A story of  love that surpasses barriers, and a homeless man who changed hearts.

Following is an article that first appeared in print in 2014. It’s a powerful story to contemplate during these days of our own isolation. The subject of this story, Ray, is pictured above with our own Dan Philips.

By Diane Pflederer

As I drove into the parking lot behind the church that Sunday evening, I saw a man sitting on a pile of bricks near the back door of the church.  I'd seen him sitting there many times, and I knew he was a regular guest at the Loaves & Fish program.  

I assumed he was homeless and had found a warm place to sleep since the back door of the church is somewhat protected from the elements.   I'd occasionally seen him drinking coffee inside the church during the coffee hour on Sunday mornings.  

He's a small man probably in his 50s with a mangled grayish beard, a cap pulled down over his eyes, and shaggy black clothes.  Although our paths crossed many times, I didn't know his name and walked right by him that night without thinking that he was probably not only homeless but also hungry.  I didn't think about inviting him to the dinner I was going to attend which was a celebration of the completion of the new addition to the church.  My thoughts were on my role as a table leader.

Once inside the church, I was impressed with the festive mood in the new worship center and adjacent gathering space.  Those rooms were filled with 50 round tables decorated with bright green table clothes.  Each table had place settings for 8 people. As a table leader, I knew the names of the 7 people from the church who'd be sitting with me at my table. I'd learned earlier that day that one of the individuals wasn't coming so I told the person at the door that I had an extra seat at my table just in case someone came who didn't have a seat.

When we started eating, Dan Philips came to my table and told me he'd found someone to sit in the empty chair.  He said his name was Ray.  Dan told me he was getting some clothes for Ray from the clothing closet.  I soon realized Ray was the homeless man I'd seen and ignored in the parking lot.  

When Ray came to our table, he was dressed in a nice red sweater and khaki slacks.  He still wore the hat.  He sat down beside Joanne, a very friendly lady who often served as a greeter on Sunday mornings.  We all welcomed Ray to our table.  Joanne talked with him and soon learned about his family and his life story.  He eagerly ate the plate of food that was given to him.  After the meal, our chairs were moved into the Worship Center where the program was held.  Ray sat beside me and seemed to enjoy the praise band and the speakers.  After the program, he turned to me and thanked me for including him in the activities.
After I got home that evening, I told my 20 year old niece about Ray being invited to sit at my table.  She said to me, "Isn't that what Jesus wants us to do?”

Ray died in May 2016 at the age of 60.