Love your enemies? Yes! I more fully understood "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding" in this potentially dangerous situation.
Every chilly January in downtown Detroit, the North American International Auto Show lights up Cobo Hall. My friend Dennis, an employee of a Detroit-based Christian radio station, and I decided to attend one evening and see what new cars the industry had this year. When we had our fill of glitz and engines, we decided to walk into the neighborhood to get a late night bite. We knew of Lafayette Coney Island on Lafayette Boulevard, and made our way there in the cold, bundling up with hat and gloves. The route we took was poorly lit, was lined with a few unlit buildings, and had very few other walkers. We felt nervous for our safety, but kept going.
A block and a half from the restaurant, out of a shadow we heard a man's voice say "Hey! Yo!." We slowed down to assess the situation and cheerily responded, "Good evening to you too, sir. Staying warm on this cold night?" He stepped out of the shadow. He was under-dressed for the temperature, but did not seem cold. He seemed used to it. With a certain degree of over confidence, not sadness, he told us how he was trying to make ends meet for his aging mother and really wanted to raise money the legitimate way, but times were tough. Praying silently very quickly for peace of mind, and to show this man compassion rather than fear, I looked at Dennis, and he gave me a look that seemed like an affirmative.
It's like we had practiced this, but had never practiced this.
This verse buoyed my spirit, and I put faith in it: "14But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." (Luke 21: 14-15)
I said, "I admire you for staying to your principles. We're going to get something to eat, and we're cold. Would you like to join us for some food? You can tell us more about it in Lafayette Coney Island."
He said, "Look man, I just need some money. I want some money from you."
I said, "I don't make it a habit to help in that way, but you really can join us for some food. You look cold, and seem to want to talk."
He said, "Nah, nah. Just give me some money, OK?"
I said, "Come on, let's all get indoors."
"I can't. They won't let me in the door at Lafayette."
Dennis said, "Why? I would think they'd take your business."
"Nah, it's not that. I made trouble in there a couple of times and they recognize me."
Dennis and I stared for maybe 3 seconds. But we continued, "Alright, then we'll order you whatever you want. Name it." The man looked surprised. He glanced up as if remembering the picture menu above the ordering desk. "Uh, how about three coneys with everything, including onions, and a coffee with two creams."
"OK, anything else? Something for your mother?"
"No, she... uh, she ate already."
"OK, we'll get in line and deliver your stuff before we eat, so you'll get it hot. Will you be right here?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'll be here. Thanks."
Five minutes later, the food was ready. Dennis stayed in the restaurant to watch our food and hold a table, and I told Dennis I would deliver the food and be back as fast as I can.
Out on the street, I found the young man standing in the same shadow. I cheerfully said, "Hey, man, your grub's here and smells good. Eat it while it's hot. Come over into the streetlight so you can see it without getting mustard on you. I'll hold your coffee."
The man ate the first coney in about 90 seconds without comment. Then he said, "It's been a while since I been to church. I used to, but then dropped that crap." He continued, "You guys are different."
"Yea, we put our faith in Jesus and it changed us. He'll do it for anyone. You just gotta really ask and really mean it."
"I'm not going to mug you. Sometimes I mug people after I ask them for money, and they take out their wallet. Not tonight. I'm going home right after this. Not tonight. I don't always mug people, just when I really need the money. You know
I'm not really a bad dude. You just sometimes gotta do what you gotta do."
I encouraged him that everyone has some skill that is useful enough that some employer is willing to pay them for it, and brainstormed with him for a few minutes. He didn't commit to follow up on any of those ideas. But he did say that he planned to go to church this Sunday. To check it out again.
I parted. I went back into Lafayette Coney Island, where the taste of the coneys was a bit better than normal, and Dennis and I praised God for how that turned out.
Royal Oak, Michigan