By Gary D. Myers
John* struggled as he walked through the food line at Ozanam Inn. The grimace on his
face hinted of his degenerative disc problem. John was grateful for the plate of food, but he couldn’t take the cup of lemonade that I offered. It was all he could do to shuffle through the line carrying his plate. As I watched him find a spot to eat, I was overwhelmed with compassion.
After John finished eating, I went out to talk with him and hear his story. I’ve heard quite a few sad stories from homeless men and women. Some stories seem true, but others do not. John’s story is sad, maybe not the saddest I’ve heard, and I’m convinced that his story is true.
John told me that he grew up in California and served in the Navy before coming to New Orleans the first time. Before Katrina hit, he had just started an auto detailing business in New Orleans. The storm wiped him out and he went back to California. During that time, his health deteriorated. A heart murmur and three bad discs in his back landed John on an overworked VA hospital’s waiting list. So he made his way back to NOLA hoping the VA could help him sooner here. He arrived just over a week ago and he has some checkups and housing meetings scheduled for later in the month, but he has no place to stay in the meantime.
John told me that it is extremely hard to get a bed in a shelter. This big man was physically and emotionally broken and near the point of despair. Tears flowed down his face. He said that he’s watched drunks and strung-out addicts get a shelter bed right before he was turned away. He’s overheard men waiting in the shelter line boasting about robbing people on the street. According to John, it seems like those men always find a place in the shelter, while he’s left outside.
“I believe in God and I try to do what’s right. I’m not a drunk. I don’t do drugs. So why is this happening to me?” John said.
I thought for a moment that he had lost all hope. I worried that he had given up the will to live. Then, struggling through his tears, John told me that things weren’t all bad. He just got a job as a hotdog vendor. He starts next week. Also, John is hopeful that the VA can help with his medical problems and help him find housing.
I felt powerless to help him. I couldn’t help him with the VA. I couldn’t help him get a place to live. All I could do was pray. So that’s what I did. I prayed about his health and I prayed about his living situation. I prayed for his new job and I prayed that God would bless and protect him.
I had one more thing to offer … I could tell him about Jesus. I was happy to hear that he had accepted the grace and forgiveness of Jesus back in California. He told me about his relationship with Christ and about the church he attended in California and the ministry he had been involved in before he came back to New Orleans. As he talked about Jesus and his church I noticed a change … I saw real hope in his eyes.
Following Jesus doesn’t bring constant health, wealth and happiness, but it does bring hope and peace to deal with the struggles of today. And hope is what John needed that night. As he thought of Jesus, hope took root.
Thoughts about my own walk with Jesus flashed through my mind. How many times do I let my circumstances dictate how I feel? Too often. How many times do I face things like John is facing? Never. If John can cling to hope in Jesus in the midst of his situation, why am I so easily distracted by the minor frustrations and obstacles I face?
Then it was time to go. John walked out of the Oz parking lot to look for a place to spend the night. For me it was another teachable moment in The Big Easy.
*True story, just not his real name.