We will just refer to him as Michael, an African American young man whom I would occasionally see in the park “dealing”. He was nicknamed “Money Mike”, and it seemed that his only role in the community was to do as little harm as possible to the “haves” of society. The police would drive by, keep their eyes out for him, and protect the community from him. He didn’t appear to be violent, or an immediate threat, but he was labeled.
One thing that I noticed was that he never smiled. I greeted him each time I saw him and if he was sitting in front of our building, I would offer to buy him a coke. He never refused the coke and was grateful, but he never smiled and had short answers to my, “How’s it going?”
I probably bought him 10 cokes over the years, but one day I asked him if he would help me load a truckload of junk and help me take it to the dump. I offered him $20 an hour as I was used to doing with some of the kids in the neighborhood who were outcasts. Offering them some odd jobs was a great way to get “intel” and find out what really was going on in their lives. With these outcast kids in our neighborhood, I used to be shocked that inside of the pierced body parts, the multi colored hair…many of these young kids suffered from depression, had horrible parents, and they loved to hang together.
Money Mike and I spent the morning conversing. My cokes had earned me the right to go deeper with him and ask him his story. Michael never knew his father, his biological mother was dying of stage 4 cancer, and his sister contracted the HIV virus at childbirth. Previously he had told me that his sister had AIDS and his life’s desire was to find a cure. Unbeknownst to him, I knew that he also had the HIV virus. No wonder he never smiled. Life had been brutal to him. He had never been to the mountains, never been to a ball game, and never had a champion…….his place in society was to be kept in check, and to do the community no harm. He lived out a life that was exactly opposite of mine and neither one of us had anything to do with choosing our family or circumstances.
I asked him if he knew Jesus and he replied that he did but didn’t go to church. By our second trip to the dump he was laughing. I over paid him, and it was worth it. My coke gave me the opportunity to listen; my little job gave me the opportunity to listen to his sacred story and to move “Money Mike” to simple compassion, to his real story. I am not sure what my next encounter with Mike will look like, but he is an image bearer of God, in need of dignity, life and liberty and a community.
Justice is a strong word, not easily understood by the church, students or pastors. One thing I do know as we painstakingly advance this ministry is that very few want justice like the violently oppressed do. I believe the doorway to justice is simple compassion. My young friend, Money Mike who appears to be an oppressor to the community, actually has a dignified name, Michael and some hidden laughter and joy which was unlocked by simple compassion. The irony of the story is that Bob needs Michael more than Michael needs Bob. Bob is unaware of what Michael will unlock in him, maybe to be more like the real Jesus.