The silence was shattered as Clay's alarm ripped through the darkness at 5:30 on a cold Chicago Saturday morning. Groaning, he turned over and
smacked the snooze button, silencing the alarm. He laid his head back on his pillow, starting to drift off again when he realized that today, of all
days, was not one to snooze.
Waking completely, he shut off his alarm and spent half an hour with God, reading his Bible and praying. He prayed in earnest that God would show him
where to go and what to say today. It was similar to his typical morning prayers, but today the fear of the unknown was weighing on his mind and
causing him to doubt his plan. Would it be a wasted trip? Would he do more harm than good?
He took a shower and loaded his car with the ten winter jackets, 40 hand warmers and several small pocket Bibles. He jumped in and started going south
on 94 into Chicago proper.
He parked on State Street near Roosevelt, put on two of the coats, grabbed some hand warmers and two Bibles, and started walking down the street. Not
sure where to go, he looked at the skyline and decided heading south was his best bet.
As he crossed Roosevelt, the entire atmosphere of the city changed. He was amazed at the difference one road could make, moving from shops and houses
that were well maintained into a dilapidated and decaying picture, from the street to the very buildings. It was like crossing into another world. He
nodded to himself and continued to walk down State Street, scanning both sides of the road with his eyes.
Then he saw it, what he came here looking for, and his heart leapt into his throat. A man was sitting between two buildings using the outcropping of
one to protect himself from the wind. All of his worldly possessions were next to him in a large bag next to an empty paper cup. The man looked
downcast at the sidewalk, oblivious of Clay's presence.
His heart started racing and everything in his mind was telling him to run. What could a suburban kid know about this man's plight? "I don't belong
here, I should just leave." Hesitating for a second, Clay began to turn away when he uttered a prayer asking God for His will, to guide him and to
show him what to do. The response flooded Clay's brain, pushing all doubt and fear aside. His only thought was, "Go to him." Clay smiled to
himself, thanking Jesus, and crossed the street to talk with the old man.
"Hi!" he said, a bit louder and more chipper than he would have liked. The man looked up, just noticing the young man standing next to him. Clay saw
the man tense and recoil back further against the wall as he assessed what Clay's intentions were.
"You gonna beat me up?" the man asked.
Clay laughed, not realizing the legitimate fear the homeless man had, and said, "no, and I don't think I'd be able to even if I wanted to."
The old man said nothing, and just stared at Clay, waiting for the rest. Clay, who had been hoping this man would give him an idea where to start,
realized he wasn't going to.
"Well, I was wondering if you'd like some handwarmers. It's awfully cold, and..." he trailed off as he held out the small plastic package to the
man. Seeing the hand warmers, the mans eyes lit up.
"Oh, man! You know, I heard...I was going to get some of these...These are great; it does get cold."
Clay looked at the poor quality of the man's coat, and took off one of those he was wearing, holding it out to him. "Here, you look like you might
need this more than I do."
The man took the coat and looked it over, turning it inside out, feeling the pockets, then seeing if it would wrap around his frame. The man took off
his decaying coat and put on the new one, flashing Clay a smile that would stay with him for the rest of his life. "You with Pacific Garden," the
man asked, talking about the homeless shelter half a mile north on State Street. Clay, however, had never heard of it.
"No, I'm part of a twenty-somethings ministry, and we were thinking of doing something like this every two weeks or so. I came down today to learn
where to go and how to help before bringing others down with me."
"Thank you and thank Jesus," the man said as though he had delivered the same line time and time again.
Clay, not realizing this, smiled at the man, and said, "You're welcome, brother." He handed him one of the pocket Bibles, saying, "just in case
yours has gotten too beat up over time."
Clay walked away feeling on top of the world. He kicked himself for even considering leaving without speaking to that man, and started really hunting
for the next person he could talk to.
As he was walking, he heard a scuffle come from an alley he was passing. Grinning, he looked down the alley to see if the person who made the sound
was homeless and his heart stopped. There were two men down the alley, and one of them had a gun pointed at the other.
