The Man and the Can
Good morning from Managua, Nicaragua!
I have found that God often teaches me very important lesson at moments when I least expect it. Last Wednesday morning was one such moment.
On Wednesday mornings I meet two friends for a weekly study. We meet at 8 AM, which means working my way through “peak hour” traffic, as they call it in Nicaragua. This means that I typically focus on what it going on in front of me and determining how I can minimize my time on the chaotic streets of Managua. Last Wednesday something a little different occurred. As I was driving across town, I came to one of the many traffic lights through which I have to pass on my way to my destination. While sitting at the traffic light, thinking about all that I had to do that day, something entered my peripheral vision. In a city of over one million people this is a relatively common occurrence, but for whatever reason, I decided to turn to see what it was. When I looked out of the driver’s side window of my jeep, I noticed an older man carrying bags of cans and plastic bottles. This was not an abnormal sight as many people in Managua collect recyclables in order to make a living. As you might expect in the case of someone collecting other people’s trash, the man was very dirty and unkempt – the kind of person who is ignored by society.
Watching the man walk by my jeep to find the next bottle or can to add his collect, I realized that I had an empty soda can under the passenger’s seat of my vehicle. At that moment I decided to call out to the man, shouting, “senor”, or sir in English. I reached down, grabbed the can, and offered it to the unsuspecting trash collector. Confused as to why someone in a vehicle was speaking to him, he just stared at me for a second. After realizing that I was offering to contribute to his day’s collection, he reached out, took the can and said, “Gracias, le vaya bien”, which essentially amounts to “thank you, have a great day”. As I watched the man walk away somewhat confused as to what had just happened, but smiling, I too began to smile and felt that feeling you get when you do something that just feels right. I do not really know what the man was thinking, but my guess is that he was thankful that someone noticed him that day.
In that moment I was reminded that God wants us to notice the unnoticed. Instead of allowing the people who do not fit into what we consider as societal norms blend into the background, God wants us to truly see them and love them as he does. Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples had a similar experience shortly after Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven. The story tells us that Peter and John were on their way to the temple for their daily prayer. As Jews, this was more than likely part of their daily routine. Upon arriving at the temple grounds, they headed for the temple gate called Beautiful. At the same time, a few people were carrying a crippled man to the same gate so that he could beg for money from the temple goers. The text tells us that this beggar was a daily fixture at the gate called Beautiful and had more than likely become part of the scenery for those passing by. This would have normally been true for Peter and John as well, but this day was different. Walking through the gate, Peter and John heard the man’s typical request for money, but instead of walking by as they had probably done many times before, something made them stop that day. Similar to my experience, something that was normally in the peripheral suddenly became the focus. In fact, the Bible tells us that, “Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us'”. (Acts 3:4, NIV 1984) The passage then goes on to tell us that the man looked at them and, through the power of the Holy Spirit who had been given to them through Jesus, they healed the man and amazed the crowds. My guess is that Peter and John felt pretty good after this experience. Instead of ignoring the person that everyone had forgotten, they truly saw him for who he was, a creation of God, and offered him the best they had to give, redemption and restoration through the healing work of Jesus. They loved in the way that God had called them to love and, because of that, experienced something that we still talk about today.
We were made to have the same experiences. Certainly my experience with the man and the can pales in comparison to healing a crippled man, but I think the effect on our hearts is the same. God made us in such a way that we experience joy when we love people who rarely receive love. This is a part of God’s nature and was passed down to us when we were “made in His image”. With that in mind, I would challenge you to keep your eyes open for someone you would typically overlook. Instead of passing by, actually see them and ask yourself what would God would have you do to bless them. It might be as simple as giving them a can, but the impact could be far greater. Who will you “see” this week?
– James Belt