I was running late. If I just don’t make eye contact with anyone, I can make it to Subway, quickly get in and out with some food, and make it to class on time. And then it came.
“Hello, can you spare some change?”
Hurriedly, I decided to keep my head down and walk past without acknowledging the plea. I was late, I reasoned to myself, and had a very good excuse to pass him by. Then, after walking about 100 yards from this homeless man on the street, God gripped my heart with compassion. I felt like He literally poured His heart for this man into mine; I could not keep walking.
I turned around and said, “I don’t have any change but I am going to Subway. May I buy you a sandwich?”
He replied, “Well, I have cataracts, and I really need a pair of sunglasses.”
“Okay. You go in the dollar store and choose your sunglasses. I will get the sandwiches, then come back to buy the glasses for you.”
After waiting in a long line at Subway, I got the sandwiches and came back. The man, whose name I later learned is Jeffery, had a surprised look on his face like he had the thought, “She came back!” I asked him if he had chosen a pair of glasses to which he responded, “ Yes, ma’am.” We walked back in the dollar store, and in the first counter, I saw a pair of discarded sunglasses that did not belong. Jeffrey was used to disappointment.
I turned to him, and made eye contact. Smiling, I said, “Hello. My name is Carole. How are you today?”
Let me take you back a few days in my life to put this story in context with God’s amazing, teaching moments. I am a full-time missionary here in Washington DC with David’s Tent. Once a month, for a week, all of David’s Tent staff gather together in the same room and receive teachings on different topics to challenge, encourage, inspire and allow Holy Spirit to fill us. This week, Jason Hershey, asked my husband and me to teach on “How to Study the Bible”. We decided to teach from Philemon. Each one of you should stop and read this book. It is literally just one page of the Bible, a short 25 verses, but it is packed with gems for us today!
We spent two days just diving into the book. The first day we focused on Observation: asking ourselves what does the book say? During this part of the study we ask questions like who, what, where, when and how. We also look for repeated themes and words in Philemon, such as love, beloved, and my heart. Other key words reveal how we are all family in the kingdom of God as Paul uses brother, sister, and my child. Overall the purpose of observation is to catch the overall atmosphere of the book.
On the second day, the class dove into Interpretation: asking ourselves what did the text mean to the original readers? We practiced removing the cultural filters in our minds that influence our interpretation and, instead, putting ourselves in the shoes of a 1st century believer in the house church of Philemon. What would this letter mean to them? Why did Paul write this letter? What was Onesimus thinking returning to his former Master? Would Philemon receive him as Paul is asking him to now that he is a believer? What would the Roman soldiers do if they find out that Philemon might not punish his slave for running away when legally, according to Roman law, the slave should be severely punished if not killed? On this teaching day, my husband focused on helping the David’s Tent staff think about what the people of this day, living in their culture, would be thinking and consequently, would be reacting.
On the third day, the day I met Jeffrey, I would be leading the class into Application: what does this mean to me and how can I apply it to my life? As a class, we were going to pull out universal truths that can be applied to anyone, in any culture, during any time period, and then talk about what that truth means to them and how they can apply it to their lives. I have personally studied and taught this book before, but God had more to teach me. The night before teaching application, God was convicting my heart for Kingdom truths to penetrate my soul and being. Truths like “In Christ, all believers are equal in value” and “as believers we have a choice and must choose to love”.
These were the truths that God had put before me as I walked past Jeffery on my way to teach class. I knew I had to stop. I had to allow the Word of God to bring LIFE CHANGE in me as that is the reason we study the Bible! We want the truths to change who we are and make us more and more like Jesus. That is why I turned around. Our Father moved on my heart for compassion, because God loves Jeffery just as much as He loves me and cared deeply for Jeffrey’s eyes to see some relief from the hot summer DC sun. In that same moment, my Father was demonstrating His love for me by teaching me to care about the things He cares about. My heavenly Dad was beside me, instructing me to apply what He was teaching me in Philemon: that all people, whether homeless or living in a mansion, are of equal value in God’s eyes. God cares for them all. He was showing me that right there I had the choice to love.
I love this testimony because it happened on my way to one of the other David Tent’s community houses, a familiar road I travel. Now, every time I drive to this house, passing that Subway, I remember and pray for Jeffery. I thank God for the opportunity that I had to partner with Him in Jeffery’s life by buying Jeffrey a pair of sunglasses and praying for him that day. I am also grateful for how my life was changed. I grew in understanding the Father’s heart of compassion by studying the Word of God.
Dan & Carole McClelland