some days she looked dirty and rough. She always looked somewhat scared and anxious. There was more than once when I attempted to talk to Jackie when she was having an episode… She literally didn't have the ability to even see I was there or talking to her."
At one point, Nate was cleaning out his car in the alley, when he heard Jackie's soft voice.
"Do you have a couple bucks?" she asked. "I am starving."
Her timing was impeccable as Nate's team from Inner City had just put together COVID-19 relief supplies containing bottled water, tuna packets, fruit bars, hand sanitizer, a mask, and a gospel tract. He gave Jackie one of the bags and a $5 bill.
Months later, on a winter night, Nate and his family arrived home late. It was cold, even for the coastal city. They spotted Jackie on the far end of the alley, about to lie down on an abandoned couch. This time, as before, Nate had supplies from the Inner City team, which recently curated Homeless Care Kits for their partner ministries. Each kit contains a warm blanket, socks, gloves, scarf, hat, toiletries and gospel literature. Nate had several in his car. His oldest daughter, then 5, grabbed a kit and father and daughter walked down the alley toward the woman.
"Hey Jackie, I don't know if you remember me but we wanted to give you a blanket for tonight," Wood told her.
"Yeah, I remember you," she responded. "You gave me some food when I was starving."
Nate was surprised.
"She remembered me!" he said. "I was even more shocked when she remembered that I had given her food. That night, I realized that our smallest acts of service to those in need are noticed, remembered and meaningful."
It was a valuable lesson on personal investment in people.
|“I realized that our smallest acts of service to those in need are noticed, remembered and meaningful.”||"When I approached her that night, there was some uneasiness just because it's awkward to approach someone in an alley, but I realized as a homeless woman, she was vulnerable and in need," he said. "We had very little to offer her, and we definitely could not change her situation. I was met by a warm reception (because) of a blanket on a cold night."|
It was also a powerful example for his impressionable daughter.
"My daughter saw what it can look like to care for the most vulnerable of our society and learned that they are not to be overlooked or ignored," Nate shared. "In fact, she was adamant that night that we give her a blanket and that she would go with me."
A couple of years after meeting Jackie, the Wood family moved out of state and though they were often able to model the love of Jesus, they never had the opportunity to lead Jackie through the prayer of salvation. Nate is confident they helped lay the foundation.
"Our family sought to care for her to the best of our abilities," he said. "We prayed for her when we would see her 'having a hard time,' as we would tell our daughter. I am convinced that the enemy had ravished (Jackie) and taken her captive, seeking to destroy the beautiful image of God in her.
"I felt helpless when I saw Jackie because I wasn't her Savior nor could I be. I couldn't bring about her deliverance and healing. I couldn't ultimately take her on to be my responsibility or 'project.' She was a bearer of the image of God, and He alone could bring healing and restoration in her life."
In the end, Nate's journey with Jackie helped him to better understand Matthew 9:36.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (New International Version).
"I don't think I'll ever forget Jackie," he said. "When I was learning how to feed the hungry, she fed me with compassion for the broken and hurting. She was truly 'harassed and helpless' and needed Jesus to be her Shepherd. The fear of what might happen in my attempts to engage with Jackie was overcome when I saw the spiritual battle that was taking place and saw her with the eyes of Jesus. At times, I was even angry that the enemy had done such harm in her life. When Jesus saw the shepherdless, he had compassion on them. How could I do something different?"
Photos by M-ART Production/Pexels
Lori Arnold serves as senior writer for Cru's inner-city ministry.
Isn't it awe-inspiring to see how a simple act of kindness can pierce the haze of confusion and lostness? Share Nate's story on Facebook or other social media platforms by using this link:
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