I wanted to share a story with you that has been going on in my life over the past couple of months.
At the beginning of October, I started volunteering every Friday evening with a group in downtown Akron They feed and clothe the homeless and those who are down on their luck. One thing that I have really enjoyed about this group is that they encourage the volunteers to get to know the people that are coming out for assistance, instead of just giving them food and sending them on their way. Akron is about a half hour drive from my home in Streetsboro, but it has been well worth the time to get there. Every week before I go, I always pray that God would open doors for me to talk to people that may be hurting and may need to hear about God. He has answered that prayer several times that I can point to, but I want to tell you about one in particular.
At the end of October, there was a young man that was there getting food and some other things that he needed. My job that night was to hand out batteries to those who needed them. I approached him and asked him if he needed batteries, and then introduced myself. He told me that his name was Sean, and I gave him some batteries. I found out that he was homeless, sleeping in a tent in the woods. I didnít ask a lot of questions at that time, but I instantly felt a connection with him. I felt God telling me that he was someone that needed to be reached out to.
The next day, Saturday, I was in Akron again doing some other things. As I was going to get back on the highway to come home, there at the entrance ramp was Sean and another guy, standing there. The other guy was holding a sign saying that he needed money-- Sean was just there to keep the guy company. I pulled over and got Seanís attention and asked him if they had eaten yet today. He told me that he wouldnít mind a cheeseburger or something, so I went to Burger King, got him a cheeseburger, and brought it back to him. He told me how surprised he was that someone actually knew his name and was going out of their way to help him out.
The next time that I saw him was on another Friday night, where he came to get food and clothing again. He remembered who I was, and seemed glad to see me. He began talking to me about how he couldnít believe that he was in this situation. He had a job at one point, but ending up losing it when he moved to Ohio, and had nowhere else to go. He was from Nebraska, and he had a sister who lived in Canton, but he had nowhere to go to live at that point. I told him that since I am in Akron a lot anyway, that the next time I was there and I ran into him, we could get lunch and talk. He seemed open to that.
I began praying big prayers every day for him. I felt very strongly that God had something big in store for him and that God really wanted to get his attention. I honestly believed that and was excited to see what was going to happen as a result. I told God that if I could be used in this process, that he would open the doors for that and allow me to be used however He thought best. I told him that I would volunteer for the job if He would show me what to do.
It took about a week before I ran into him again. We made plans to meet the next day for lunch. There was a place down the road that he told me he would meet me at. And sure enough, when I got there, there he was, waiting for me. We got a table, and the first thing he asked me was, ďSo, are you a Christian?Ē
I told him I was, and he told me that he could tell. He said that no one else would go out of their way to learn names and to get to know people unless they were a Christian. He began telling me some of his story about how he became homeless, some of the struggles he was having, and what he wanted to do with his life. He was only 23 years old and had lived a whole lifetime of experiences already. He seemed like a very honest, genuine guy who was really trying to get his life back on track. He wasnít perfect, but neither am I, or anyone else for that matter. As he was telling me his story, I was amazed to hear that some of the struggles that he had dealt with were some of the same things that I had dealt with in the past too. I have been through some difficult experiences in the past several years, and I had been praying that God would allow me to use my story to help someone else. I believed that this was an answer to my prayers.
The conversation did turn to the issue of salvation. I asked him what would happen if he died that night. He told me that he has gone to church off and on for several years now, but he thought that he had fallen away from God in recent years. He told me that he hoped he would be in heaven, but he didnít know for sure. I was able to explain to him what the Bible says in Romans 6:23 about how the wages of sin is death, but that God has a gift of eternal life for him through Jesus if we accept it and believe it. He told me that he had heard that before, but it made sense to him that day. He later told me that later that evening he went to another outreach event for the homeless and a preacher there preached from that same verse. So he told me that he thought that God wanted him to hear that message. I told him that I had been praying for him every day and that I believed that God had something big in store for him. He didnít seem to believe that God would really have big plans for him, so I told him that I would believe it for him until he agreed.
We made plans to meet again the next week, which we did. He was really opening up to me, and told me how glad he was that God had sent him a friend that would look out for him and help point him in the right direction. He was a good guy, outgoing and a really likable guy. We were becoming friends through this process. He was trying to enroll in the University of Akron, but was struggling with the financial aid process. I have a friend who works for the University, so I told him that I would make some calls and try to hook him up with some people that could help. Sean told me that he would call me the next morning to find out what I had found out.
The next morning came and went, and I didnít hear from him. Another day went by, and still no word from him. A week went by, and I was really getting disappointed, wondering what happened to him. I was kind of angry with him, actually. I had spent hours with this guy, and made phone calls trying to help him out, and then he just disappeared. I was still praying for him every day, but getting discouraged.
I found out from a guy who knew him that he had gotten a job working at a motel, and they were allowing him to stay there in exchange for his work. I was happy for him that he had gotten housing somewhere, but I had no idea where he was or how he was doing.
