It was three winters ago that we first met the large African-American man, wearing shorts, carrying blankets and lugging personal belongings on his back. He was sent to the cold weather shelter by taxi from the emergency room. His cycle was consistent–emergency room for medication, a trip to the shelter, disappearing for a few weeks, then reappearing in a similar manner. Each time, we and the emergency room case-workers made sure he was equipped with appropriate community service information, but he never seemed to follow through.
When the shelter closed for the season he continued to pop up on our radar. Our phone rang from time to time with sightings throughout the community—a restaurant owner up the street, an employee at the Moss Clinic, a police officer. They all inquired about the well-being of this stand-out, who often hovered quietly on city street corners. Each time, we’d go in search of him, provide information on Micah, offer sustenance and few basic need items. Months went by, and he just wouldn’t take us up on those personal invites for help.
But the following January he began staying at the cold weather shelter, not once every couple of weeks, but every night. After several nights of reminding him to ride the bus, not come directly to the shelter, he showed up at 1013 Princess Anne St. and completed the required intake form. He ate with us, gave us a glimpse at some of his needs and even took a shower. Concern about his condition, however, rumbled within our building. “How can he wear those shorts in this frigid weather?” a volunteer asked. “And can’t we find him something better than all those trash bags to carry his belongings.”
The next day the volunteer showed up with pants—just his size. He happily took them and promptly cut them off at the knees. Disappointed, our volunteer was not deterred. The volunteer then showed up days later with a different set of pants, the kind that zip up along the sides. Our guest again took them thankfully, and promptly cut them off. While he did not receive clothing and other items as we expected, the effort and care of our volunteers reminded us of the need to meet each guest where they are, not where we are.
It is at this place of hopelessness that we Micah folks often find ourselves. We have many who are stuck in their state of mind, their abuses and their circumstances. It is at that point there is a predicament: Do we force expectations, refuse services and limit resources to those who fail to meet the benchmarks set by the government, public services and social systems? OR Do we rise to a new definition of success, where people triumph because they exceeded beyond their status as it was the day before? Through Christ’s model of hospitality and meeting people where they are, we strive for the later. It is a success—Micah-style—for our blanket-covered friend to frequent our services, daily or even every few months. It is a success—Micah-style—for him to interact with others. And it is an enormous success—Micah-style—for this man to have surrendered over half of his blankets that winter, in exchange for a coat… just his size. It is those Micah-defined successes that, over time, build a person who can even dream of meeting the benchmarks the rest of the world expects of them.