"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:2
When I was about 10 years old, I encountered hunger up close for the first time. I had gone to downtown Chicago with family friends, my godparents' family, for an event and we had stopped for pizza afterward. They had a daughter, Erica, about my age and I frequently went over to play and was part of the family in many ways. We ordered more than enough pizza and had a good deal left over. As Erica and I packed the remaining greasy squares into a Styrofoam take-out box, we conspired about having a sleep over and eating the leftovers for breakfast. Shortly after, the bill was paid and we began our walk back to the car. It must have been autumn or winter because I have a clear memory of the warmth of the pizza through the Styrofoam's bottom and my surprise to see a man sitting outside a store with very little outer wear along our way. As we drew near, my godfather leaned over to Erica and me and said, "Our pizza is still warm. Would you girls like to give it to him?" I remember feeling uncomfortable and torn. I looked at the man and saw how cold he was, but I was confused. Any other homeless person I had seen, was asking for money. Sometimes they played music outside a stadium or had signs asking for help. This man, however, was making no ask. He just looked cold, huddled against the store front, paying no attention to us or anyone. We knew the right thing was to offer him our pizza. As we made our approach, I remember wondering how he would respond, and if he'd actually want the pizza that we had all touched and eaten around. Erica did the talking and I proffered the take out container. To my astonishment, he looked genuinely touched, marveled that it was still warm and thanked us profusely. We rushed away back to my godparents' sides and my godfather said he was proud of us, that the man needed the pizza more than we did. I didn't really understand just how much the man needed the pizza, but I heard the container creak open as we walked towards our car. On the drive home, part of me lamented that there would be no pizza for breakfast, but another part of me kept replaying the image of the man's astonished, grateful face as he took the container from me. I thought about how hungry he must have been. My mom would never have allowed me to eat a stranger's leftover pizza. We would turn up our noses, but the man had been grateful.
Before that encounter, I had heard about people who were hungry and knew that there were people who were homeless, but I had never had actual interaction. I had participated in canned food drives at school and in the community. I had noticed collection bins at the holidays. Yet, living in an upper-middle class suburb of Chicago, similar in may ways to Anderson Township, I had never spoken to or been in proximity of someone I knew was hungry or without a place to live. Looking back, it was sacred ground. The memory is vivid because it was formative. It got me to look beyond myself and to see the man's humanity. It shaped my heart toward generosity, more in the form of Christ. I would not have had the language then, but it was a divine encounter. It forever changed the way I thought about my food and leftovers. It forever changed the way I saw people in need. It empowered me to know that even at 10 years, I could ease the hunger pangs of someone else. And now, nearly every time I leave a restaurant with leftovers in an urban environment, this memory comes to mind and I keep alert for the opportunity to give them away.
About the Author: Pastor Nicole Kelly. Pastor Nicole is one of the pastors at LCR. She lives in Anderson Township with her husband, Jay and daughter, Rachel.
About LCR: Lutheran Church of the Resurrection is a vibrant and welcoming community of faith and a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.