I entered this story after it had already begun. It began with God prompting our volunteer Karalee to reach WAY out of her comfort zone. A few days ago she was working the counter of her job in a food establishment downtown Kankakee when a man approached asking for water… a man with a swastika tattoo predominantly and permanently displayed right between his eyes. You can’t look at this man without seeing his tattoo. As is the case with many such charged symbols, Karalee’s immediate reaction was a human one: fear, anger, frustration. She found herself hoping she did not have to serve him.
But God had different plans. In serving him, she met him. Not his swastika, but him. She learned his name, that he was a meek, soft spoken, grateful, humble man. She was happy she had the opportunity to see beyond the tattoo. But the story had just begun. Wednesday night she was able to rescue almost 10 dozen donuts from being sent to the garbage so she could bring to the homeless on Thursday. As she drove home, she saw him…walking on the road with a sign saying he was homeless. God spoke to her again…talk to him, give him a donut. She made an about turn and ended up at Taco Johns with him, getting him something to eat and drink. And learning more about the man behind the swastika tattoo.
I entered the story the next day. Karalee and I met to bring the donuts to the Salvation Army free lunch program and have lunch there with our homeless friends, something I try to do as often as I can. And guess who was there and joined us for lunch? The man with the swastika tattoo. I too was blessed to make his acquaintance and learn more about his story. We don’t know it all, but there’s a history there…some trauma, maybe a lot. He served in the military, fell in with the wrong people, but he can say today that he believes in God. Which means someday I’ll get to hang out in Heaven with Jesus, and this man with the swastika tattoo.
One day at some point in his life he made a choice. He asked someone to ink him with something that meant something to him at the time. Society will now judge him forever for that one decision, that one mark, that one day. It doesn’t seem to reflect what he believes in anymore and does not define who he is. I bet if Jesus was living today, he’s exactly the type of person He would make a beeline for, asking him to dine with him, forgiving him, and taking the time to love on him as the child of God he is.
How would you react if he walked into your church? How would your church respond?
Would you hire him if he applied at your business?
Would you cross the street if he approached you?
These are tough questions. I don’t have all the answers, but I know we had the opportunity to engage with him like a normal human being. Something I’m willing to bet he rarely gets from others. He reveled in the attention and hated it when we had to leave, but when he showed up last night at the Kankakee Outreach, we greeted him like Norm walking into the Cheers bar–we knew his name, and he knew we were happy to see him. He got to meet my husband and our team, who all greeted him with open arms.
We didn’t do much–but I know we made a difference…
The man behind the swastika tattoo, our new friend, was the last to leave last night.