Becky and Ramona walked down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. They said nothing as they crossed the street and over two blocks to a storefront. Becky stepped inside and Ramona followed cautiously. Inside it smelled of breakfast but there were no cash registers or menus in view. They walked past a line of people Ramona would describe as losers. Street people, she determined. Not the kind of folks she was used to socializing with. She sure didn’t like the prospect of eating breakfast with their ilk.
“Good morning, Marcy,” Becky greeted a heavy set woman in line. She returned the salutation in a loud, raspy voice.
“G’ morning, Becky. Who’s your friend?”
“Her name is Ramona. Everyone say hello to Ramona. She is hanging out with us this morning.”
“Hello, Ramona.” Several folks called out. “Welcome to City Reach, Ramona,” said someone else. City Reach? What was that?
“What’s this place all about, Becky?”
“Well, the mission group I am part of started a program here to help folks who are homeless and hungry. They come Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for a free breakfast and someone to talk to. We are a little short on staff right now but usually there are 7 or 8 who come and eat with them and listen to their stories.”
“Hmmm. That’s a little different, listening to their stories. Usually missions try to cram Jesus down their throats along with the oatmeal. How is it working for you?”
“Well, it isn’t always easy, listening to other people share their life stories. Sometimes they ramble on but it’s usually because nobody wants to take the time to listen to them. There are some amazing stories of God activity here, though. Our challenge is to listen and gently point out to them how God has been there, present in their lives, even in the pain and disappointment of living. Sometimes they can see it, sometimes they are oblivious but we have to try.”
“There are some success stories, though. Eben over there, the guy with dark hair, is a Muslim. He started coming about six weeks ago. One of our staff started a conversation while eating with him. Eben was very skittish at first but he was hungry so he stayed and eventually shared his story. He and his family grew up in the Sufi tradition. Our staff guy, Jeremy, told him about Jesus’ non-violent teaching of love, even for the woman who was caught fornicating and was condemned to die by the religion police. Jeremy told him some other stories of Jesus and finished up with the statement that God loved all people, Jews, Arabs and Gentiles alike. Eben was thoughtful. Of course, he had heard stories of Jesus. Muslims think Jesus was one of the five greatest prophets the world has ever seen but not Messiah.”
“Wow, that’s interesting,” Ramona said.
Yeah an’ Eben loves Jesus now!” Raspy voice Marcy butted in. She had snuck up on Ramona’s blind side. “He loves Jesus now,” she repeated for emphasis.
“Yes,” Becky confirmed. “And we are excited about that, aren’t we Marcy?”
“Yep,” Marcy said triumphantly with a big smile. Ramona noted the two missing teeth and the remainder quite deteriorated. “I’m gonna find a place for you guys to sit and eat,” Marcy offered.
“Sounds good . . . I think,” Ramona said hesitatingly. “Thank you, Marcy,” Becky cheerfully returned. Becky steered Ramona over to the end of the line which was now much shorter and closer to the food.
“Uhhh, Becky, what’s her story?”
“Marcy? Oh she was a meth addict for many years. She lost all of her family because of it. You can probably tell she lost her health, too. She came in here a few months ago. We were able to work with Social Services to get some help for her. They allowed her to stay with us during treatment so we could coach her. Four weeks and many hours of conversation and praying later she asked if she, too, could be a disciple of Jesus. Want some pancakes?”
“Oh, uh yes, of course. I guess I’m starving.”
After taking the pancakes and some scrambled eggs she turned to look for Marcy. Marcy waved way too much for the situation, which kind of embarrassed Ramona but she signaled that she saw her and started over. Becky had paused to answer someone’s question so Ramona was left to Marcy’s mercy.
“Do you love Jesus?” Marcy boldly and loudly demanded. “Well, I . . . I used to,” Ramona admitted. “I don’t know what happened but I think I lost him somewhere back there.”
“Oh don’t worry, Marona, he’s still there. I know because I found him when I turned around and went back home,” Marcy said reassuringly. “He’s still there.”
“It’s Ramona, Marcy.” Becky quietly reminded her as she sidled up and sat down next to Ramona. “Oh yeah, I’m sorry, Ramona, I forget things sometimes. I forget.” Marcy said more quietly now.
“I was telling Ramona about how you have changed since you have been coming down here, Marcy.”
“Oh yeah, I changed a lot, haven’t I? Want some ketchup for your eggs Ramona?”
“Thanks, no. Uh, Becky where is the restroom? I’m feeling a little noxious.”
When she returned, the three women visited until most everyone had left the room. Becky rose to take her dishes to the back kitchen area and Ramona followed. The small space was sparse but clean. Ramona asked, “Can I help wash up?”
“Sure. If you can rinse those plates I will put them in the washer.”
“Marcy has had a pretty tough life, hasn’t she? It really is amazing she is still alive after all those drugs and stuff,” Ramona said thoughtfully.
“Yes, it is amazing. But God’s love is more amazing because He still loved her even when she was at her worst. She had nothing to bring to the table, so to speak, but God saw beyond her hurt and physical condition and steered her here one morning. She was hungry and we met that need. She was in an emotional and mental state that prevented her from being in close proximity to the others here. We called the county Human resources and they assisted us in getting her help. If you could only have seen her before . . . oh, my goodness, I have to scoot! But you could come with me.”
“What’s up, Becky?”
“I have to look for a new scarf. Brad invited me out Saturday night and I really have to wear something different. He’s seen everything I have in my closet! Won’t you say you’ll help me choose?”
“I’ll try. I . . . I haven’t been shopping for a while. I guess I’ve been hiding from people.” Ramona looked tentative.
“Oh, sweet!” Becky said. “I need to go by the house to grab the blouse I’m wearing first. They hurried back to the little apartment chatting all the way. When they arrived, Ramona waited just outside the door.
As she recalled the past twenty-four hours, Ramona felt Becky was one person she could like—could have as a friend. Why hadn’t she met her before? Why did she seem like a real person, not fake, like she was the same person in real life as she was when she was helping people. That was a change from her social circle at church. It was like they all wore masks. Even people at the bar she frequented seemed fake; like they were always trying to con the opposite sex with clever seduction techniques. Well, she had to admit, it worked on her. That’s why she was in this fix now. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” she told herself. If only she could turn the clock back!
On Main Street they found the mercantile store and headed to the back where the clothing section lived. The smells in that store were so familiar to Ramona. As a little girl she used to come in with her parents for weekly items. Her father liked the hardware department with the tools that seem to attract all men everywhere. Her mother gravitated to the fabric section with the large bolts of variegated material. Ramona breathed in the mixed odors of the past reminding her of days when life was more peaceful and more predictable. Closing her eyes for a minute she silently wished she could return to that time. Suddenly, her reverie was smashed to pieces by a familiar voice.
“Ramona? What are you doing here?” her father said.