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Topic: Teachers (07/12/04)
TITLE: An Unlikely Teacher
By Brenda Blakely
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One night after service, as was our policy, we fed only those who were in the worship service because we were short on donated food. This night we felt badly though. Since it was near the end of the month we knew there would be hungry people asking for food, anything to fill their empty stomachs We passed out the fragments of mixed doughnuts and skimpy peanut butter sandwiches and prepare to close the doors.
Anxious to put the sight, smell and sound behind me after the service and meal, I dashed for the stairs. However, I slowed down to go around a coarse, smelly young woman blocking the stairway as she sat hunkered on the step.
Looking down at her I first noticed her matted hair, underneath it was brown, on top there were streaks of blond. Her soup kitchen issue of clothes had either been done when she was less hefty or the clothes issued were several sizes too small. But it was clear she had made an effort to coordinate them in color.
When I stalled, she began to talk. Not wanting to be rude, I turned toward her to listen. As she began to ramble I suspected she had blocked the stairs as a means to obtain a listener. Her conversation centered mostly around her young life as a child of the streets. The quality of her speech startled me somewhat but her occasional raucous word rebounded me back to reality.
Her conversation went back to the time when she was 14. Her struggles of just finding a place to rest her head or obtain a decent meal stirred my sympathies. I would never have guessed she was only 25 years old had she not told me nor that tonight she would be my teacher.
In her frank conversation several things became apparent. She was street-wise and had learned well the lessons of survival. Here sat a young lady with 11 years of experiences that would have crushed the spirit of the faint-hearted.
As we talked, an older man with whom she lived wandered across the street. She spotted him coming and quickly explained, "he didn't come to the services that evening because he wasn't feeling well". She elaborated about her hunger pangs and anxiety to consume her sandwich; yet she continued to clutch it in her hand. From the corner of my eye I could see the old man ambering closer; she continued to share her experiences with me. Quietly and without any pretense or show, she slipped the sandwich into the hands of the old man. Without the slightest hesitation, he began to eat, indicating it had been a while since he had partaken of food. When she realized I had seen her pass the food to the old man, she commented, "I really wasn't hungry" and went on to share another experience of her life on the streets with me. With the sharing of each experience the sag in her shoulders lessened, somewhat and I began my lessons.
By this time, my husband, who was one of the other workers, began to try descending the stairs. The blockade impeded his descent. So he just stood and listened. From his vantage point he noticed the sandwich transaction. He turned and slipped back upstairs.
Again he descended the stairs, discretly, he tucked something into the young woman's hand. She glanced at it and began stuffing it into her mouth in a manner that graphically expressed the urgent need of her body for nourishment. In my mind's eye I saw a flashback of the sandwich she had quietly slipped to the old man and was reminded of her comment, "I wasn't hungry".
She had shared her pain, lessons learned from the street and most of all her unselfish love for others. My teacher that night had taught me some of life's most important lessons and gave me a chance to learn to be more like Jesus.