Now Nashville… Well it is a long ways from California, geographically and culturally. It’s a whole ‘nother world out here. This is not my first trip to Nashville, but this time my purpose is different; I’m here to see — really see with God’s eyes — the homeless and impoverished on the streets and serve them in whatever way I can. Today, I was walking through downtown merely taking in all of the flashing signs for saloons and music venues and the tourists all decked out in cowboy hats and Nashville memorabilia, wondering at the odd country-city culture. Engrossed in all of this, I almost passed a group of three young people leaning against a planter on Broadway Street. They looked liked locals to me so I didn’t have any reason to be interested in them — that is, until the girl on the end aggressively stuck out her hand and said, “Have any change?”
It was getting late and I had spent the majority of my day grocery shopping and caught up in my own interests. Those three words changed everything, however, revealing God’s purpose for my being there that day at that time. He has a funny way of doing that.
Immediately stopping, I explained that I had no change, but started talking to them about the weather (a storm had just blown through and left as quick as it came). There were two girls and a boy with a guitar. Heather, Jackie, and Rob. I came to learn that Heather and Rob were barely 20 and Jackie was 16. We were soon joined by Jay J, who was 21 and had been on the streets since he was 9 years old if you believe him.
In all of my helping with the homeless, this was my first encounter with anyone this young. Like all young people involved in the music scene, we talked about music and Rob played us some Johnny Cash and Tom Petty on his guitar. Eventually, I asked the girls if they needed shoes. They said they did, so I told them I had some in my car if they wanted to walk over there with me. They agreed and the boys joined us, so we all walked out to my car parked on a curb just outside the main street.
At my car, I helped the girls find shoes their sizes and fill up some bags to take with them. It was then that I remembered I had recently bought a little travel stove. It had one burner and ran on little tanks of butane. I pulled that out, along with a saucepan, a big can of refried beans, a can of corn, and a handful of Snapples. We then proceeded to sit on the curb in the middle of downtown Nashville, serving up and eating an odd but warm dinner for the five of us.
Coincidentally, earlier that day I had picked up the book, Eats with Sinners from a Christian book store. The back description reads, “In Jesus’ day, eating with someone acknowledged that person as an equal. Religious leaders considered it unthinkable for a Jewish teacher to eat with common people. But Jesus cared more about saving souls than saving face. So who are you eating with?” I didn’t read that until after my meal with my new friends, and it made me laugh.
I could have just given them the donations and walked back to downtown. I was well-dressed for a day in the city and had enough money to find some friends and have a nice dinner on Broadway. And the group I was with was a motley crew to say the least. Heather was wearing Jay J’s huge shirt, pulled over a white dress that had been soaked in the storm. Jackie was in pants that were torn up and a shirt slightly too small. Jay J was shirtless and in a wheelchair due to a foot injury. Rob was simply in dirty jeans and a t-shirt. And apparently I looked “like California”, in a simple black dress, an over-sized bracelet, faux Ray-Bans, and multiple facial piercings. The girls said I looked like some kinda rocker girl from Southern California. I guess they had me pegged. We were quite a ragtag group.
It was Rob who was the first to notice and get irritated by the leering passersby who intentionally drove on the wrong side of the road to put even more distance between them and our group on the curb. I just found it all entertaining. There I was creating friendships with young people my age who were ridiculously excited when I pulled out a bag full of candy. Two blocks away, cowboy-hat-wearing tourists dressed to the “T” were piling into the Hard Rock Cafe and the other upscale restaurants to spend more money on drinks alone than what our whole dinner had cost. I have to say, I was right where I was supposed to be and wouldn’t have traded places for anything.
Fortunately, I’ll be spending a few weeks here in Nashville, and I know that God has orchestrated this entire situation. I made sure to figure out how I could meet up with the young kids again and assured them I’d be back. And that I will. Jesus made friends with prostitutes, tax collectors, and fishermen. I have no reason not to befriend the young people that were scrounging for change from tourists on the streets of Nashville, and cannot wait to share more meals with them and get to know them better.
This week, I’d like to give you a challenge. I wholly encourage you to take someone out to coffee or lunch who you typically wouldn’t go out to coffee with. They could be homeless, a new coworker that you haven’t talked to much yet, a mother in need of a break from her kids, your grandma. Jesus often broke bread with those that others refused to associate with. He ate with sinners. He touched lepers. He talked to prostitutes. The least we can do is share coffee with someone in need of maybe just a friendly conversation. More often than not, God will bless you in the experience.
Get the latest updates for the seventy-two project.