During the summer of 2012 I had the opportunity to travel from my suburban town in Minnesota to Chicago with my youth group from church. We went with the goal to show the love of God to every person we came in contact with. We had a thirst to serve. Not to show that we were better, or perfect, simply to show the unconditional love that we experience every day from God. It was my first mission trip and I was nervous. I had just finished my eighth grade year; my life was changing rapidly. High School loomed ahead of me. I was trying to figure out who I was. This trip though, and my interactions with a man who never told me his name, changed me forever.
One night we were split up into groups and sent out into the streets of Chicago. My group had two hours to wander Wicker Park. Our objective was seemingly simple: talk to people. Our goal was not to convert or to condemn, but to show love. As the clock ticked deafeningly in my head, I feared that our mission would be a failure. Tired and distracted we made a wrong turn as we began to head back to the bus stop. It was then that I saw a man in day old clothes trying to initiate conversation with anyone that would listen. My breath caught in my throat, and I knew that we were supposed to speak with him.
He was an older African American man, trying desperately to get one of the hundreds that passed him to acknowledge him. I watched carefully for a few moments as suit clad men and women ignored his pleas. My heart broke to see the indifference that person after person showed. I felt compelled to let him know someone was willing to listen.
As we approached him his face lit up. He was filled with so much joy simply because we acknowledged him. After a few minutes of conversation, we learned that he had been on that corner all day. We were the first people who took the time to stop and talk with him. Times were tough, he said, and he was trying to get by selling magazines. When we asked if we could buy him dinner, his eyes became wet with gratitude. After returning with food from a fast food restaurant across the street, he embraced us. He was so moved by the simple act of being offered a free dinner and a few minutes of conversation. After praying with him, we found our way to the proper street and proceeded to the bus stop, a new bounce in our steps.
The man never told us his name. I have not seen or heard from him since that night. I probably could not recognize him if he walked by me today. But I remember his laugh. His humble gratitude. I remember clear as day the absolute joy it was to show that man that someone cared. Traveling to Chicago exposed me to people that were different from me. I met so many different people, yet they all had one thing in common- they all wanted love. To be loved, to show love, to see love in action. Travel is not about being able to brag about where you have been or what you have done. Travel is about embracing people of all backgrounds, cultures, colors, and languages. Travel is about being a student of the world, with the goal to make it a little brighter.
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