During my time in New Orleans, in the summer of 2016, God allowed me to witness firsthand the depravity of our world. I have always known in the back of my mind that this world is truly messed up, but I never expected to see its depths in my own country. This experience broke my heart in a way that I will never forget.
Along Came a Spider
Spending an entire month doing ministry in the streets of New Orleans allowed me the opportunity to really get to know many of the homeless and destitute living there. I heard so many stories of pain and struggle, but none could hold a candle to Spider. The years of living on the street had taken its toll on the man. His skin was like leather and he was covered in both filth and tattoos. In his early 40’s, Spider had been homeless for almost 10 years. As I got to know Spider over the weeks, I learned that he was a veteran having served in Somalia. He was plagued by not only his time in the military, but also the many years of poor choices and evils that go on in the NOLA underground. It was obvious that he believed in a form of witchcraft as he and I discussed God, Jesus, and faith.
As I would take the various mission groups I was leading out, I would find myself drawn to seek Spider out. In my third or fourth meeting with him, I discovered that he had suffered from bowel cancer and had his lower intestine completely removed. As a result, he had a colostomy bag. I have seen and smelled some pretty rancid things in my time, but experiencing a ruptured bag made the top five list. When I walked up to him he had been sitting in a puddle of his own excrement for several days. His pants were soaked and the smell was like a kick to the face. It was obvious that the lack of care for this condition was taking its toll on Spider. On top of that, I am certain Spider’s alcoholism and drug addictions were not making things any better.
We Are Really Busy Today
Seeing Spider in this condition made me feel like I had to do something to help. I wasn’t sure if the condition was life threatening or not, but it was obvious that if something wasn’t done it could go south for Spider very quickly. I did the only thing I knew to do, call an ambulance. Two hours and three calls later, to my dismay, Spider was still in need of urgent medical care with no ambulance in site. My last call to 911 left me broken and angry.
On the third call, I asked why the ambulance was taking so long. Their response, “We are really busy today.” That’s operator speak for, “We don’t have time to help a homeless man.” I know this because every homeless person I questioned about this confirmed it. Apparently getting an ambulance for the homeless is like drawing blood from a turnip. I want to go on a rant here about how terrible this is, but I will refrain. It was now my mission to ensure that Spider was taken care of.
Who Is My Neighbor
I couldn’t help but think of the story of the Good Samaritan at this point. I rallied the people that had stayed behind with me and we put together a plan to help Spider out. A couple went to go purchase clean clothes for him while I made calls to figure out what I needed to do to get him some help. Every where I looked seemed to turn me away. The nearest hospital was on the other side of the city and there was no way of getting him there. On top of that, Spider’s brother said that the hospital wouldn’t do much for him anyway. The trolley’s wouldn’t let him get on because of the fact that he was covered in excrement. He couldn’t walk more than ten steps without huddling over in pain from his now infected colostomy. Every thing I tried was met with rejection because of the fact that this man was homeless. At this point I found myself in a rage that all my efforts to help this man were coming up empty.
A Shred of Hope
I was able to find a Walgreens that kept bags in stock, but it was over an hour away. I had to make a choice to leave Spider in God’s hands while I made it back to where we were staying, get my car, and make the drive to this Walgreens. At this point, I was hopeless and expecting to be turned away again. To my surprise, the RN on call was a believer and willing to help me out with what Spider needed. The hope and joy I felt could not be described. Spider was going to witness firsthand the power of my God over all other gods. I got Spider his supplies, explained the miracle he was witnessing, told him Jesus was the only way, truth, and light, and prayed that God would draw Spider into a redeemed relationship. I saw hope for Spider and believed that this experience was going to be a turning point for him. I walked away praying that Spider would come to know Jesus before I left New Orleans.
Accepting My Role
Almost two weeks went by before I saw Spider again. Not for a lack of searching for him, but I just couldn’t find him. On the last day of ministry in New Orleans, as we were heading back to the vehicles, I found Spider laying on the sidewalk. In a vegetative state, it took me several minutes just to get him to acknowledge my presence. His speech was incoherent and couldn’t even hold himself up enough to sit up. His current colostomy bag had ruptured again, so I did the only thing that made sense. I helped him change his bag and attempted to clean him up a bit. As I was cleaning excrement of him with baby wipes, I found myself frustrated and angry. I felt hopeless and helpless. I felt like I was trying to explain blue to a blind person. If anyone needed the freedom and redemption that comes with the free gift of salvation, it was Spider. However, there was nothing I could do. I had done my part only to witness the foolishness of a depraved mind. As I walked away broken feeling like I had failed Spider, I couldn’t help but cry on the inside. I wanted to save Spider from himself, but there was nothing I could do.
Spider was dying in his sins and his time on this Earth was short. He made his choice. I am certain that I was witness to Spider’s last days. I can only imagine that Spider will die alone in a gutter having no one to really mourn his passing. This seems bleak, but I am certain of it. I know that God can do anything. It is possible for God to work a miracle in Spider’s life. I believe that! I want to believe it to be true in this scenario, but my gut feeling and discernment says otherwise.
In Due Time
What is there to be learned from this experience? The verse that comes to mind is Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” This world has a way of discouraging us in our attempts to be the light in the darkness. More often than not, our efforts to be the light will come up empty. We have to remember that our part in God’s kingdom is to simply be the catalyst for change. To let our light shine before men. We can not force the change no matter how hard we try. We are simply candles burning in the night. Waiting for those whom God is calling to draw near to the light. When times of discouragement come as you live a missional life in your day to day, remember that you are not responsible for changing the world. You are only responsible for living out the change that has happened in you. Do this and God’s promise is that in due time, you will reap a harvest. That’s the Truth!