You can read Pt. 1 in this series here.
There’s really no way around it — ministry to the poor is heart-wrenching.
My friend Mike Spencer was making strides. He had repented of his sins and decided to follow Jesus with his whole life.
But Mike was still homeless and had no clear path to stability.
Regardless of this fact, Charles and I met with him often.
One night, he joined us at William’s BBQ, Knoxville’s finest mobile BBQ establishment.
William himself parked his white cargo van near the edge of Knoxville’s Old City. He set up a couple of grills and a smoker and sold sandwiches to college aged partiers.
Charles, Mike, and myself approached William. He sternly greeted us. He wore a blue apron over a black t-shirt, latex gloves, and a hairnet over his bald head. In his hands were a pair of metal tongs and a bag of hamburger buns.
William furrowed his brow. “You boys want some BBQ?” he asked. This was serious business.
We ordered our sandwiches and sat on the curb to eat.
I said, “Mike, Rachel and I are getting married.”
He contemplated my words and nodded his head. “That’s good news,” he said. “I’m proud of ya’ll. God gonna bless ya’ll.” Then he smiled. “Yeah, that’s a real good thing.”
“Will you come to the wedding?” I asked, handing him an invitation.
Mike agreed to attend the wedding and stuck the invitation in his pocket. When his hand came out of his pocket, he was holding a zip-lock bag. The bag was a collection of treasures from his life on the streets. He sifted through the items and pulled out a golden heart-shaped locket.
He handed me the locket and said, “Here. You give this to Rachel. You need to have something nice to give her. She deserves it.”
“Thanks Mike,” I said.
“And don’t you tell her it came from me.”
I did tell her, though. She was deeply moved by his generosity. That locket is a treasure we keep hidden under our bed in an old cigar box.
That summer, I stood at the front of a church and spoke vows to my bride.
When we kissed, everyone clapped. But I also heard a hoot and holler from the pews.
Mike had made it to the wedding.
As we made our exit march, we stopped to squeeze his hand. He patted me on the shoulder and displayed his toothless smile. This was his blessing over us.
A month after the wedding I got a phone call. It was the Knoxville Police Department. They were calling to let me know Mike had been found dead in his tent under the overpass. It was a heart attack, no foul play. He had just turned 50 years old.
I asked the officer, “Why are you calling me?”
“Your name was on a wedding invitation in Mr. Spencer’s pocket,” he answered.
Ministry to the poor involves relationships with people who live lives of self-abuse. People who fight to survive the cold of winter and the violence of the street. People like Mike Spencer, whose heart broke when his son rejected him.
Mike wasn’t a project or social experiment. He was my friend. And I miss him.
“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8, ESV)