Posted Apr 07, 2010 by 2 Comments

It was a cold, rainy day and I was not in a good mood.

Even though I was heading out once again to serve with The Relief Bus, it was hard to keep a smile on my face.  My hands and face were freezing, I was coming down with a nasty cold and my return home in just three more days was becoming a constant distraction.

Sure, I went through the motions, but I would have much rather been curled up in bed as we rode the old un-heated bus into the Bronx.

When we arrived, things didn’t get much better.  Because of the icy rain, most people stayed inside.  Sure, there were a few dedicated regulars who made it out to get some soup, but after an hour of just standing around with the other volunteers, I was beginning to think it would be a pretty worthless day.

A Friend

But things changed when I went to warm up inside the Love Gospel Assembly (where the bus sets up each Tuesday).  To my surprise, I bumped into Irving, the same man I had met a couple of weeks before.

Immediately I approached him to ask him how he was.

“Hey, Irving!  How are you man?”

On a cold, rainy day, our volunteers didn't have much work to do...

He thought for a second with a slight furrow in his brow, then answered, “Um, I’m alright…”

“Yeah?  Well you look great.”

He did.  The Irving I had met two weeks before was just beginning the recovery process from his addiction to drugs.  He had no focus and could barely control his fine motor skills.  Here, however, was a much stronger, healthier man.  His recovery was going well.

But his life was not.

Irving explained that he is still homeless… sleeping on subway cars.  He spends his days moving between meals at various soup kitchens, picking up medications at his substance abuse recovery clinic and feeding stray kittens in a local park.

He’s tried staying in shelters, but has had some bad experiences (other residents using drugs, being violent, etc.).  Apparently, most shelters in New York are not anywhere close to the caliber of The Bowery Mission.  So, he remains on the subway, scared for his life but out of the rain.

We talked for a few minutes, and I suggested that he check out The Bowery.  Initially, he sounded positive about the idea, but then said something that absolutely broke my heart.

“But who is going to take care of the cats in the park?”

Irving. A compassionate man with little to give.

Irving, a man with nothing, was concerned about the lives of others.  He had found significance in caring for creatures that cannot care for themselves.

Who would have thought I’d learn about the beauty of caring for others from a guy who feeds cats in a park?


After chatting for a little bit, Irving and I headed onto the Relief Bus to talk with Steve Pastor, one of NYCR’s staff.

As the other volunteers talked with him and Steve tried to help him find a new shelter, I dug through the back of the bus for a matching pair of shoes.  I looked and looked, but could only find shoes for left feet!  Apart from being a bit baffled at all the lefties, I was also saddened that I wouldn’t be able to help Irving more.

When I went back to the front of the bus, Steve and the volunteers were getting ready to pray for him.  I joined in, put my hand on his shoulder and prayed.  I prayed for strength, for courage and for provision.  I prayed that Irving would sense the presence and love of God.  And I prayed that he would be able to find a way off of the streets.

After the final “amen,” Irving stood up, thanked us with tears in his eyes and began to leave.

Steve on the Relief Bus, talking with another visitor.

I suddenly remembered the article I had written about him and thought he should know that even more people were praying for him right now.  I explained that I had told his story on my website and told him that people are praying for him by name in Indianapolis, in Kenya, in Ukraine, in Panama…

He was stunned.  “Woah,” he said, “I didn’t know about that.  Wow.  Thank you!”

As Irving walked off the bus with a big grin on his face, I could see h0w much it meant to him.  Looking back, I realize that his raw gratitude is something I lack.  I often take the prayers of others for granted.

Amazing. I had just learned the importance of gratitude from a guy who has little reason to be thankful.

One More Lesson

Before heading off for the day, Irving decided to have a cup of soup from the bus.  I was hungry, so I joined him.

Who would have thought that my attitude would be turned upside down by a man living on the streets?

As we ate, I made an offhand comment about the weather.  “Can you believe this rain?  I thought it was supposed to be spring!  Where’s the sun?”

Irving’s response surprised me.

“Oh, don’t be upset about the rain!  It’s just the earth washing itself.  It’s just our planet’s way of taking a shower.  It needs to happen, so be flexible!”

Wow.  I had just learned a lesson about my attitude from a guy sleeping in subway cars.

As I watched Irving walk away, the rain began to let up.  I vaguely remembered being upset about something earlier, but my attitude had completely changed.

“Huh,” I thought.

“That was a good day…”

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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Jim.M said... 


    April 7th, 2010 at 3:21 pm  

    Wonder who was really speaking to you.


  2. eness said... 


    April 12th, 2010 at 3:28 am  

    Very humbling, Barry.

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