Thursday, August 13, 2009

God hangs out at Panda Express

Yesterday I was eating dinner outside of Panda Express when a man approached me and the group of middle schoolers I was eating with. He seemed to avoid eye contact with any one person. As he skirted by he asked if any of us would be willing to buy him dinner or at least help him out with a couple of bucks. I stood up and said I'd be glad to buy him dinner. He thanked me with many thank you's and and God bless you's. His name is Michael. We talked a little while waiting in line at Panda Express. But he mostly avoided conversation. He said he was from Echo Park but was crashing on a friends couch for a few days. He politely asked if he could order a 3-item combo to which I replied, "Get whatever you want." So he did. 12 bucks later we parted ways.

A few things about the encounter stood out to me. First I was surprised by my immediate willingness to buy him dinner. I didn't know him. I couldn't tell if he was really broked or homeless. All I knew was that he was hungry. I guess Jesus was right about asking. Second, I found myself wondering if he actually was homeless or broke, or if he did this kind of thing on a regular basis. If he did, I hoped he could teach me his secrets to free meals. But then I thought to myself that it didn't matter. I didn't care about his situation. I took the moment for what it was. Third, I asked myself (not aloud by any means) if I should tell him about Jesus. How would I bring it up? I could say something like, " you think Jesus would like orange chicken as much as the rest of us?" That seemed stupid. I had been trained as a teenager to share about Jesus with complete strangers, but now I was floundering. Sorry Troy (he was my youth pastor). Maybe I did share about Jesus with him in my willingness to help him out. He obviously already knew about God and that he likes to bless people.

Michael is a child of God just like me. If he is swindling people out of free meals God will deal with him. I hope his needs get met and that he knows how much God loves and values him. I'm thankful for Michael because he gave me an opportunity to be generous, and to put someone else's needs before my own. Michael, wherever you are, "Thank you and God bless you."


  1. I don't think it's that surprising that you jumped to the opportunity to buy him food.

    I think that when one provides to someone else's needs, there's a superior feeling involved. Maybe, it's about feeling good that they've helped someone in need, or for fulfilling their good-deeds-of-the-day. Or maybe, it's about feeling good (subconsciously?) that they have and are using the power through their possessions to dictate someone's life. Who knows.

    On the other hand, when it comes to sharing the Gospel, one needs to be open, exposed, and vulnerable to a complete stranger. There's a risk involved. Risk of being ridiculed, maybe? Or maybe simply being thought as "uncool" amongst his non-believers' peers for believing such things? Who knows.

    My point is, that I think it's much easier to give money or food to the needy than to share about Jesus, even if it might cost us more than--to use the phrase loosely--what we can afford.

  2. Rendy, I agree with you about the good feelings that come along with helping someone out. If there was no return of joy that comes with it, people may be less motivated to give. As a teenager I was taught that feeling good about helping someone meant that I was motivated by selfish reasons. I know better now.

    You're also right about the risk involved in sharing the Gospel. It's easier to give something physical to the needy. Have I earned the right to share the gospel with someone who still has an unmet physical need like hunger? Maybe sharing the gospel and giving to the needy are not mutually exclusive. If I am the aroma of Christ, I want that smell to linger on their nostrils after I'm gone. I hope that in buying Michael dinner he left with more than the smell of Panda Express.