This happened the other week and I feel like sharing it with you.
I don’t know if there are more homeless people in Berlin than elsewhere, but to my friend Tasha* and I, who last Autumn were new to the city, it seemed like they were at every U-bahn stop, on every busy shopping street. We wanted to do something.
We chickened out due to our (mostly my) questionable German. We got involved in the homeless shoebox appeal at our church, but one to one just seemed too daunting.
We’re back in Germany now and the homeless are still here. I went to Steglitz one Saturday to buy some things, and along the whole street there were silent beggars kneeling on cardboard, hands outstretched, eyes averted. I saw one whose face was lowered so far to the ground it was like he wanted to disappear into it. Something broke inside me a little bit then.
The next day, Tasha and I were watching interviews with some of the people who feature on the Father of Lights film (highly recommended- I have a spare copy if anyone wants it). One amazing woman explains how she began learning to hear God’s voice and serve Him, and though their ministry now is huge, she and her husband began simply, giving out food and blankets to the homeless in their area.
Afterwards, Tasha turned to me and said ‘I think we should do something’.
She’d said what I’d been thinking. So the next Friday we made sandwiches, bought snacks and juice cartons and some hats.
‘I think we should make up five packs,’ she said. ‘We’ll pray God shows us five people to give them to.’
We prayed over it and set out, feeling confident we’d find people quickly. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing; we’re still learning how to hear God in everyday situations. But we knew where we’d seen people before, so we just went there.
We went first to Steglitz, where last time there must have been a dozen people silently asking for money.
We walked the whole length of the street. There wasn’t a single homeless person there.
We got on the U-bahn to Alexanderplatz, the busiest station. Our bags were already feeling heavy; surely, we thought, there will be people in Alexanderplatz.
There was no-one.
We walked around every place we could think of. Still no-one. We’d been out for two hours and we were tired, hungry and discouraged.
We don’t understand, we kept saying. Maybe it’s because it’s a weekday, maybe it’s too cold, we don’t know.
‘Let’s go to Friedrichstrasse’, I said, ‘I’ve seen people there before. I feel we need to try there.’
To our joy we saw two men sitting under the bridge at the station. We went over, handed out our packs- one guy was pretty drunk, the other appreciative as we tried to make a little conversation.
We continued; three packs left, unsure what to do next.
After more walking aimlessly around Stadtmitte, Tasha said ‘let’s go back to Alexanderplatz, give it another try’. OK. Fine. More trains. More steps.
By this time I was beginning to see how hilarious the situation was. Two girls wandering around the city for hours with bags of sandwiches. This was so not going according to plan.
Then outside Alexanderplatz station, we saw someone. We crossed the road, avoiding the trams, approaching him nervously. We told him we could speak a little German and we had some things for him. This is the conversation as accurately as I can remember, translated for you non-German speakers.
He stared as though we’d come from Mars, reluctant to accept the items.
‘No, take them, please,’ we were saying.
‘OK, but why?’
‘We want to give them to you.’
He laughed incredulously. ‘Is that God, or what?’
There was an awkward pause, then he started to speak, insistent that we listen.
‘You want to know why, I tell you’, he said in English. Then, ‘They used to call me Nasty Joe’.
Switching between English and German, he kept repeating that he used to be a ‘Saviour of children’, that he could not believe we were here giving him these things.
We weren’t sure what he meant, but we were fairly sure ‘saviour’ was some kind of dodgy euphemism for some perverted criminal activity. He had a loud maniacal laugh and frankly we were a bit scared. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the whole story.
‘…And today you come to me and bring me sandwiches. Are you angels, or what?’
‘No, but we do believe in Jesus. It’s only small, but we wanted to do it anyway.’
I’d like to say we chatted with him about Jesus and prayed for him, but actually he seemed a little confused and we were not feeling comfortable. So we left.
I’d also like to tell you that we gave out the last two packs, but we didn’t find anyone else.
So what’s the point of this story, you might be asking. We asked ourselves the same question.
I had to remind myself that obedience is always success, even if it doesn’t look like our version of success. Tasha said maybe the whole point of having to search for four hours was to find this one man.
He kept repeating how crazy it was that we would come to him of all people. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus’ love is? He will go to the ends of the earth for us. I thought, Jesus loves that man as much as he loves me. That’s the gospel in a nutshell; grace and mercy without measure.
God used us even though we had no idea what to say or do. He showed one man in the dirt that He loves him.
It was only after a few days that we realised how amazing this was, and I just wanted to share it.
Have a wonderful week.
*The name of my friend has been changed for privacy protection.