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Remembering Easter’s message of hope

Tim Richards, a writer, pastor and friend, wrote about this experience in his column that presently appears in papers throughout his home state of Missouri as well as in Colorado and North Carolina.

Easter is a busy day for most, but especially for pastors and even more so for Jim Cymbala, pastor of a church in the slums of New York City. The pastor was worn out but satisfied; the crowd had been touched by the Easter message.

Church leaders were talking with those who had come forward to pray with someone. That was when Cymbala noticed an older man coming toward him. He approached the pastor and asked, “Could I talk to you?” He was filthy, so dirty in fact that the pastor had to look away to inhale.

In spite of how bad he smelled the pastor was kind. He asked, “What’s your name?” The man replied, “David.”

“How long have you been on the street?” “Six years,” was the reply “How old are you?” “Thirty-two,” the man said. The pastor was shocked; the man looked twice that age, his hair was matted and his front teeth were missing.

The pastor expected the obviously addicted man to ask for money.  As he pulled money from his pocket David said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus you’ve been talking about because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.”

The pastor realized he had been about to give the man a couple of dollars when he wanted more. He saw him as an alcoholic, not a man who needed God. Cymbala was ashamed he had almost missed his chance to help the man. He began to cry …  and David did too. The pastor hugged the homeless man. Suddenly his smell wasn’t so offensive and he saw him as a person. He understood God had put him in New York to help the Davids of the world.

Anyone in long-term ministry will admit that we don’t see people change as often as we would like, but David changed that day. He got clean in a detox program, started doing maintenance work at the church and began memorizing scripture. The church helped him find a place to live and get his teeth fixed. He spent that Thanksgiving and Christmas with the pastor.

In a service a year later David told God changed his life. As soon as he began speaking Cymbala realized — this man is a preacher. David went on to become an associate minister.

This remarkable story began one Easter when a homeless man who found hope. Easter is all about finding hope in a world that often feels hopeless.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@sowingseedsoffaith.com.