On Saturday night, I got a call from a number I didnít recognize. When I answered it, I was surprised to hear Seanís voice. He asked me if I would be willing to take him to church with him in the morning. I told him that I would, and then asked him where he was. Iíll never forget what he asked: ďDo you know where Streetsboro is?Ē
ďUhhh, yes, I live in Streetsboro,Ē I answered.
So apparently, the day after we met for the last time in Akron, some guy came down recruiting people to come work at his motel in Streetsboro. Sean was the only one that took him up on it, and had been staying there all week. So Sean now was about a mile from me. He had no idea that I lived there, but wanted to know if I was anywhere near him so he could go to church somewhere in the morning.
I was kind of blown away by that. I mean, of all of the places that he could have relocated to, he ends up right in my hometown, a half hour from Akron. And of all of the people that could have been hired, he is the only one who decided to come here. And of course, itís the one person that I specifically believed that God pointed out to me to get to know. I believe that God took me up on my offer that I was willing to get to know Sean and point him toward Him.
So I brought him to church with me the next morning. He had moved to Streetsboro with almost nothing but a couple of changes of clothing and a couple of his personal items. Interestingly, my church was doing a Christmas outreach for the less fortunate that same day after church, so we stuck around for that to get Sean some groceries and some toys to give to his niece and nephew for Christmas.
We began getting together a couple of times a week to hang out and talk after work. He was really getting excited about getting his life back on track and we decided that we were going to read parts of the Bible together and then get together to discuss what we thought about it. Things were looking up for him, and I think that he started to believe that maybe God did have a plan for him after all. He really liked coming to my church, and planned to keep coming. He became a good friend.
Last week, he got a hold of his sister in Canton and asked if he could come spend Christmas with her. She agreed, so I drove him down there on Christmas Eve in the afternoon. He was glad that he wouldnít have to spend Christmas alone. I told him that I would be back to pick him up after I got off work the day after Christmas. I had bought him two Christmas giftsĖ an NIV study Bible and a wallet. I gave them to him on the drive down to Canton, and I told him that they represented the two things that he said that he wanted mostĖ to get back on track with God and to get back on his feet financially. He told me that he was not only going to read the Bible himself, but that he was going to read some things to his sister too while he was there. When I dropped him off, he gave me a hug, thanked me for bringing him down there, and said how glad he was that I was his friend. I told him that I would see him in a couple of days and then left.
The next morning, I got a call from his mom. Sean had used my phone to call his mom in Nebraska before, so she had my number and knew that we were friends. She told me that shortly after I had dropped Sean off at his sister's, her house caught on fire. Sean was the only one home at the time, but he didnít make it out. Sean was killed in the fire.
I was devastated. Thatís the last thing that I expected to hear about him. Even now, writing these words, itís with a sense of unbelief. Did I really just type the words ďSean was killed in the fireĒ??? Is this for real? I have been in shock ever since. On one hand, this makes no sense to me at all. I mean, he was just getting back on track. He was just starting to turn his life around. He had just made a commitment to God to follow him. And then his happens??? He survived living on the streets, only to die at his sisterís house? I just saw him a couple of hours before he died. I talked to him. I said goodbye to him with the expectation that I would see him in a couple of days. I gave him a Bible that he was excited about reading. Why?
But on the other hand, this makes perfect sense. I felt strongly that God was calling me to get to know this guy. To show him Godís love. To show him unconditional love. To tell him about what it meant to be saved and be assured of your future home in heaven. To share my struggles with him and his with me. To show him that you donít have to be perfect to be a Christian. All of that. What if I hadnít responded to that? What if I hadnít asked Sean where he would go if he died? What if we hadnít had that conversation? Where would he be now? Thatís a scary and humbling thought. Knowing the end of the story helps me make sense of the sense of urgency that I felt for him.
About a week after the fire, Sean's sister called me. She wanted me to know that when they found Sean in the house, he was holding the Bible that I had just given him. I'm not sure exactly what to make of that, except that I think it is so comforting to know that even in midst of the horrible situation that was going on around him, that Sean knew where to go for comfort. In his last conscious moments, he had to have known that God was with him and that he wanted to be inseparable from God's presence.
I am sad, and mourning the loss of a friend. I had really gotten to know him, and I really liked him. He was a good guy. We talked for hours and laughed about the dumb stuff that happened to us during the day. He was a very real, down to earth, humble guy. He was a friend. I never expected when I started going to Akron on Friday nights to come away with a friend, but that is what happened. As sad as I am right now, I am also happy for him right now too. Everything that he wanted, he now has. He has a place to live. He is happy. He has a future. He definitely did not spend Christmas alone. He is not only on track with God, but he is literally living with God. He is complete and he is free.
So Sean, to you I say, goodbye for now, my friend. I, too, am glad that we are friends. I will see you again. And tell my brother I said hi.
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