"For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in" (Matt 25:42-43).
Our little youth group in Lakeview was studying these verses on a warm Sunday evening in September on our back porch. "Who do you think are hungry and thirsty for friendship?" I asked. "Do you know anyone at school you can reach out to, offering the love of Christ?"
Four or five kids then rolled past our backyard on scooters. We paused to watch them squeak by, some with bare feet, laughing and giggling on the quiet street, little girls with golden hair happily flying in autumn breeze. We smiled and continued our discussion.
As Christians, I said, we had a responsibility not only to feed the hungry, but also the spiritually hungry.
An angry man burst from his drab house across the street. Hateful, angry words spilled out at the children as they rolled along. He stood in the middle of the street, screaming and shaking his fist at the children, now half a block away, giggling and blissfully oblivious to his raving.
"Shut up, I said! Shut your mouths!" he yelled. We stopped, eyes wide, our Bibles still open, listening to the rage of a drunken neighbor. The teens and I couldn't help but stare in silence. "Stop all this noise," he yelled at the children, "or I'm calling the cops!"
He turned about to see us staring. "You too!" he yelled, pointing a bony finger at us. "I'm calling the cops on you! Right now!" Stunned, we all watched as he ran back inside.
We gathered our thoughts as best we could, and returned to our discussion about reaching out to friendless kids at school. Then the police arrived.
Uniformed officers entered the angry neighbor's home, and came out again a few minutes later. Officer Sam Goss strolled over to my backyard. "What's goin' on?" he asked from the other side of the fence. I explained that we were having a quiet church group meeting on our deck.
He could easily tell we were not the problem. I said I didn't understand how so much loud, drunken profanity could come from a man who claims to hate noise. "I know," he said. "We've dealt with him many times before. Call me if there's anymore trouble." They got into their patrol cars and left.
I was angry that in tiny Lakeview, as a result of having a backyard Bible study, the police came to my home to question me. I was angry that our church kids were forced to see and hear such a bitter, drunken man. I was angry that the words of Jesus were drowned out by the loud curses of a man who could not tolerate the noise of happy children at play.
Then Amanda spoke up. "Maybe you need to be his friend."
My heart sank. She was right. Ray did not need my anger; he had enough of his own. What he needed was friendship. The mental image of my neighbor pointing his accusing finger at me – that image stuck.
There are people who are hungry and thirsty for Christ's love and don't know it. Some are drunken neighbors. That doesn't make their spiritual need any less important.
There's no question that people are in desperate spiritual need. The questions is – will we find the courage and compassion to fill it?
"For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat," Jesus said. "I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink."