By Anna Delamerced, FaithCounts.com Contributor
I look outside the window, and there he is, sitting on the ground. His blue winter hat adds a pop of color to a cloudy day in the middle of March. Though I’m a few feet away, I notice his eyes; eyes I’m sure were once vibrant but now look like pools of gray. He holds a cup in his hand, asking for money as people walk by, not daring to glance at him.
“Your toastie is here,” the barista says as she puts down a plate of a grilled bacon-and-cheese sandwich.
“Thank you,” I nod. The mouthwatering smell knocks me out of my reverie and compels me to return to the task at hand.
I am sitting in a Costa Coffee cafe, one of the many in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a study abroad student, my designated ‘chill’ days are spent weaving in and out of tea shops, writing in my journal, and catching up on my reading (or at least trying to).
My mother commends my nerves of steel, nerves shaped by my years of competitive chess (yup, it’s a thing) and spelling bee endeavors (when the bright lights of ESPN are casting down on you and thousands of people across America are waiting for you to misspell a word on national TV, courage is forged on that stage). But in the few weeks leading up to my departure from my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, I felt heart palpitations on a whole new level.
- Traveling to another country, across oceans, thousands of miles away from the comforts of my house, can be scary.
- I did not know anyone in Edinburgh. All I had was one email contact (referred to me by my brother’s friend’s mother) and one Facebook contact referred to me by a Brown University classmate. But no real friend waiting to greet me at the airport.
- I even remember writing in my journal consistently every day for three days, “I am scared.” I desperately wanted to make friends, find a church community, establish a ‘homebase’ in a foreign land. We were not made to feel lonely.
And so, I used what any twenty-first-century young lady would do.
For me, Google was a Godsend. The first week I was in Edinburgh, I typed in the search bar, “Christian churches in Edinburgh.” Surprisingly, a lot popped up, so I clicked on each link and searched around and learned more about each church.
One of those was King’s Church. After clicking around on its website a bit more, I believed it to be a Biblically-sound church whose people seek to love God and love others. “There would be free lunches for students!” the website also said. As a student on a budget (the dollar ain’t strong against the mighty pound), I thought to myself, “I need to eat after church, right?… Might as well try it out…” I decided to see for myself.
And so, one crisp January morning, I woke up with the rain cascading down on my window, left my flat (apartment for us Americans) at 10:00 a.m., and thirty minutes later, after the wind inverted my umbrella, after getting lost and having to ask an elderly Scottish man “do you know where Viewforth Road is?” arrived at the front steps of King’s Church.
Immediately, several greeters welcomed me. Names were exchanged, explanations given as to where I was from (“Ohio, but if you don’t know where that is, that’s okay, I attend university near Boston”) and what I was doing in Edinburgh (studying abroad for one semester), and teas and plenty of biscuits were offered to me.
One of the welcome members and I bonded over our study of medicine, over being students in our third year of “uni” (university), over the fact that despite the morning’s torrential waters, here we were, in the entrance of the church, excited to worship the same God.
Ironically enough, no lunch was served that Sunday, because it turns out it was the first service since all the students returned to uni from winter break. But there was a little gathering in the foyer afterwards (with more tea and biscuits), and immediately the leader of the student ministry approached me. Luke was his name and he immediately connected me with full-time students, especially the students who were small group leaders. That Sunday, I felt love in a way I hadn’t before. I was a stranger, and they welcomed me.
Over the course of these past two months, I have come to know this love more deeply. The people I have met in Edinburgh have fed me, cooked Filipino soup for me, even baked homemade cheesecake for me. They have walked me home in the dark when I was just starting out and didn’t know the difference between Marchmont Road and the Meadows. They have made me laugh with their (attempts at) rap and dance skills. They have cooked lunches for all the students every Sunday. They have propped open the doors to their flats and let me spend a few hours every Tuesday eating dinner, sharing stories (both the embarrassing and the profound), reading the Word, discussing and asking each other questions, and singing to God together. They have encouraged me to see life with an eternal perspective. They have prayed with me and for me. They have inspired me to live a life of love.
They didn’t have to do any of that. They didn’t have to bother with an American study abroad student whom they knew they may not see ever again after the semester ends. They didn’t have to spend their money or their time or their lives with me. They didn’t have to share their food, or their love, with me.
But they did.
Sharing is an act of faith and an act of love.
Where does this kind of love come from?
We love because He first loved us.
I am content to know that there exists a God who already loves us so much, and I see and witness and feel his love through people. And God’s love — unconditional, freely given, undeserved, everlasting — is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Love is stepping out of your comfort zone. Love is laying down your life for another person. Love is giving your time and energy and resources to a friend, not to seek to get anything out of it, but because love overflows out of you. Love comes from God.
And so, here I was, sitting in Costa, with a choice in front of me.
Too often I have chosen the wrong decision whenever I encounter a homeless person. I have walked by. No, I confess I have hurried by, looking down at the ground. I have not dropped even fifty pence into his cup.
I realized my mistake.
I might not ever meet this homeless man again, and I don’t know how much a sandwich can impact a person…
But it didn’t hurt to try to share some kindness, to try to carry on the love, the very love I have been given.
I walked up to the counter, bought a sandwich, and ran across the street to stretch out my hand, and meet him.