Monday, November 2, 2009

My Friend Bartholomew

I would like to tell you a story about a man.

I first saw him in Michigan the summer of 1993. I was taking out the trash and had just put a bag into the dumpster when an older man popped up and startled me. He was in the dumpster looking for cans. In Michigan, there is a deposit on every bottle and can. For someone who is on a tight budget or who is homeless, there is money that can be found. I would like to say that I said hi and started a conversation with him - but I didn't. His appearance was disheveled, his white hair and beard were long and he had nicotine stains around his mouth. The smell of cigarette smoke on him was heavy and permeated the air around him. I dropped my trash in the dumpster and backed up and then quickly headed back to my apartment. From my window, I watched as he slowly climbed out of the dumpster. He was quite old and walked slightly stooped over. He picked up his bag of cans and bottles, brushed at his clothes and then disappeared slowly around the corner.

As the summer wore on, I would see him come through the apartments on Tuesdays and Fridays. He was always moving very slowly and made an effort to stay away from people who lived there. One day, as I was dragging a large bag of trash out, he called out "Hey - let me help you with that." I started to say no that I could handle it - but paused. A gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit was an encouragement, and so I smiled and handed my bag to him. He handed me his much lighter bag and we headed to the dumpster.

He walked beside me. The smell of smoke was almost overpowering on him, but I knew that it was important not to flinch. He threw the bag in and then turned towards me. He grinned as I said thank you. He waited until I was away from the dumpster to start his slow climb in.

As I walked away, I reflected on what I saw. His eyes were the most beautiful color of blue - the blue of a clear day. When he smiled - the smile reached his eyes. I also noticed that his hands were gnarled and swollen with arthritis. His clothes, though well worn were surprisingly clean, save for a few spots that bellied his occupation of dumpster diver. I saw someone that God loves.

The next Tuesday, the kids and I scurried around. We decided to make breakfast for this man. To make it easier to carry, we made breakfast burritos and wrapped each one in foil. We cut up an orange and then poured him a large glass of orange juice. As he came around the corner of the apartments, I called out "Excuse me sir!" He turned and looked and was a bit cautious. The kids and I held out the breakfast we had put into a bag and I said, "We made you some breakfast, I hope you like it." He grinned, took the bag and the asked if it was okay to eat it right now. He sat down, put a napkin on his lap and ate.

Between bites, we talked. He stuck out his hand and said, "My name is Bart. That's what all my friends call me." We each said hi and introduced ourselves. He opened the orange juice and exclaimed with excitement, "Oh - it is so good. I have not had orange juice in ages."

He finished his food, wiped his mouth and hands and then thanked us. As he was getting up to leave, he turned to me and said, "You know, my full name is Bartholomew. That's the name my Momma gave me. No one has called me that since I was a boy. Would you please call me that - it would much honor me." I gave his hand a gentle squeeze and said of course.

Time went on and through the rest of the summer and into fall, we made sure Bartholomew was taken care of. We saved cans for him and gave him food and treats. As the days got shorter and the temperature started dropping, we scraped some money together and bought him socks, a stocking cap and some warm gloves. In the deep of the winter, we checked with friends he had told us about and they assured us he was with family for the winter.

The next year flew by and in January of 1995, we decided to move back to Texas. The day we were packing our truck was a snowy, overcast day. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had never said good-bye to Bartholomew. In fact, I realized that even though I had prayed with him a couple of times, I never really told him about the love of Jesus. I cried out to God and said, "Lord, I know it is winter and there is snow on the ground. I know that Bartholomew does not do his rounds in the winter, but if you will give me one more chance I will be faithful to tell him how much you love him." As soon as I finished the prayer and opened my eyes, I saw him coming around the corner. I jumped out of the truck and ran to him. His eyes brightened and he grinned.

I gave him a quick hug and the said, "We are leaving today and I was so afraid I would never get to see you again. You see, all this time I have never told you about Jesus and how much He loves you. Can I share that with you?" He gave me a hug and asked please. I told Him about our condition as humans, our sinful nature that separates us from God. I told him about God's plan for His life and mine, that even if he had been the only person - Jesus would have died for him any way. I told him that God had created a way for him to have an assurance of heaven and being with Jesus once he died and to live with peace while he lived.

He wiped his teary eyes and then said, "I am 85 years old. I have lived many years and will not live many more. I have been worried about what will happen to me once I die. Tell me what I need to do next." He knelt in the snow, bowed his head and prayed to receive Christ as his Savior and Lord.

We stood up and he again hugged me. He said, "I almost did not come out today, but something urged me to. I knew that something was going to happen. Through all of these months, you have loved me through what you did. You and your children have been for me the family I never had, the daughter I would have liked to have. It was for this that I have lived and am so glad to call you friend."

We hugged again and he turned and walked back the way he had come.

I never saw Bartholomew again. It has now been fourteen years. I am sure that he has gone on to be with the Lord. I look forward to one day getting to see my friend again. I still remember the color of his eyes and the light in them when he smiled.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for reminding me of that story. I liked him alot.