I met Malik Friday afternoon. He was there when we arrived in the Salvation Army parking lot to provide sack lunches and a supply of bottled water to our friends. I spent some time talking with him. He was kind, he was gentle, and he had a beautiful smile. He was also hurting, physically and emotionally. He had slept in the grass the previous night, his allergic reaction was taking his breath away — literally. He was lonely. He is the same age as my oldest son, my mother’s heart hurt for him. I wanted to wrap him up and take him home.
But I couldn’t take him home … or at least I figured I shouldn’t take him home, so I didn’t. Before I left, I told him that if he was here tomorrow we were going to bring a hot lunch to share and we could talk again.
Saturday morning we rolled in with eight pizzas (not one of which was cheese only, lesson learned in loving our vegetarian neighbors!) and a celebratory spirit, it being the Fourth of July and all. I was busy unloading the car, distracted by the “real” work that needed to be done. It took me a while to notice that Malik could hardly catch his breath — and, to be honest, I really only noticed when I overheard him asking people if they had an extra inhaler. I sat down to visit with him and asked him if he needed to go to the hospital. His response was really no response at all. My mother’s heart said, “Tell him to get in the car and go, NOW!” But he is not my son, Reason responded, he’s a full grown man.
And then a lady from another church walked in during the luncheon celebration and asked to talk with me about the ministry and the possibilities of partnership with her church. I was sitting next to Malik, but my back was to him and I was talking about matters that could very well have waited until another day … but that’s not what I was thinking at the time, at the time I was thinking that this was what was in front of me, this discussion was important, and that discussion with Malik could wait.
By the time our afternoon was over, Malik was asleep on the bench. I set a bag full of bottled water and another sack of food under his bench, and then woke him up briefly to ask if it would be alright for me to come and check on him in the morning before church if he was still here. He nodded and smiled at me, and drifted back off to sleep.
I kept my word, I showed up the next morning, but Malik was nowhere to be found.4