On Steve the Missioner

“Steve” (not his real name) is a fellow who attends our weekly free meal at St. John’s, which we call The Peace Meal. Steve is a tall, lanky fellow with a quiet, modest demeanor and very crooked spectacles. He wears several layers of clothes to keep warm, even if it is July and 90° F outside, and he lives sometimes with members of his family, other times on the street. He is a hoarder by temperament, and I suspect that Steve is also a missioner.

Steve hates to see anything go to waste, especially food. I first became acquainted with Steve when he started attending The Peace Meal and would scavenge for leftovers to take back home and hoard. I remember him walking out the door one day with a zip-lock bag of macaroni-and-cheese the size of a basketball and so hot he could barely hold it. Steve saves all sorts of things, and we find what we call “Steve stacks” around the outside perimeter of the church building, squirreled away in obscure corners. They are always neatly stacked and boxed, and he even labels them with a sharpie with the title “Steve’s boxes” on top.

But what got me to wondering if Steve is a missioner was the time I spotted him on a street corner, chatting away with another street-person. She is a young woman in the neighborhood who begs for spare change at the top of the highway exit ramp a couple of blocks down the street. When she is not working the exit ramp, she panders the cars along the island on South Grand Ave near the water tower. She never speaks to me unless I have a couple of bucks in my hand for her: I suppose I look too much like the kind of person who arrests people like her. She is so suspicious of others that she won’t even attend our Peace Meal.

When last I saw her, she was speaking with Steve, and her expression was one of openness and attention. Instead of the lost soul who would not look a single person in the eye as she pandered the streets, she looked like a normal woman chatting with a friend when I spotted her with Steve. I realized that for at least one moment in her day, someone was speaking to her like she was a fellow human being, not a ghost wandering the streets. It reminded me of the passage in John’s Gospel: “Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman…” I also was astonished, for here was Steve, re-enacting the Gospel of John on South Grand with his own Woman at the Well, telling her that he saw her, and chatting about ordinary things.

I pray that Steve says good things to her, or at least she hears good things, no matter what Steve might say. Steve has his own challenges, no doubt, but who among us does not? Perhaps, in his own way, Steve is Christ-for-others, and, for a moment, he helps reintroduce hurting people to the ordinariness of life despite their mental illness, their grinding poverty, and their marginalization.

Steve has been attending our 10:00 A.M. Sunday service lately, five layers of clothes and all, and I make certain that I greet him during the Sign of Peace as my brother in Christ. We are fellow missioners and I’m a bit envious of him. I wish I could go to the places Steve goes, and speak to the people Steve speaks to, but I know I cannot – I don’t have his credibility. I pray that my fellow missioner Steve says good things out there on the street. The Holy Spirit assures me that She is with Steve.

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