“So what is your name?”
“Hyumdai. It sounds like the car, but it’s spelled H-y-u-m-d-a-i.”
I walked to the local Starbucks at Jacksonville Beach last week, picked up my plain dark roast black coffee, and sat down with my Bible on a very comfortable chair in the corner where it was quiet. After opening my Bible, I noticed a backpack on the adjacent chair and a phone being charged. Rats. I thought I would have some privacy. After reading half a chapter from Numbers on the Israelites’ travels (chapter 33), Hyumdai sat down. He was also a traveler.
He brought back to his seat an unpleasant odor. He was wearing a maroon sweatsuit covered with brown and black stains and torn in places, and his hair was matted. He looked away from me, down at the floor, as if he hoped that he wouldn’t be noticed.
So, I paused, thought, and prayed.
“Are you from Jacksonville?”
“Well, sort of,” Hyumdai responded. “I was raised mostly by my grandmother and some by an aunt. I lived in Dallas, in New Orleans, Atlanta, and I just came back to Jacksonville.”
“Are these cities where you were raised, or cities you have traveled to recently?”
“Oh, I keep moving around. . . . Greyhound bus.”
I wasn’t sure what to say next. When I encounter people who are homeless, I desire to create some kind of bond which then lends the opportunity to bless them somehow. So I asked, Hyumdai, “Are you hungry? How about a breakfast sandwich?”
“Yeah, that would be great: egg, bacon, and cheddar on a croissant.”
“Do you like coffee? How about a cup of coffee?”
This was clearly not his first time to Starbucks.
Then, I went to the counter, ordered the drink and sandwich, and told the server to use the name “Scott” for the order.
“Hyumdai, here is your coffee. When they call the name, ‘Scott’ that is for your sandwich. I used my name.”
When they called my name, I had to remind him to get the sandwich. He went up to the counter where he could see three sandwiches sitting there with various names affixed to them. Looking aside and then at the sandwiches and then at one of the baristas and then back at the sandwiches, he seemed confused. He looked back at me. The barista saved the day and asked him what name and found the breakfast sandwich and handed it to him. I understood then that he couldn’t read. He could spell his own name, but he couldn’t read my name.
We talked some more as he ate, and I knew there was a good chance I would never see him again. So, I pondered what I wanted to leave with Hyumdai. I thought, “What would Jesus do in a situation like this?” He would feed the hungry, but he also often encouraged a moral or spiritual decision of those he encountered.
“Hyumdai, do you ever pray, I mean talk to Jesus when you are lonely, or scared, or anything?”
“Pray? Yeah. Some. My grandmother would go to church. I talk to God sometimes.”
Here, I myself confronted a decision: What would I really like to give to Hyumdai? Money? Hope? Perhaps both. So I made him a proposition: “I’ll tell you what, Hyumdai, I have a $20 bill here and I assume you could use that for some food today. I will give it to you in a second. (This was my halting effort to stall for time.) But first, I am wondering if you can repeat something after me. It is a simple prayer that you can pray every day. It goes like this: ‘Jesus, please be my guide this day.’ Can you repeat that?”
“Jesus, please be my guide this day.”
“Say it again . . . two times.”
“Jesus, please be my guide this day. Jesus, please be my guide this day.”
“Hyumdai, that is a great prayer. And I do pray that Jesus will be your guide today, and tomorrow . . . .”
I handed him the twenty-dollar bill and asked, “What are you going to do today?”
“I don’t know. I think I will walk around the beach a little and just enjoy the day.”
Such encounters are often fraught with complexities and uncertain responses, and I am not convinced that the way this odd encounter played out would have been the way Jesus might have handled it. But, by God’s grace, Hyumdai went on his way that day with that prayer in his heart and money for his next meal. I pray Jesus will be his guide—and mine—every day.
I share this encounter because it caused me to reflect on my own Christian reflexes and those of our students and graduates in situations like these. We pray for Christ to use and send us, but how open are we to unexpectedly feeding and ministering to the people who cross paths with us in our day-to-day? I pray that as Jesus guides us, our Christian reflex would be to engage and serve others—especially when our encounters are unexpected.
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.