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What to do with scary people

June 19, 2017



From time to time, we all bump into scary people. And in poor struggling countries there is no shortage of broken, desperate, even crazy people. It’s common to see homeless men and women roaming the streets.  They’re dressed in rags, thin as a rail, barefoot and tormented. I wonder how they have managed to cling onto life from one day to the next.


Recently, while walking a dirt footpath on the edge of a forest, I circled around a small farm plot with tall sorghum plants growing on each side of the trail.  Sorghum can grow about 8 feet high and when the top of the plants are heavy with seeds, they lean over.  When sorghum grows on both sides of the trail it creates an archway.  So there I was, walking down a green, leafy tunnel.  I had just passed a budding citrus tree so I plucked a little blossom to sniff as I walked along. The fragrance was sweet and delightful.   As I turned to enter another sorghum tunnel there he was, a scary man, just a few feet ahead of me and coming my way.


This man was a ragged mess. His clothing was tattered and hung like dirty rags around his shoulders.  There wasn’t enough of his shirt to cover half of him. His hair and beard were long and matted. Mozambican men in this area shave their faces and heads. But the homeless are not able to. It was evident that he had been in the “bush” or on the streets for some time. His face was scarred and he had that wild look in his eyes.  The alarming part was that he had a big stick in his left hand and a gruesome machete in his right! 


My first thought was to do an about-face and run away.  But then I remember the days when I was homeless, dirty and scary looking.  There was a period in my past when I lived in the woods, rarely bathed, and had a bit of a wild look in my eye, as well.  I would come into town on Sundays to go to a small country church, and folks would… well, most ignored me.  I didn’t look right or smell right or fit in… anywhere. And I remembered how lonely those days were.


The sorghum trail was so narrow it was difficult for two people to pass without stepping into the foliage.  As we came up to each other I greeted him and extended my flower blossom to him.  At first he was startled.  He stopped and simply stared into my eyes.  I didn’t know how to speak his dialect, so I sniffed the blossom and extended it to him again, so he could smell it, too.  After a very awkward moment, a moment where we were both afraid of each other, he leaned over and sniffed the blossom.  Then his face broke into the broadest, toothless smile I have ever seen.  There I was, a stranger and foreigner, face to face with a bedraggled bush man with only a flower between us.  We both started to giggle.  I said, “Deus te ama” (God loves you) in Portuguese.  He said, “É verdade!”  (It’s true). He took the blossom from my hand and sniffed and giggled as he went on his way.


I was scared for nothing.  He was scared for nothing.  We were just two people whose paths crossed on a lonely trail who decided to celebrate a wee moment with a sweet blossom and God’s goodness and love. Sometimes life is that easy.




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