Neither had noticed him walking by in his blissful state, and the man with the gun had his back turned slightly to the street, attempting to hid the
gun. Again, he started to walk away when the memory of his disgust with movies where people ignore crime right in front of them when they had the
power to stop it. That memory convicted him of his hypocrisy. Taking a deep breath, Clay stepped into the alley as quietly as he could.
He crept up to the man with the gun, but not before the person getting mugged noticed him. Clay was about 5 feet away when the victim face suddenly
lit up, showing a terrified hope where no hope existed seconds ago. He yelled, "help me!"
The man with the gun turned around to see who was there, and Clay lunged. He grabbed the outstretched arm holding the gun and pulled the man towards
him as his hands slid down the arm to the man's hand. Using his elbow as leverage, Clay pushed the mugger's arm straight, slightly turning him, as
he put both thumbs on the back of the man's hand. Giving a quick jerk, the mugger's wrist broke and he dropped the gun.
In a rage, the mugger swung his good arm in a wild hook towards Clay's head. Clay pulled his head back, letting the punch carry the mugger into a
slight turn, then pushed the back of the swinging arm while kicking the back of the mugger's right knee. The man fell to the pavement on his knees,
when Clay kicked his back in such a way as to push him to the ground. Clay then placed his foot between the man's shoulder blades and pushed him back
down any time he started to rise.
Clay looked up and saw that the person who was being mugged had taken off. He looked back down at the mugger and pulled out his cell phone, dialing
"9-1-1, what's the emergency," a bored voice greeted him.
"Uhhhh, yeah. I'm on State Street about two blocks south of Roosevelt and have a mugger here on the ground."
"You were being mugged, sir?" the voice asked.
"No, I saw him mugging someone and I stopped him. I have him under my foot right now, but I don't have any rope or anything to tie him up with or
anything. He also had a gun."
"Where is the gun now?"
"On the ground, about 5 feet away from us."
The operator got more detailed information on his location and assured him a police officer would be coming.
As it started to dawn on the mugger that the police were on their way, he started to struggle to get up and away from Clay. "If I have to put you
down on the ground again, I'm breaking your other wrist," Clay threatened. The mugger seemed to consider this, then relaxed.
About thirty minutes later, a police officer pulled up to the alley and saw Clay sitting on the back of the mugger. When Clay noticed the cop, he
started to get up and the mugger tried to bolt. As he tried to spring away from the cop, Clay reached down and pulled on the man's ankle, dropping
him back onto the pavement with a thump. A trickle of blood streamed from where his face was in contact with the pavement.
Clay described what happened and pointed out the gun to the police officer. When the cop asked where the victim was, Clay said he took off during the
fight. The mugger chimed in, "that's bull####! He attacked me! I was minding my own business and he attacked me! He broke my wrist! Then he said he
was going to have me arrested for being black!"
Clay just laughed as the police officer put handcuffs on the mugger and picked him up. He then turned to Clay. "I'm going to have to take you in,
too." Confused, Clay remained silent as his Miranda rights were read to him, he was handcuffed and placed in the back of the squad car with the
The whole time they drove to the station, the mugger was looking at Clay and chuckling. Clay just stared out the window, thinking to himself, "no
good deed goes unpunished."
Clay pulled into his driveway around ten PM, completely wiped out from the experience he'd had. He started to get out of his car, but reached in to
grab the paperwork from the police. He was being charged with racial aggravated assault, and the mugger walked free. The mugger, while he was laughing
at Clay in the squad car, had developed a convincing story. He admitted to the gun being his, but he had only pulled it out after Clay had attacked
him. The mugger's face had hit the pavement when Clay had grabbed his ankle, and he said his broken nose had happened when Clay punched him in the
face. Clay had no defense, just explaining what had happened.
