I nervously watch John approach an older, heavy white man bundled in a dirty coat. My three well-dressed Korean friends and I hide behind our American host “mom.” Our small group is alone on this downtown Portland street—alone with this homeless man and his overflowing shopping cart filled with black garbage bags. I draw in a quick breath as John offers his hand to the bushy-bearded man. They shake hands and exchange hellos.
“Does he know that man with the crazy eyes and hair?” I whisper to my host mom, shrinking back from the big stranger. My stomach tightens. I’ve never met a homeless man.
“Yes, Iris, John has helped that man before,” my host mom says. She tells me that even though John has a wife and kids of his own, every week after our church service he goes into downtown Portland, feeds the homeless, and tells them about Jesus.
My eyes widen in amazement as the two men continue to speak as friends. John motions for us to bring the food. I reach into the cart I’ve been pulling and take out a sandwich and a banana. John taught us how to make these American sandwiches at his house earlier that afternoon.
“Here,” I say as I nervously hand the man the sandwich. There are homeless people in my hometown of Seoul, South Korea, but I’ve never talked to any of them. We just shop downtown.
My Korean friend, Jane, works up the courage to ask, “Do you want a razor?” She is carrying a backpack with toiletries the homeless might need.
The big man laughs and points at his bushy beard. “No, thanks!” We all laugh. My Korean friends and I realize that meeting a homeless person isn’t as scary as we thought.
“Have a nice day,” I say as we walk on. Jane and Jennifer echo my words, but Sunny just waves. She’s only 8, and her English isn’t as good.
My stomach feels much better now that I’m not so nervous about talking to these homeless people. Earlier I prayed that Jesus would help me be brave. And He did, even though I’m only 11.
“Watch out!” John calls as we keep walking. I quickly step over a smelly puddle and scare some pigeons eating cold french fries. We continue walking until John stops to talk with two women. They’re smoking cigarettes by an empty building.
“Do you want some nail polish?” Jane asks. The women shake their heads no. They want just food. I’m thankful that my mother doesn’t live on the street in Korea. I wonder if these women have children.
We give a sandwich to a man in a wheelchair, and John pushes him across the street. “God bless,” John says as the man wheels himself down the sidewalk.
I wonder how many of these people know about Jesus. I didn’t know much about Jesus until I came to America to study English. My host mom told me all about Him. Maybe these people will learn about Jesus now that they live on the street and know John. Dirty teenagers and adults sit around watching us as we parade by. They probably wonder why two American adults and four Korean girls are handing out sandwiches and bananas.
Around a corner we find another person lying in the doorway of a deserted building. The person is using cardboard for a bed. The lump under the blanket won’t talk, so we leave a sandwich and banana on the sidewalk. I think I’d be hungry if I slept on the street. Actually, I’m already hungry because we skipped lunch after church to make the sandwiches.
Soon we give away the last of the food. Some homeless people follow us down the street because they want another sandwich, but John tells them, “We don’t have any more.”
Jennifer and I grab our host mom’s hands as we walk to the car. We all softly sing “Amazing Love,” our favorite American worship song. I feel good about feeding the homeless because I know helping people makes Jesus smile.
Back in John’s car, I say, “My heart pounded because I had never volunteered, but those people were nice. Now I know how Jesus felt helping poor people.”
“John, may we go with you again?” we plead.
“Of course,” he says, and smiles. I wish I could stay in America and help the homeless every weekend. However, at the end of my five-month stay I will return to Korea. I hope to come to America again to study English. I want to be an English teacher like my host mom, and I want to help more poor people like the bushy-bearded man.
Written by Iris Han with LeeAnn Staples
Illustrated by Phyllis Pollema-Cahill