Some of you may recall that back in June I experienced quite a bit of delays trying to fly out to a conference in Indianapolis. The benefit that came from those delays was the amount of time it gave me to dig into this book without many distractions. I had no idea how much that reading was going to impact me while in a city far from my own, and would linger since returning home.
In the beginning I thought this was going to be a book about deepening my faith. In many ways I was right. Exposing shallow faith, where law becomes an idol, and the wake we can leave behind when we are not walking in love and grace. Recognizing that we have to do more than go through the motions, and that there will be times our faith will take out out of comfort zones into the deep end of the waters. Pushing ourselves to a deeper understanding of the scriptures and what the Lord expects of us as a response to His Word.
What I didn’t expect to happen was the deeper convictions I was going to feel about how I interacted with this world. Who was I serving? How was I serving? Was it easy, comfortable? Did it require much of me?
I was great at serving those in my church, but what about the “least of these”? What real needs have I been engaging? Was I limiting the Gospel? Was I limiting my service? Was I talking a good talk but not walking along with it? These questions were bouncing through my mind, as I sat in the airport… waiting.
Having a ministry position where I train other leaders, my biggest burden at that point was…
Am I training leaders who are going to go out and serve their people well … or are we just learning how to put on another successful event? Are we playing ministry or living it?
Had I allowed the Gospel to be too small, was I not seeing the big picture?
This is where the book took me on a new journey about serving, loving, and living the Gospel out in real tangible ways. Where it becomes more than talk. Brandon Hatmaker’s words were reeling in my head, as I was walking back to my hotel after the conference let out for the evening. It was late. That is when Gregory made eye contact with me.
Gregory walked up to me, tears in his eyes. He was a homeless man, and he was hungry. I don’t carry cash on me, but directly behind me was a restaurant. It wasn’t fancy, but it was a better meal than a fast food place. In Indianapolis, I met a man named Gregory who was from my home state. I could smell the alcohol on his breath. I wasn’t sure if I believed his story about being mugged and just needing a few dollars for some food. It didn’t matter, I knew the man was hungry.
As we walked into the restaurant, Gregory was still crying. He was sorry for bothering me. He was sorry for asking. He was sorry for taking our time. He asked for very little, but I told Gregory to order whatever he wanted. He first asked for just a sandwich, but I told him to order more. He gently asked my friend, “Do you think she’d let me have fries too?”. She smiled and said absolutely, and immediately followed that up with inquiring what he wanted to drink. In the end we had two sandwiches, french fries, and a large drink for Gregory. He was grateful, his tears and slurs made him almost inaudible at times.
We prayed over Gregory before we left to return to our hotel. It sounds like a beautiful moment, doesn’t?
What I neglected to share until this point, was the response of others. The manager, saw Gregory walk in with us. She approached us, looked right past my friend and I. To Gregory, she spoke directly… “Looks like you convinced these nice ladies to buy you a meal. You can wait here for it, but you can’t eat it outside. You’ll need to take it and go.”
Her response was as if my friend and I were naive out of towners, taken advantage of by this con-man. It was insulting to our intelligence and demeaning to Gregory. He was now a paying customer, and should have been treated as such. Gregory didn’t leave our thoughts for the rest of the trip, and quite often we prayed for him. We didn’t see him again before it was time to leave.
Layovers and delays on my return flight home, I kept reading. Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margins (next to a piece of text)… Gregory.
From the book:
“It’s true that giving a sandwich to a homeless man on one day is not going to end hunger on the streets of your city. But it will bless that man today.”
and in another passage:
“You see, after Jesus taught the most significant sermon in the history of time, Jesus didn’t make his way to the next sanctuary to meet with the religious. He made his way to the next street corner to meet with the outcast.
By meeting him in his greatest need, Jesus restored more than the man’s health; he restored his dignity. “
A Mile Wide opened my eyes to see so much more than how deep my own faith was, but my willingness to go the distance for my fellow man. It changed my vision and scope of how ministry was supposed to look, and how I was going to change the way I approached our ministry work of training leaders. It inspired me to a bigger Gospel. A global Gospel. A Gospel that feeds the man on the corner, that restores dignity, fights for justice, helps the Great Commission with feet on the ground.
Lord, I pray for Gregory tonight… where ever he lays his head. I pray Lord, when I return to Indianapolis next year… I see his face again and we can break bread together. Keep him safe, bring him to healing, and if I can’t see him again… let it be because he has returned to his family. I pray for the hardened hearts that have forgotten that Gregory and those who are like him… are human beings made in your image. Let us treat them as you would. Amen.