If you don’t mind I’ll jump right into this story of an encounter with a young man about my age I had last week.
I was heading home. I had just visited a small group of friends at an assisted living facility downtown Spokane. It was later in the evening, and since there barely are any street lighting in Spokane it was really dark as I was longboarding home. There was another appointment I was scheduled for that evening, but since it got cancelled I headed straight to my house instead. There is a river that flows through the town and I cross this river a couple times as I skate my way back and forth to town.
Spokane is a very interesting place that holds a lot of different types of people and it is not strange to see people having unusual appearances or behaving a little bit out of the ordinary. At a bridge over the river it is not uncommon to see some strange sights of people as you cross the river. This evening was such a time. I saw a guy sitting with his back against the bridge railing and just as I was passing him I noticed that he was crying.
During a fraction of a second I put my foot to the ground so that the longboard would stop bringing me forward. I asked the man sitting on the walkway if he was doing ok. I heard him answer “no” in between the sobs. I asked him why this was so, and slowly he started telling me about his day. He told me about how his backpack had been stolen. The only things he really cared about, a few items of which would remind him of his younger brother, was nowhere to be found. It was probably stolen and the people he considered his friends did not want to help retrieve the bag. He told me also about his drug addiction which he had tried to recover from but got kicked out of Union Gospel Mission a week earlier because of a relapse. For the sake of this story I will call this man “D”.
As I noticed how D did not mind me listening to his tears and his story, I sat down beside him and not saying very much myself. He said few items left reminding him of his brother were the only things that still could make him think back to his childhood and to his family. Since that was gone now he felt he had nothing left in life had given up. At one point I asked what his plan was now. He answered that he had decided to kill himself. After some more conversation he handed me the rope that he had tied up in a knot to hang himself with off the bridge. “Here” he said, “take this so I don’t do it”. I took the rope. At that point I knew I couldn’t leave him alone that night.
Not really knowing how I could help this young man I shared briefly about my life, some struggles that I’ve had, and how Jesus Christ had comforted me in the times of desperation, grief and lamentation. Not knowing his spiritual life I said that I wasn’t sure if this made sense to him, but it was the only true hope that i knew of that could help him. Surprisingly he said that it made total sense to him and that he in fact had turned his life to God just a week or two before. Glad to hear that D was a brother of our faith I told him that his life was not going to end this night, but that it was probably of divine intervention that I entered his life in one of his darkest hours. I invited him to go and eat some Subway and he gladly accepted. His sadness started turning to a more cheerful chatter and he explained how he also thought that God had sent me to snatch him out of his suicide attempt.
While we were walking I tried to think of someone I could call to help finding a place for my new friend to stay over night. My place would not be very fitting since there is drug activity going on in my neighborhood. I called my friend “R”, but no one picked up. I sent him a text instead asking him to call me as soon as possible. As me and D placed our orders at Subway, R called a few minutes. He couldn’t meet up with us at that point but instead he invited us to a prayer meeting. I asked D if he wanted to go. He didn’t need any further persuasion than that question really, so after we had shared the meal we set off to the prayer meeting. On our way there I asked my new friend what he felt about the whole thing, because it is not really advised to follow strangers around. He said that normally he would not tag along, but that this felt like the right thing to do somehow. I was amazed by how this man could put his trust in me in just an hour of meeting me, but I didn’t choose to doubt his words and we walked on.
What I didn’t know at the time, but R told me about this later, was that when I called him he didn’t pick up because he was in prayer for the meeting that night. They had specifically prayed for leading a person, someone outside their friend group or a person who yet not believes in Jesus to show up at the meeting. When R then received my text and called back the confirmation of answer to prayer was a fact. I was amazed how all of this worked out.
We stepped up to the door and after a couple knocks a young man opened the doors for us. People at the prayer meeting were already in prayer, so me and D sat down where we could find a seat. Even though no one knew D’s story besides me, there were several people who prayed over the group of people gathered in the room agains various types of addictions, depression and darkness surrounding our lives. Little did those who prayed know that they had at least one individual who was desperate for such prayers to come true. After a little while R spoke up and asked me to share why I had come. I told the short version of this story to the people assembled what had happened just a short time prior to the prayer meeting. My voice trembles and I could not hold my tears back to the realization that D would have tried to end his life, and would probably have succeeded, that very night. After my brief introduction D filled in on the rest and got to pronounce his situation in his own words.
The group of God’s children listened to the heartbreaking story of D’s life with compassion for his sufferings, and when he was done they surrounded him, comforted him and gave him hope by inviting God to intervene in his life. As Jesus Christ did when he walked this earth, D got his feet washed by one of the individuals there as a symbol of how our God came humbly as a servant to humankind so that we may know his love. One other person say that D did not own any socks, and immediately ran over to his house to find a pair that he would give away to the one who had none. Another person for some reason had brought an extra flanell shirt and offered it to D who gratefully accepted it. Knowing that D may not survive the night if he was left alone that night I pointed out to the small crown that we had to find a place for him to rest till at least the next day. People started calling around to find a place and and the father of one of the people gathered in the room opened up his house as a temporary shelter. We also got hold of a ministry who could receive D the following day to help him get up on his feet again. It was obvious that D was touched by the outpouring of people’s love and compassion for him.
I was quite taken by what happened and a fellow Moody student offered me a ride home. I heard the next day that D had received good care and got plugged in with good people who he could rely upon and trust to help him out.
This story took place on a seemingly normal Tuesday evening. However, for those witnesses that observed and took part in what happened during those hour it was obvious that God orchestrated every step in the incident. For it is from Jesus I have learned compassion and care for people, even if I happen to see them as strangers in the dark. It is through the self-sacrificial love that our Lord came to give the world through taking on death so that we can have life that lead the people gathered at the prayer meeting to give of what they have and made sure their suffering brother found a place to stay when he had been neglected by everyone else. To be honest, I would probably never have stopped to ask the question how D was doing if I hadn’t already been living for God.