Working at The Philadelphia Project this summer has been a mix of different emotions and lessons all wrapped into one. I have been a Mercy Ministry intern these past 12 weeks, partnering with various organizations that seek to serve those in need in our community and city.
One story that I think will forever be engrained in my mind is the story of a young man named Nick. I met Nick my first week at the Comcast Center in Center City. My group and I had made lunches for the homeless, and we ventured out to the Comcast Center and Logan Square Park to offer these lunches to people, talk with them, and ask to pray with them.
I saw Nick come up to me out of the corner of my eye, though he stayed at a distance, looking a little awkward and uncomfortable approaching me to ask for a lunch. When I offered one to him, he accepted it graciously.
“How’s your day going?” I had asked him.
“Pretty good…I’ve been doing a whole lot better ever since I came back to Philadelphia,” he explained.
Nick proceeded to explain that he had gotten into some trouble, and was really trying to turn his life back around. Ever since he came back to the city, he saw progress within himself, getting the help he needed.
While listening to him, I felt the need to ask him one question: “Hey Nick, do you go to church?”
“I used to,” he said. “But I’m so tired of the church acting like hypocrites. I’m so tired of people saying one thing on Sundays and being a different way the rest of the week. I can’t deal with people being fake.”
My heart broke, not just for his experience, but the fact that this is quite a common one. My heart broke that we as a Church had failed Nick, and countless others like him. I shared this with him, trying to show him I empathized with him, that I truly understood.
Remembering the barbecue fliers I had in my back pocket, I got excited. I offered him one, briefly sharing information about The Philadelphia Project and what we do, as well as “hey, there’s a free barbecue this Wednesday at our church and you should totally come.”
He definitely perked up when he heard “free barbecue”, but quickly gave the flier back to me. “I have no way of getting there, and no money to buy a ticket. I’d love to come though, if I could.”
Nick’s attention was divided as he saw a woman in need of directions. While he was offering this woman directions, I heard this voice prompting me to give him my extra bus tokens. I had double the amount I needed, and could easily offer Nick some. However, I didn’t buy the tokens, so I was apprehensive in offering a total stranger bus tokens I didn’t buy. I debated with this prompting for a few seconds: should I give him these tokens? What if he doesn’t come, and I’ll have to pay back for the missing tokens?
While I had a few doubts, there was a stronger nudge to give him my tokens, regardless of all the unknowns. I quickly ran after Nick and said, “What if I told you I had extra bus tokens so that you could come to the barbecue tomorrow? Would you come then?”
“Absolutely,” he said.
I dropped the remaining tokens in his hand, praying that he actually meant what he said. I desperately wanted him to come, and desperately wanted his perception of the church to be changed again.
The day of the barbecue, Nick did in fact come, just like he promised. During the worship service, Pastor Ray offered up a time of giving. I never expected Nick or someone in his situation to give towards the church and the project. But as the plate passed his way, Nick pulled out 3 quarters from his backpack and dropped them into the offering plate.
Seeing Nick literally give all that he had was so impactful for me. How many times have I let that offering plate pass me by when I’ve been invested in the church for years and have the means to do so? Yet, here was a young man, not much older than me, who didn’t hesitate to give towards something greater than himself. Nick, and countless others I have met while serving here at the Project, have truly humbled me. It’s been an amazing opportunity to serve others, but also have them serve me, pointing me back to Christ a little bit more each day.