Tonight at a gas station named “On the Run”, I spent over an hour with six teenage skateboarders and a homeless man named Kelly…
It was almost 10pm on Christmas day when Stephanie asked me to go to the store. I didn’t want to go, but I did want something other than water to drink. Sitting just outside the gas station was Kelly playing his harmonica. Kelly was drunk and smelled like it, but he wasn’t bumming for cash. He was talkative, but friendly. I passed him as I went into the store, and I passed him as I left the store. I went home even, but when I got home and told Stephanie about him she suggested I go back.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself as I drove back to the corner store. I was going to ask him if he was hungry and offer to run into the store and buy him a sandwich and a coke or coffee. The whole process shouldn’t take more than 15 – 20 minutes, right? He was still sitting there playing his harmonica as before. I jumped out of my car, walked up to him and sat down on the sidewalk next to him. “My name’s Dale. What’s got you out here on a cold Christmas night?” I asked. He told me his name was Kelly and he had just gotten out of the hospital from a heart attack. I noticed he still had a medical bracelet on. When I asked him if he was hungry, he replied “Nope – that’s what put my in the hospital to begin with.” Then he picked up his open can of beer and took a drink. There goes my plan.
Kelly was waiting on a taxi to take him 11 miles south of where we were to his spot behind a QuickTrip gas station. I sat there with Kelly for a second thinking what I should do next when a group of teenagers roll up on their skateboards. There were six of them in all. Kelly was not shy. He struck up a conversation with the kids as I sat there beside him, speechless. A couple of the kids when in to buy sodas and sandwiches while the others congregated around Kelly and me.
They asked Kelly for a cigarette while completely ignoring me as though I were invisible; he offered unrolled tobacco. He told these teens that he didn’t like the tobacco but bought it for the papers that came with it. They laughed at his bluntness regarding drug use. Kelly teased one of the teens about his ‘five o’clock’ shadow look saying “how do you shave without shaving?” He told these youths about his hospital stay and how he adds tobacco to his pot. I sat there speechless. A couple of the kids came out of the store and were immediately inquired about their ability to steal beer. They had not been able to ‘score’ any because the clerk was watching them too closely.
Kelly started playing the blues on his harmonica as six teenage kids all sat on skateboards to listen. One of the teens had been on his cell phone but when Kelly started playing, he said “Dude, I’m at 59th and T-bird and this guy is playing the blues – Seriously I gotta go!” The clerk had come to the door to run the kids off but was thwarted by Kelly as he told her – “They’re fine – we’re just sitting here with our purchases while I play the blues.” After a few minutes of the blues, I figured I could leave by just jumping up and saying something like “I gotta go – see you later Kelly”. But the teens started to lose interest as well and when I got up Kelly asked the question I was hoping he wouldn’t; “Will you give me a ride?”
I was already walking toward my car and it was just too easy to say “I can’t, sorry my wife…” then fade without even giving a full reason as I close the car door. I felt ashamed as I heard Kelly tell the kids, “there goes $25 dollars.” I had already been sitting there for almost an hour and I knew it was going to take another 30 minutes or more to take him where he was going and get back. I sat in the car for a second and prayed; “Lord, help me make the right choice here.”
I step out of the car and yell “Hey Kelly! Com’on, I’ll take you.” He got up and started gathering his stuff while saying good bye to the teens that were already taking their leave. Then I heard it. “Jesus loves you.” Was Kelly telling these teens about the Love of Christ? I was no longer feeling the sense of pride I had felt as I started back to the gas station just an hour ago. As I write this I am reminded of the story in Luke 19 regarding Palm Sunday. The masses had gathered to see Jesus entering town and began to sing and shout his praises, when the religious leaders of the day demanded that Jesus rebuke the crowd. Jesus replied “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” Why wasn’t I the one sharing the Gospel with these kids?
You see, before I went to the gas station on my first trip that night, I pulled into the grocery store parking lot. They weren’t open, but these same teens were skateboarding around the lot. I saw them and thought “why don’t the police run these kids home.” It never crossed my mind to get out of my car and approach these kids. If I, being a member of the religious group, won’t declare God’s Son, Jesus to the lost – then the masses will and if we shut them up the rocks will. At my old church we used to sing a song based on Luke 19:40 with the lyric “I ain’t gonna let no rock praise in my place”. While we weren’t letting the rocks shout for us, maybe we were having the masses do it instead – the sinners, the unchurched, the drunk homeless pot smoking guys in front of the local gas station.
Kelly got in the car and I took him ‘home’ to his QT gas station, but not before he opened his last beer in the car. Kelly is 49 years old, his father ‘doesn’t know Jesus’ and is angry at the world. Kelly also has a 28 year old son that wants to move to Las Vegas so he can increase his poker time. Kelly shoke my hand as he got out of the car. His last words to me? God Bless You.