I met a prophet in a riverbed once. It might have happened anyway, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I met him the day after a couple friends and I had an all-night prayer meeting. We sent out flyers and made plans for a great time of worship, Bible study and prayer. But the only ones who came were the three of us. Although the turnout was disappointing, we had a good time talking and praying about many things.
The following day, one of these friends invited me to go along with him on a “help the homeless” outing. A group of students from his college—mostly non-Christians mind you—were going to some local parks to hand out food and blankets to homeless people living there. My friend and I saw this as a dual opportunity: help those in need and be a witness to our fellow helpers.
The morning went along pretty smoothly. As we handed out our goods, we struck up conversations with some of those we tried to help. It was difficult and uncomfortable at times. But most of them were just looking for someone to listen to their story.
We made our way to the dry riverbed that ran through town, an area where many homeless people had set up residence. As we grabbed the sack lunches and blankets from the car, my friend started up a conversation with someone in the group. He told this person that we were both Christians and were doing this because we believed that this was something Jesus would want us to do. The response was a polite one, but with very little interest in why we were there.
We hiked along, passing out food and blankets to those we met along the way. A few of us started lagging behind, but when we caught up to the group, we saw them talking to a tall, gray-haired man. They were explaining some of the organizations that were ready to help him get back on his feet again.
As I approached the conversation, the man stopped talking and stared long and hard at me. It was one of those piercing stares, one that you don’t want to meet with your own eyes, but you can’t look away either. My heart began racing, and a cold sweat covered my palms. Finally the silent tension was broken as he extended his hand toward me and asked my name. I told him as my quivering hand shook his. He continued to stare, almost as if he was looking through me. Another couple of anxious seconds passed before he spoke again. “You’re a man of God,” he said.
“Y-y-yes,” I answered, still very afraid of who this person was or what he was capable of doing to me. All eyes were now on me, or at least it seemed. The others just stood back watching this encounter unfold.
“Keep following Jesus,” he continued. “Don’t get confused. His ways, not yours.”
I don’t remember what I said in response, if anything at all. I was overwhelmed by the situation. I do remember going about the rest of our day, handing out food and blankets to those in need. Several of the others in the group voiced their surprise about what had happened. I think they were as shell-shocked as I was.
Our day continued on, most of which was a haze for me. It took quite awhile to fully process what had occurred. But later on, my friend and I met up with some others. All I could talk about was this incredible experience. Although I never fully figured out the significance of this encounter—it didn’t seem to relate to any particular decision I had to make or any struggles I was facing—I know God had spoken to me. Something so simple, yet so true.
Days, weeks, even years have passed. This event, like most in life, has slipped back into the recesses of my memory. I have thought about it less and less as new and more pressing things flow in and out of my mind. And even now, but for the suggestion that I write about it, this memory might have slipped away. But in reflecting back on this experience of six or seven years ago, I realize the importance of this event. Not necessarily the event itself, but what was said to me. God had a message for me, and He used a homeless guy in Riverside, Calif., to tell me. “Keep following Jesus. His ways, not yours.”
[Ryan Blanck is a high school English and Bible teacher at a Christian school in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He and his wife, Tanya, live in Thousand Oaks and are expecting their first child in October.]
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