Last Monday night, while on the UBFM Nashville ride, I bumped into a gentleman that I have come to know well. I have provided a meal for him on a few different rides. He is homeless and he makes money by playing his guitar and singing in Nashville. His typical venue is the sidewalk but he occasionally plays in one of Nashville's many country music dives. We'll say his name is Richard (I'd rather not use his name for privacy reasons. Give me a shout if you want to know more about him.) I have come to learn that he's one of many homeless musicians in Nashville. Since it is a common destination for musicians the competition in Nashville is hell, and getting your foot in the door takes an act of congress.
When I met up with Richard I sat with him while he ate one of the burritos I gave him. We talked about some of the places he has been playing. He said the winter time has been tough because there are not as many people out to donate tips. He also said he had been struggling with some voice problems too which makes it very difficult to sing. Then, he changed the subject and asked if I had heard of a particular country music artist. Even if I had heard of this artist, I loathe country music. I told him that I was not familiar. He told me it was his brother and to pull up a video on YouTube so we could watch it. I pulled it up on my phone and Richard and I watched the video. His cigarette-beer breath lingered in my personal space as he gave a detailed commentary of the worst country music video and song I have ever heard. I was temped to "accidentally" drop my iPhone in the nearest drain grate so I could cut the song short. Just when I started to get nauseous the song ended. Richard insisted that I watch some of the other videos later. I nodded and told him that I needed to move on. He then said to me, "Hey man, thanks for taking the time to watch that with me. And thanks for being my friend. We don't get a lot of that out here." I scooped up my humbled heart and crammed it back into my chest before I carried on.
Sometimes we think that ministry has to appear to be life-changing and transformational. We sometimes think that food, clothing, and even shelter are the greatest needs for our homeless communities. But, in many cases the greatest need is in the form of a relationship. People on the streets are so accustomed to being avoided by the greater public. There is a need for a street ministry of listening. Let me suggest that when you get a chance or if you are a UBFM volunteer, on the next ride, make a friend and get to know someone. Listen to them, let them talk for a while, and take the time to create a relationship. A little bit of love can go a long way.