Originally posted Dec. 22, 2010, in The Norwalk Reflector. Republished with permission of the newspaper and the author.
It was late in the afternoon, and the rain was coming down pretty hard. I had returned to the church office to check on a few things before leaving for the day. But as soon as I drove up to the church door, I knew I would not be going home right away.
That’s because Lawrence was back in town, waiting by the front door, out of the rain, and hoping that someone from the church would show up and give him the help he needed.
Having spent time out in the rain, his outer clothing was quite wet. He cited the need to get a warm room where he could dry off and get a good night’s sleep before continuing on his way.
He didn’t complain about being hungry, but I knew that he needed something to eat. So I took him to Schild’s IGA and gave him a few dollars to buy food. Then I took him to a local motel and arranged a room for him for the night.
Lawrence is a person who fits the dictionary definition of a hobo, someone who is homeless and migratory, and able and willing to work if given the opportunity. Lawrence claims that his primary work is servicing and repairing roll-up awnings.
He comes through Norwalk one or more times a year, and the Norwalk Ministerial Association provides a room for the night through its transient ministry. If there are other small things that he needs, we’ll provide those as well.
I remember one year he needed a pair of overshoes, which we were able to find at the local Goodwill store. All of this helps him get to his next destination. And he seems to have had many, many of them.
In 2001, I traveled to Minnesota to visit my mother. I flew from Cleveland to Minneapolis, where I rented a car to make the three-and-a-half hour drive across the state to reach the small town where my mother lived.
About halfway across the state, I drove into one of the many small towns on U.S. Highway 212. As I slowed down to the required in-town speed, I looked ahead and saw someone by the side of the road. I knew right away it was a hitchhiker.
The figure looked vaguely familiar. I slowed up even more, and then came to the realization that it was Lawrence! I pulled over and invited him to get in. Imagine his surprise when he realized that he had been picked up by someone he knew from Ohio.
Sometimes I think about and worry about Lawrence. Is he standing out on a road somewhere, waiting for someone to pick him up? What about the rain and cold that someone on the road cannot avoid?
I have encouraged Lawrence to settle down and find a permanent place to live. Certainly there is a subsidized apartment for senior citizens somewhere for someone like Lawrence. On his next birthday he will be 79.
A story said to originate in a Russian Orthodox monastery has an older monk telling a younger one: “I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me.
“But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road, and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?’ ”
Certainly, Lawrence is no longer a stranger. But his regular appearance on our doorstep over these past years has been a reminder to me that whenever we meet someone in need, especially a stranger, it is good to ask the question posed from the older monk to the younger: “Oh, Jesus Christ, is that you again?”
Mark Bogen is associate pastor of St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, Norwalk, Ohio.