The winter season was almost over, but every morning for 18 weeks the same volunteer had done the morning bus run for the cold weather shelter.
For 126 mornings, he climbed from his bed at quarter to six and drove to the lot where the bus was parked. It took a good thirty minutes to warm up the hand-me-down, 26-passenger; and sometimes, the fuses would pop at the hand of an overnight frost.
Picking up the bus and making it to the shelter on time could have taken a mere 30 minutes under other circumstances, but time for changing fuses and starting the bus just right had to be calculated. Once prepared and ready, he’d make the five-mile drive to the shelter, load up all 37 guests over a couple of trips and deliver them to the designated morning breakfast.
Not only was this volunteer’s care for our neighbors relentless and sacrificial, his daily interaction with our shelter guests earned him a special reputation that did not go unnoticed. By the end of the season, he knew most of them by name and became a trusted confidant for the various life issues they were facing.
On the side, he’d make special arrangements to help them move their campsites or take care of other important business. He would listen to their stories, celebrate victories and sit with them in their sorrows. He wasn’t shy about offering a word of prayer or sharing how the love of Christ had been transformative in his own life.
Thus, his relationship with Fredericksburg’s street friends was so much more than a bus driver. He was their friend and connector to the normalcies of the world that often seemed so inaccessible.
The true impact of these relationships became blatantly apparent as the shelter season wound to a close.
As the last passengers exited the bus one morning, a young gentleman hung behind.
“Need something, buddy,” the volunteer asked. The young man quietly sauntered to the front and slid in the passenger seat behind the driver.
“I wanted to ask you something,” he said quietly.
“Whatcha got?” the driver replied.
“You see, I see you every morning and I know what you done for some of these fellas out here. You keep doing and giving and helping, but you don’t ask nothin’ of any of them,” he continued. “I don’t really need anything–well, at least not anything you don’t know about. I just wondered what you thought it would take to get a life like yours.”
Unsure of the appropriate response, the driver sat awkwardly silent until the discomfort required him to say something.
“I don’t know that I ever thought of it that way,” the driver said. “But what I do know is that it isn’t really about me. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross so that I could be forgiven for the many ways I have disappointed God. He didn’t ask anything in return, but I figure I could at least try to repay him by doing the same for other people.”
In weeks to come, the two would have many more conversations about their lives and the subtle ways they could see God in it. The shelter guest would go on to find stable employment and a home; and the driver would continue giving the best he had to anyone who needed it.
We may never know how much the guest’s self-determination or the driver’s encouragement really mattered. But one thing is clear: living with a full heart and abundant soul gave at least one neighbor in need a glimpse at the ultimate home–the kingdom of God.