A stranger can shed blessings upon a host of people and lessen city fears through an isolated display of intimacy. One mid-December day I boarded a public bus on the way to pick up my car at the service garage. The driver, who was obviously impatient with novice passengers not having exact change, pulled away from the curb rather abruptly, catapulting me down the aisle. A young man, 19 or 20 years old, reached out, grabbed me by the shirt and hauled me into the seat beside him. “Welcome aboard,” he said with a smile as he pulled me onto his seat. He looked me over and asked rather bluntly, “Do you go to church?” He had no idea I was a minister.
“Yeah, every day,” I replied, bracing myself for an evangelistic assault.
He grinned, nodded approval and replied, “That’s good. That’s good.”
My seat partner, who was holding a threadbare nap sack in his lap, seemed to be setting me up for a testimonial. “Do you love your church?” he asked eagerly.
“Well, yes I do, especially when we make the annual budget at the end of the year.”
He let that cynical remark go. When I got a closer look at the lad it was apparent he was either living on the streets or one step from residing there. He wore a grease-stained baseball cap, a tattered 1960’s style shirt, pants that were too short, and battered, oversized shoes. After a few minutes of church talk he began to comment on the beautiful weather and how privileged we were to live in such a warm city in the dead of winter. I was suspicious of his chatter and figured it would be just a matter of time before he hit me up for some change.
He was quiet for the next few minutes, and then he suddenly stood up and announced we were approaching his stop. I asked, “Is this where you live?”
“No,” he informed me, “I’m headed for the plasma center near here to give some blood to get a little cash for some Christmas presents for a couple of street friends.” He touched my shoulder, rushed to the rear exit door, and was gone in an instant. I sat stunned, wishing I could have given him some change before he got away.
On that brief ten to fifteen-minute bus ride with the young stranger I went through several levels of emotion with him. I was initially put off by his pressing questions regarding his religious perspective and then I was repulsed by his body odor and what seemed at first to be a deflective attempt to hit me up for a hand-out. I was also conscious of the fact my street ministry experiences with transients did not prepare me for the unexpected encounter – they never do.
The emotional kicker for me came when he claimed he was going to a plasma center to give blood for cash to purchase gifts. He conveyed a radiance that was felt by those seated nearby. Nearly every passenger overhearing his plans, including the impatient driver, turned, smiled and watched him depart. We all looked at each other wondering if he had just put one over on us. There was an eerie silence, a warm glow, lasting for a few seconds that filled the bus. The driver paused to take in the moment. We watched, through our separate windows with our personal thoughts, the young man make his way across the busy street, heading for a place where he would exchange his life blood for a few dollars in order to purchase a few gifts. The boy’s disruptive benediction had created a momentary bond of intimacy between the passengers on board that morning. We were mysteriously drawn together and evidently gifted with a shot of oxytocin offered by a street urchin who managed to create a pocket of hope on a public bus in one of the most violent-prone sections of the inner city.