Sean and I drive into a section of Atlanta known as Little Five Points. It’s an artsy and eclectic part of town. Little Five Points is home to a great music venue called the Variety Playhouse, and is also “home” to many of Atlanta’s homeless. We are walking up the sidewalk towards our dinner destination, and a group of young adults are standing under a business awning to stay clear of the rain. A few of them see Sean and ask him if he has anything to eat. It’s obvious to me that they recognize him and know him. Once again, Sean turns to the crowd of hungry young people and loudly proclaims “I love you my brothers and sisters. Peace to you! I don’t have any food with me right now, but trust that God will provide.” We resume walking to a local pizza joint and order a large pizza where Sean began his ministry over twenty years ago. The restaurant is now named “Little Five Points Pizza”, and was part of the Atlanta “Fellini’s” chain years ago. As we sit and enjoy our dinner, Sean shares with me the story of how he had come into the restaurant years ago on his birthday to celebrate. During his time there, a group of kids showed up that were hungry and asking folks for food. As the owner was dismissing them and trying to get them off the property, Sean got involved and insisted that they come in so he could buy them some food. After ordering a few pizza’s and pitchers of soda, Sean found himself at the beginning of a new ministry. These young people were hungry, and he fed them. He let them know that he cared about them, and that God loved them and cared about them. Fast forward twenty two years, and here I am sitting with my friend where it all began.
As we get up and ready to leave, Sean asks the manager for a box, and then asks the manager to keep our pizza warm on top of the oven. I top off my soda, and we are out the door. We walk down the street and make a few turns before running into someone that Sean seems to know well. I introduce myself to a very tall and thin african american man named “Legend” and his friend Michael. Sean says to me that his real name is “Tall, Dark, and Handsome”. They are both out here on the street selling handmade jewelry to make some money. Legend and I are talking for a moment when Sean asks Legend what impact he has had on his life. Legend looks at me and says “This man right here (referring to Sean), has given me hope out here on the street. Brother Sean has convinced me that God loves me, and that he loves me and cares about me.” As I stand there, absorbing what he said, Legend asks Sean if we have anything for him to eat. Sean tells him to walk up the block to the pizza place, and to ask for Brother Sean’s pizza waiting for him on the oven. Legend and Michael share their thanks and head up the street towards the pizza place. I’m blessed to meet Legend and Michael.
As we walk down the street, Sean continues greeting people that he recognizes and doesn’t miss an opportunity to let them know that God loves them and cares about them. We turn into a store entrance where there are two men getting ready to bunk down for the night in the dry shelter of a store entrance. I meet Dwight, and Sean asks him how he’s feeling. Sean had met Dwight a few weeks prior. He was screaming and ranting in the street, causing the people walking by to turn the other way and walk faster. He had a terrible case of pneumonia, and all he wanted was for someone to listen to him and hear that he was sick. Sean had gotten him to a clinic to get some antibiotics. Now here we are visiting with Dwight, who is smiling and talking with me as we visit.
We continue down the sidewalk, and turn into an alley parking lot. I hop over a small diving wall, and follow Sean down the hill to another street in a residential area. We’re walking past an old church with a for sale sign when he tells me…”I want this building. This is the perfect place to setup shop and provide some health services and feed God’s people”. I stand there in the damp lawn wishing I could write a check to cover the purchase of this place. Sean needs it, and the people need it. As we turn and head back up the hill, I ask Sean about the “briefing” we were supposed to cover at dinner. As of now, I still feel rather unqualified to be out here talking and visiting with folks. I am thinking in my mind that I am missing the necessary tools to do this work. Sean tells me…”It’s really very simple. We don’t fix them. We don’t see with any expectations, and we let happen what happens. We don’t judge it.” I ask Sean how people end up in this living situation. He tells me “It doesn’t matter. I don’t know. Sometimes they don’t know.” In my mind, I really needed a bit more detail on the how. It’s just how I think. I ask him for more detail. “Here’s an example…Imagine living on minimum wage, and making the mistake of overdrawing your checking account. That $35 fee is a huge chunk of everything you have, and things just never recover from there. People get sick, people get addicted. It just happens”. I share with Sean that it’s hard for me to reconcile that I have an amazing life, and I see these people struggling just to survive. I tell him that I’m not hurting for anything, and here are these amazing people fighting for their life. I recognize and am aware that God has blessed me so much with health, a family, and financial security. It’s humbling to me. It’s Grace. That’s the only answer to why I have the benefits and luxuries that I do. Any other answer falls short. It’s Grace, and Grace alone. I know that God’s providential hand and favor have rested on me. Maybe that’s why I am so eager to contribute back.
We turn and begin our walk back to my truck as we prepare for the third leg of our trip. The rain is picking up as we make our way down the sidewalk. As Sean and I continue to talk, a young man is walking towards us on the sidewalk. Sean sees the opportunity in our passing to ask him “How are you”? The young man replies in a mumbled voice, now behind us, that he’s “not so good”. Sean turns now, to greet this young man once again, and asks him what’s wrong. This young man has been traveling, and asks us for food. It’s easy to see that he is soaking wet from walking through the night of storms. Sean asks him if he has any family around, and he reveals that he has grandparents in Savannah Ga. He asks him when was the last time they had spoken, and offers him his phone to call them. Sean dials the number, and introduces himself as a Catholic missionary that is standing here with his grandson, and then asks if he would like to talk with him. He hands the phone over to this soaking wet teenager as I stand in the covered entrance of a bar. As the young man hesitantly engages his grandfather in conversation, I ask “Are they coming to get him”? Sean “I don’t know”. After just a few minutes, the young man says his goodbye and hands the phone back to Sean and asks if he has anything to eat. “There’s a tall black man named Legend up the hill that might have some pizza for you. God bless you, and loves you, and I love you”. This teenager thanks us and begins walking up the hill to find Legend. I start boiling inside. “Nobody is coming to get him”? Sean – “No”. “What, are you Serious” I ask?! “Yep”. Sean looks at me and says “you don’t know what the situation is, you don’t know if he has run away a dozen times before and been picked up a dozen times. Maybe the grandparents are in a nursing home. Maybe they are sick”. Responsibility is huge to me, it’s probably the single strongest attribute to my character. This was flying in the face of everything I believe about family, integrity and responsibility. In the Marine Corps, we execute the order that no man gets left behind. I’m raising my voice a bit now as I declare to Sean…”Someone needs to be in a car driving like a hundred miles an hour to come get this kid. This is ridiculous.” Sean maintains his very peaceful demeanor and tells me that “it’s not for us to judge it or affect it…just to love it and be present to it”. My mind doesn’t reconcile this, even though my spirit starts restoring peace to my heart about the situation. We see my truck across the two lane street, and we’re climbing in and off to Auburn Avenue.
To be continued…