A Homeless Lady
And Jesus said, when you have done it unto the
least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.
– Matthew 25:40
When the teenager saw me, he sprinted over. “Bro. Curt, there’s a homeless lady inside the Tabernacle, and she won’t let any of us help her.”
“A homeless lady in Dry Creek?” I let the shock register on my face.
A knot of other youth joined him., assuring me of this fact. “There’s a homeless lady here at camp.”
One of them grabbed my arm, leading me toward the Tabernacle doors. Nearing, I could hear the loud music of the band and hundreds of voices singing, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart.”
At the main door, a woman burst out the doors, nearly knocking me down. She wore ragged layers of clothing, carried several plastic shopping bags stuffed with who knows what, and looked as if she was trying to escape from something or someone. Right behind her were several other campers desperately trying to stop her. As she swept by, I futilely grabbed at her elbow. In spite of how quickly she moved by, I could detect her body odor and the unmistakable mix of mildewed clothing and mothballs.
I noticed that she was hugging a new Bible against her breast and carrying a bottle of water in her other hand. In the Bible I could see a $10 bill sticking out. In spite of my plea to stop, she brushed by and headed toward the highway. Deep inside, I was happy to see her headed that direction and away from the camp.
Several of these “would-be Good Samaritan” campers walked briskly along beside her imploring her to stay so they could help her. The remaining teens begged me to stop her so they could give her money, food, and encouragement. Several of them had tears in their eyes as they implored me to “do something.”
Watching her disappear along Highway 113, I told them: “We can’t help this lady. She doesn’t belong here at our camp among a bunch of godly teens.”
I thought the campers were going to jump me! Their faces registered a mixture of disgust, pain, and disappointment in my callous remarks.
Then I told them the truth, “That lady was a test for all of you. She’s not really a homeless lady. In fact she lives nearby in Ragley. She had hidden her nice car down the road and walked onto the campgrounds. I had asked her to come dressed as a homeless lady as a test to see how our campers would react. Each of you passed the test—in fact, you passed it with flying colors. We’ve talked all week about ministering in the name of Jesus to hurting folks. You went out and put that talk into action with your concern. The gifts of money, bottled water, a Bible, and your concern were good and right.”
As I told the whole story about this “spiritual speed trap,” I thought one of the girls was going to hit me with her Bible! I explained how the first time two years previously, when this lady showed up at a camp weekend retreat, she was unknown to our workers. Staff member Dwayne Quebedeaux kept trying to help her until she finally whispered under her breath, “Hey man, quit pestering me. I’m not really a homeless lady. I’m doing this to see what reaction the ladies at this retreat will have. Give me some room.”
I reassured our teen staffers how proud I was of them. The fact that the sight of another person in need did not drive them away, but instead stirred their hearts to action was good, right, and compassionate. Caring hearts will respond not just with words, but also with deeds and action. That is why the homeless lady was carrying all types of gifts given as tokens of the concern of these campers.
Later that evening I called our “homeless lady.” On the phone, I told her, “I’m nominating you for an Academy Award. You were authentic, even down to the smell!” She replied, “I thought some of those kids were going to knock me down they were so helpful!” I thanked her for taking time to “show a sermon” and test the hearts of these precious campers.
As I mentally reviewed the aggressive compassion of our campers I thought of this quote, “She is such a good friend that she would throw all of her friends in the water just for the sake of being able to fish each of them out.”
Pondering over it later, I wondered why some campers were moved to instant action at the sight of this homeless lady while others, who may have also been concerned, took no steps in getting involved.
There is only one I can explain the actions of the teenagers who “attacked the homeless lady with love.” It’s compassion.
Compassion. Another of my favorite words.
An action word that moves beyond concern, even caring.
Yes, compassion—that’s what they showed Dry Creek’s only “homeless lady” on that memorable day.
When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he was deeply moved with compassion for them, because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd
This is an earlier version of the Homeless Lady story as published in The Old House:
One of the things I love about Dry Creek Camp is the friendliness of folks who visit and work here. There is a special atmosphere of caring that I believe can only come from God.
On a recent weekend in January, our “ministry of hospitality” was tested in a unique way. Dwayne Quebedeaux, our projects director, is a caring and compassionate man. He and his wife, Allison, are always looking for ways to help folks. This helpful attitude is why he was touched as he neared the Tabernacle that day. What he saw was what appeared to be a homeless lady digging in the trash can. She was dressed in the way you’ve seen on the streets of big cities—several layers of old clothes, evidently all she owned, and shaggy hair sticking out from under a dirty scarf. She was pushing an old bicycle as she explored the area around the Tabernacle. Inside, a group of over one hundred ladies sang away, while outside, this poor woman dug in the trash.
Dwayne said his heart just went out to her. He’d just come out of the Dining Hall, home of those famous Dry Creek rolls. He approached the woman to invite her to come eat. She quickly turned her back and rapidly pushed the bike away.
Word had spread among our staff to this woman’s plight and they began trying to get her to stop so they could help her. When she continued to walk away and hide, Dwayne did the only thing he knew to do—he called the Sheriff’s Department to come help. Soon a deputy arrived, but there was no lady to be found.
Just as the deputy drove out the front gate, Dwayne saw the lady emerge from her hiding place. He was determined to help her so he once again approached her. This time she stopped as Dwayne came near. In a muffled voice she told him, “I’m with the Ladies Group. We’re testing them to see if they will stop and help me.”
Needless to say, Dwayne was floored. After hearing the story, all of our staff had a good laugh. However, we also told Dwayne he had “passed the test.” He had stopped to help a person in need just as Jesus did. May the same be said of all of us.
And Jesus said, when you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. –Matthew 25:40