Clay shuffled into his apartment, closing the door and, for the first time since he'd lived there, bolting it shut. He then went into his room to
have some quiet time with God. As he prayed, thanking God for his opportunity with the homeless man and thanking God for guiding him to where he was
needed, his mind kept going back to the face of the man getting mugged as he saw Clay. The look of desperate hope, followed by relief and joy at
having been freed from his plight wouldn't leave him. Every time he thanked God for guiding him to where the Lord wanted him to be, that scene came
back into his mind.
For the tenth time, Clay tried to push that memory out of his head and replace it with the homeless man's smile when he got the new coat. He then
prayed aloud, "Lord, free me from this memory and keep me focused on what it is you would have me do. Keep me focused on Your purpose for me."
A thought drifted into Clay's mind, "I already have."
Clay stopped, and his mouth dropped as the pieces suddenly fell into place. He had prayed for God to show him where to go, and what to do. He
remembered the indecision he felt and the clear response to continue going south and not turning around. He remembered his friend who was supposed to
come with him but never answered his phone. He remembered the high he felt after helping the homeless person that helped him look down the alley to
see what was going on. He remembered his disgust with the police for taking so long to come to the scene of a crime where a gun was involved. He
remembered his disgust with the mugger's manipulation of the system that got him off and now had Clay with a March court date.
But no! His calling was bringing the gospel to the homeless, to fill a need, to give hope to the hopeless. That last though echoed through his head as
he saw, once again, the face of the man being mugged, the sudden hope that entered his eyes. Hope to the hopeless.
"What do You want from me," he cried out, looking up. "I'm not a vigilante! I don't even know how to fight!" Clay collapsed on the floor, tears
streaming down his face. He was so sure he knew what Christ's calling for him was. He knew he was to help the homeless. "Hope to the hopeless,"
whispered through his head again.
Clay's alarm went off, and he looked up. He had spent the entire night in prayer. Heaving a sigh, he started to get ready to go to church.
He pulled into the parking lot, a list of names going through his head. He needed to talk with someone; he needed guidance. He walked into the front
foyer, scanning the crowd looking for one of the assistant pastors. His eyes lingered on someone he didn't recognize who appeared to be looking right
at him, but then moved on. He couldn't see Mark, the assistant pastor, anywhere. Scanning the crowd again, those eyes locked with his yet again, and
the man started walking in his direction.
"Hi, my name's Robert," the man said, thrusting a meaty hand out towards Clay.
"H...iii," Clay said, taken aback and trying to think of a way to disengage from this conversation and find Mark. "I'm Clay."
"Clay, I was told last night that you needed this. At least, someone who looks just like you needed this."
Clay looked down at the hand now holding out a small white piece of paper with black lettering on it. Clay took it from him, confused, and read it. It
was a business card. It was a business card for a martial arts instructor. Looking up from the card, he noticed the man was nowhere to be seen. Clay
flipped the card over and saw some scrawl in black ink on the back.
"My friend, open your eyes. Read the signs. Your question has been answered. -R"
Clay just stood there staring at the card, rereading the message over and over. His hands began to shake as he put the business card in his pocket. As
he was doing so, a hand came down on his shoulder and a man asked, concern in his voice, "Clay?"
As though in a dream, Clay slowly looked around and up to see the troubled face of Mark, one of the church's assistant pastors. Clay wrapped his arms
around the older man's shoulders, put his head in his chest and sobbed, "I know what to do, but I don't know what to do..."
Mark nodded and guided Clay to his office.
The next day, Clay found himself in front of an unassuming house in Grey's Lake. He checked the address on the business card again, and walked up to
the door. He was about to ring the bell when the door opened and Robert greeted him. "Clay, I was hoping you'd be here today. I know there's still
some doubt; I can see that in your eyes and feel it in your heart. Your whole life was turned upside down two days ago." Clay opened his mouth to ask
how this guy knew that, but Robert continued before he could say anything. "Come in. It's time to start your training."
"In martial arts," Clay said.
"No, in answering your call."
Clay looked into Robert's eyes for a long moment and saw only sincerity. He stepped over the threshold of the house, knowing that as soon as he did
so, he was leaving his old life behind and embarking on a new, wholly unknown adventure. This time, there was no hesitation.