Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keith, the Traveler

Keith the Traveler
The first entry in the My Christmas List contest comes from Kevin Butler, a pastor in Lebanon, Tennessee. But know this: he didn't intend to enter a contest. He didn't set out to help someone. He just followed his heart and something beautiful happened. 

His story . . .

A homeless man was walking down Highway 109 North. He was struggling under the weight of carrying two backpacks and a large rolled up tarp. It was cold that day and difficult to walk with no shoulder to separate him from the seventy miles-per-hour cars zooming past. You could almost see the force of the passing cars attempting to spin his backpack from off his shoulders. It was eleven in the morning and he already looked as if he would pass out at any moment. It was not for show because he didn’t know I was watching and studying him. 

Before I became a Christian, I would have probably rolled down my window and shouted, “Get a job, you bum!” 

But now that I have the God of the universe beating inside my heart, a different emotion filled my mind. I can’t label it compassion nor would I call it pity. The feeling was more like a duty. Something that I should do just because it would be the right thing to do. It’s one of those moments when you know that turning away would be a sin to you. 

He looked shocked and carried an eye of suspicion as I opened my Jeep's passenger door. I told him I was heading toward the interstate if he wanted a ride. I was expecting him to jump right in, but he studied me for a moment, nodded his head, and dropped the backpacks from off his shoulders. Before climbing into the cab, he offered his hand. “My name's, Keith.”

“Glad to meet you, Keith. I’m Kevin.”

We both smiled as he tossed his bags in the back and southbound we went. 

Along the six-mile route little was spoken except small talk about the weather and his previous locations. It didn't take long for the cab to fill with the smell of a dirty dumpster, but Keith never apologized. He would never label himself as a homeless man. Keith preferred the caption of a Traveler. He was proud of his latest find--a pair of shoes that he pulled out of a Gallatin dumpster last night before bedding down in the wet grass just behind the post office. To my surprise the shoes looked as though they had just come off a shoe store shelf. 

With no family alive anymore, save an older brother in California, Keith admitted to always having a wandering spirit ever since childhood. Always curious about what’s around the corner, Keith was well schooled in how to survive in his non-paying traveling profession. 

My stomach growled, and I asked Keith if he wanted to grab a bite to eat before we reached the interstate. My treat. I could sense a hesitation in his body language. There’s no telling how long it’s been since he’s had a full and warm meal. I asked why the caution about eating with me, but he quickly changed the subject to his hometown in Oklahoma. Odd. 

As the bustle of the I-40 exit came into view, the smell of the surrounding restaurants started to quickly leak through the canvas top of my Jeep. His hunger was visible, yet he refused a free meal. So I asked why.

Keith told me about the last man who offered to give him a ride and a warm meal. The driver picked Keith up, pulled into a gas station, and told Keith to go inside and get whatever food he wanted while the driver pumped some gas in his truck. You could see the pain in Keith’s eyes as he then told of looking out the store window and watching the driver pull off with Keith’s entire life belongings. Keith was a veteran traveler, and he was cautious of me. 

I assured him that we would sit and eat together. "Besides," I told him, "your clothes won't fit me." He didn't find that funny. 

As we pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, Keith admitted that he wasn't dressed to eat inside. So, I looked in the back of my Jeep and found a blue Titans tee-shirt and tossed it toward him. I could see his thankfulness through his smile. 

Before we entered through the storefront doors, Keith stopped and took his hat off. Once inside he wanted me to order first, then he ordered the exact same. I didn't realize it at the time, but Keith probably had trouble reading the menu. 

When our meals came, I asked Keith if I could pray for our food and for his travels. He smiled, revealing his tarred and offset teeth. After my prayer, Keith dropped his guard and started a conversation about prayer and faith. 

“I guess because you prayed, you are a Christian?”

“Yep. I sure am.”

“So, is that why you picked me up?” 

I had to think about this one. 

“Yes and no. I picked you up because I would want to be picked up, so no. But Yes, because if it were not for Jesus changing my life I would have probably tried to see if I could run you into the ditch.” Again, Keith didn’t laugh. 

He had never had a gyro with lamb meat, and he ate like he would never have another. 

“You’re not like most Christians I’ve met.”

“How’s that, Keith?”

“Usually they will only help me out in order to witness to me or hand me a tract or try to convert me to their religion or denomination. Once they see I’m not interested, they’re done with helping a traveler like me out.”

“That’s sad.”

“Why are you different? Do you have any tracts?”


“Are you scared to share the Gospel with me?”

“I don’t think so,” I said with a smile, since I hadn't yet told Keith I was a pastor. 

“Well, aren't you going to share the Gospel with me?”

“Do I need to?” 
This question puzzled Keith. For the first time since we met, Keith laughed, allowing a small piece of meat to fall onto his untrimmed beard. His answer was priceless.

“No. I’m a Christian myself. Been saved for almost 30 years, and I do love my Lord. Was baptized in the river. One of the greatest days of my life. Of all these years of traveling nobody’s ever asked me about my faith. They just assume that I’m a sinful, lost, homeless bum.”

“Keith, I would call you more of a traveler.” We both smiled at each other as we continued sipping our Sprites. 

After the meal, I helped Keith with his bags. Still, he was very guarded over his belongings. He started to take off the shirt I loaned him earlier, but I told him he could keep it. As we shared a big man hug with each other, I told Keith how far Nashville was from where we were and told him I had one more thing for him. 

I reached into my wallet and handed Keith one of my business cards. I told him to call me if he ever needed prayer or help. He held the card just inches from his nose and studied it for a good while. You could see his mouth trying to sound out the word pastor

He looked up at me with tears in his eyes and asked, “You’re a pastor?”

“Yes. I am.”

“No,” Keith insisted, “today, you were an angel sent from God.”

I smiled in reply. “No, Keith. Today, you were the angel.”

Keith’s final words to me were, “Brother, I'll see you on the other side of this world. When you sit and think about it, Kevin, I suppose we are all travelers on this small thing called Earth.” 

With that, Keith gave me the most curious wink as if he was radiating the glow of God Himself. 

As I drove back to my office, the aroma of trash still lingered in the cab, but that didn't keep me from praising God. And to think, I almost missed a great blessing by not stopping to help a fellow traveler out. 

I wonder how many Messengers we have passed by. How many Brothers or Sisters we have missed out on having wholesome conversations? How many travelers we have tried to push our religion on without first showing them the love of Christ and getting to know them?

If you get to heaven before me and see an angel in a blue Titans shirt, please tell Keith I said hi.

What have you done to help your  fellow travelers? Join Kevin in entering the My Christmas List contest by submitting your stories to info@amyparkerbooks.com