A Sidewalk Messenger

August 2, 2021 by

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

It was at least a dozen years ago, but I can remember it like it was yesterday: the oppressive heat and humidity of a summer night in New York; the heavy beat of R&B pulsing from cars parked along the avenue; the thwack of a basketball from a nearby playground; and the darkness on West 140th, where the street lights always seemed to be broken.

I was just nearing Edgecombe when I tripped on a shoe. It belonged to a man on the sidewalk. His head was propped on a balled-up hoodie, and his legs were splayed, with two or three bulky shopping bags – his worldly possessions? – safely wedged between them. I apologized. No response. Maybe he was just a passed-out drunk. Then he grunted something. I crouched to see if he was okay. He assured me everything was good. “Just weary,” he sighed. “I’m so tired of walking. Only thing keeping me goin’ right now is this.” He straightened himself and pointed to a short motto stitched on the camouflage jacket he was wearing. I bent closer. It read “Hebrews 13:5.”

We exchanged names – his was Kent, and I asked him again if he was really all right. He insisted he was. I asked where he lived, and he nodded toward St. Nicholas Park, a block up the street. “My peoples threw me out again last week,” he added. He didn’t offer why, except to say that Satan was after him and proving hard to shake. Drugs, I guessed, or alcohol. Not that it mattered.

I asked about work. “Delta Force,” he said, “Airborne. Been in the army since 1980. You’re in the services, too, right?” I shook my head, but he immediately corrected me. “Sure you are. Ain’t no such thing as a civilian. Everybody fighting for something. If you ain’t, you oughtta be.”

We chatted for another minute or two. No, he didn’t need food, and he had a bottle of water. Everything was good. I wished him a safe night. As I rose to go, he stopped me. “Let’s pray for that right now.” I sat down on the concrete next to him, and he took my hands in his. He prayed loudly and forcefully, calling on Brother Jesus to guide us on the right path, and to be with everyone in the city through the night. Two women coming up the block made a careful arc around us.

Later that night, at home, I looked up Hebrews 13:5 (and 6): “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, because God has said: Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. Then you can say with confidence: The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

That was Kent’s verse. I saw mine above it – Hebrews 13:1: “Do not neglect to show kindness to strangers, for by so doing one may unwittingly entertain angels.”


About the author

Chris and Bea Zimmerman

Chris Zimmerman

Chris and his wife, Bea, live at The Mount, a Bruderhof in Esopus, New York.

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