Even though, first, our chairs inside the tent were stolen, then our table, then our electric cord, and even though someone slashed it up a little with a blade, it is still a good and functional tent. It is white, tall, open at both ends and big enough for a car to pull inside then drive on through after we swab an occupants nose for COVID19. And a cool breeze blows through the shade.
Our tent is just outside the office where I work with fellow practitioners of medicine in the metropolitan area of a city. It is in a big parking lot we share with others, and it is near a busy intersection of city streets. Our clinic is mainly for those who are not insured and along with that comes no insurance against the difficulties and poverties of life. Often, the complex medical problems and diseases our excellent practitioners see are further complicated by broken and scattered lives.
I should have known better than to leave the table and chairs in the tent over the nights. The electric cord was snaked through a hard rubber cable-protector channel that cars could drive over. It would have been a lot of trouble to have taken inside all that stuff at the end of each day. So we bring what we need each time we go out and the tent still makes a good shade. And a good place for people to apparently stay after we are gone, even all night, based on things we have found in the tent: a cardboard mattress, a pack of Marlboros, one lens of sunglasses, a plastic gnome yard ornament, an ink pen cartridge, a WalMart buggy on it’s side, and a bunch of dirty washcloths that still had the store tags on them. We do have some neighbors with no home to claim.
This past summer, while in the tent, dressed in all that protective gear, on a very hot afternoon, just after two cars had come and gone through the tent, and before the next one, a co-worker and I noticed an old man walking very slowly up the city street beside our parking lot. I had seen him around but usually across the busy intersection. This day he was struggling in the hot sun on our side of the intersection and stopped walking and bent over forward, breathing hard, in the street. Oncoming cars had to slow and veer over to get around him.
My co-worker and I approached him and asked if we could help. He looked at us and made a cup-holding drinking motion with his hand and said, “water!” He said it several times. We took him into the shade of our tent and sat him on the pavement (since the chairs were gone). We were careful to avoid the possibility of him being exposed to infection. My co-worker went inside and came back with water bottles. The old man drank one of those water bottles in about 30 seconds, it seemed.
The old man had a speech impediment. It wasn’t like a stroke. He kind of stuttered, and we had to listen carefully. It was more like the kind of thing for which there were no resources when he was little. We did understand he was asking us if we were going to call the police. We assured him we were not. His clothes were mismatched and wrinkled. He had on an old cap. He had several old hospital bracelets on his wrists along with one gold colored bracelet. He had a plastic bag with unidentified stuff in it. After drinking the water, he stretched out and laid down.
My co-worker remembered we had had some fried chicken for lunch, so she texted another co-worker to bring the man some of our left-over food. We struck up a conversation, straining to understand his words. We learned his name and told him ours. He thanked us, over and over, for the water. He stood up, walked to the edge of the tent, turned away from us and urinated on the ground, came back to where we stood and sat back down. (Hydration status improved!) Then our other gracious co-worker arrived with a plate with a big piece of fried chicken, cole slaw and baked beans. Sitting there on the pavement, in a little breeze in the shade of our tent, he ate!
He drank another water bottle and my co-worker noticed he had stopped eating at about half of the piece of chicken. She asked him if he wanted a bag to keep the rest for later, and he nodded yes. Again, he thanked us, and thanked us. My co-workers respectfully asked him a lot of questions to see to whom he was related and where he lived. His answers were a bit vague, but that was OK. Even though it was difficult to understand his speech, he had a good smile and a gleam in his eyes. And a hearty laugh. He was alive with the breath God breathed into him. We understood that.
Just then, our next person to test for COVID19 pulled into the tent, but not dangerously close to the old man. We test patients from practices other than ours, so that next person was a lady in a new and expensive model car, nicely dressed, and had a skeptically curious look on her face when she saw the old man sitting nearby. I suppose it was a rather peculiar scene. A big white tent in a parking lot, with a nice lady in a nice car, a guy wearing protective covering, gloves, an N95 mask and a face shield, swabbing the nice lady’s nose, while nearby stood a masked medical assistant holding a bag for the specimen bottle, and sitting on the pavement was an disheveled old man putting his left-over chicken in a plastic bag. The Kingdom of God.
Do you think God allowed the COVID19 pandemic so we would have a tent in the parking lot when that old man was coming down the street about to pass out from heat exhaustion on the day we had fried chicken left over and that particular lady had symptoms that led her to drive into the tent so she could see the old man up close and my co-workers were the perfect two to minister to that old man and I was there through all the circumstances that led to my working there and I got to hear the old man’s beautiful laughter?
Or do you think it is likely much more complicated…and simple…than that?
When Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit,” I think Jesus meant when He gives us the Holy Spirit, when the Spirit is born within us, we learn to trustingly and deliberately flow with Him. We don’t know, and cannot know, all the Holy Spirit is doing through us, around us, and in us, but we trust.
We have only glimpses of how awesome God is and how in all things He works. We learn to trust Him as the actual King of the actual Kingdom of God. The King of everything and everyone! We stay attuned to Him. We maintain allegiance to Him, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
We pitch a tent of grace in the middle of a pandemic.
Who but the Lord knows what breeze might blow through there.