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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Bourne

Luis



I wanted to take some time to share a story. I don’t typically share these types of stories with what we do, but this one was special, and my prayer is that it inspires each one of you to never turn a blind eye to those in need. This story is about a man named Luis, told from my perspective.

Disclaimer – I realize that there will be a handful of people who will question my motives for sharing this story. I know this because it’s already happened once. Sharing this story not for praise or compliments or anything to do with me. I don’t even know what to do with compliments anyway besides stare at the person giving it blankly LOL so don’t do that. My fulfillment comes from the Lord not from man, I’m good. God is the hero in this story, not me. The purpose of sharing this is so this part of his story can be told but also so every reader will stop to examine themselves. To see how you can help your “neighbor.” Because Luis is your neighbor. This is a story with many lessons that I hope you can learn from the mistakes I made and the wins my team had in this story.

Easter Sunday was busy. Despite having 7 services in Baytown and 2 in Crosby, our church was literally overflowing with people for the 9:30 and 11:15 services. Every chair in the building and even the lobby couches ended up in the info center so people could watch the service that was happening in the sanctuary. Every spare room in the church was filled. I’ve never seen anything like it before! It was a bit chaotic at times as leaders scrambled to handle the influx of people. But it was a beautiful sight to see that many people hungry for the presence of God. The 4th service started at 12:45, and I began to make my exit to the shuttle that would take me to my car. My son spent part of the weekend at his aunt’s house so I needed to meet her at the house where she was going to drop him off at 1:30. It was at that moment that one of our Pastors came to me asking if I could help a man who was in the café who was homeless. I may not have shared this on here before, but at my church I lead the homeless ministry alongside some incredible leaders and members of the team. We typically go out on Serve Saturdays every month and respond to events like winter freezes and have Scout Days and packing parties. We are still growing and developing as a team though. But it is an honor to be able to serve in this way.

I sat down and introduced myself to Luis. It was evident from the start that there was something a bit “off” about Luis. Doing the type of ministry we do we know that can be anything from general mental illness to schizophrenia to drugs to straight up demonic possession. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which one it is. Sometimes it’s a mix of a few of them. I was cautious in the way that I spoke to Luis and asked him questions because I was unsure of how he would react. He didn’t seem interested in going into the service, which had already started. The Pastor got him some snacks and I made sure he got coffee and a muffin from the café (our church doesn’t have full meals on ready). Within about 5 minutes I realized that I may be out of my league a bit with this one. I felt like he really needed a brother to talk to because I could tell he didn’t trust women, like he had been hurt by a woman somewhere along the line or something. (I later found out, though I do not know the details, that is actually exactly what happened) There’s a part here I will skip out of respect for people involved, but it was something that frustrated me greatly. It was at that point I realized I was about to have to figure it out on my own since everyone else was busy.

Luis was saying things like “nobody cares about me” and “everyone here is judging me, looking at me, they can’t help me.” I noticed that he would repeat certain phrases, but he went from asking “does God care about me” to saying, “you guys really care about me huh?” One of our team came and sat with us while I talked with him. I asked how we could help him, and he kept saying with a place to stay. I realized that on Sunday our local shelter is closed, they do not answer the door nor the phone. I had $33 in my bank, not even enough for a night in a hotel for Luis. Most of our team had already left for the day, the ones that remained were currently serving and were quite busy. There was nothing else that I could do for Luis at that moment. I sat there feeling defeated, with no idea what else to say or do. I knew that I couldn’t give Luis a ride anywhere because that is not order and it would not have been safe (men don’t ride with women alone and vice versa for several reasons) But I knew that I had to go get my son. I asked Luis if I could pray for him before I left and he said yes, so we joined hands with him and prayed. But I had to walk away from Luis that day. I left him the number to the shelter and my cell phone number. The minute I turned away from Luis, I was in tears. I was frustrated and angry at the fact that this man walked into our church, and we couldn’t help him. On the way out, I caught one of our male team members (who will stay anonymous) and quickly told him the situation and asked if when he was done serving if he could check in on Luis. He said yes and I went out to the shuttle.

I hopped on the shuttle trying to avoid people because I was so frustrated I didn’t want to take that out on anyone. Now I am about to give a shoutout to the person who came and sat with me because she now reads this blog and I just love her so much. Ms. Diane came and sat next to me, and I couldn’t hold back my frustration. She heard what I had to say, and I really appreciated the moment to get that out. She responded in the most loving way. Thank you, Ms. Diane. I got home and called my sister in Christ who got a side of me that was not very Christ-like. (I sure am grateful for the people God has placed in my life who are there just at the right time.) The compassion I felt for this man was unlike anyone I’ve ever come across. I’ve been doing homeless ministry on and off for 7 years now and while I have compassion and love for everyone out there, this was different. When I went to my Freedom group on Friday, Ms. Diane said it in a way I didn’t even think about before. She said, “you felt the compassion that Jesus felt for Luis.” Now I realize that’s true, though I didn’t necessarily react to that level of compassion in the best way initially. I went to sleep on Sunday night in tears thinking about how poorly the situation was handled and I asked God to give me another chance to help Luis.

Monday came and I went to work as usual. At 11:40am, my phone rang, and it said, “Motel 6.” It was Luis. This is when I found out that the anonymous member got him a hotel room. I nearly burst into tears knowing that Luis was ok. We talked for a few minutes, and I encouraged him to call the shelter again because he had tried that morning, and they did not answer. He had also called and gone in person with the person who gave him the hotel room the day before and they did not answer. It was then that Luis asked me a question. He said, “do you think heaven and hell are real?” That’s when it hit me. We prayed for him – but when I sat at that table, I didn’t share the Gospel with him. I was so concerned about time and getting my son that I didn’t take the time to share the Gospel with him. And about an hour prior to talking to Luis, I found out one of our people on the street had died, though I didn’t recognize the name right off the bat (Paul). So, the urgency to do this for every person on the street we encounter was heavy on my heart already. I very briefly shared what I could with Luis, but I knew I had to get back to work. I told him let’s sit down and chat. (I found out later that day that the first member who got him the room had a great conversation with Luis and he did in fact share the Gospel with him and Luis had decided to accept Christ into his life.)

After our morning conversation, I realized “oh yea, he’s a guy and I can’t sit down and chat with him alone…” so I reached out to our team to see what we could do. We arranged to get him to church on Wednesday, where there would be food trucks and time for fellowship. Later that evening, Luis called me to let me know he went to the shelter in person, and no one answered. He had walked there. I was unable to get him a ride despite my best efforts and felt terrible telling him no yet again. I advised him to catch the bus if he could before they stopped running. Thankfully, he did make it back to the hotel safely that evening.

I sat back and reflected on everything that had happened up to this point and I still felt like there had to be something more we could do. And that’s when the idea came – we need a response team. I went from sad to overly excited quickly. I immediately messaged our group talking about the idea. I realized we need a team of people who can respond in a situation like this. We need an “emergency fund” for these one-off situations so the cost doesn’t fall on or depend on one person stepping up. Because of Luis, we are now starting a new branch of our team specifically dedicated to helping our homeless friends outside of normal serve opportunities (which truthfully, we’ve each been doing in our own ways already) in a more organized manner. I was inspired to finally start building a stronger resource list and start reaching out to these organizations personally to develop connections. I’ve now set aside a few hours on Friday, after work and after my Freedom group, to start making more calls. And it just now hit me as I am writing this, God made that possible by cutting back my work hours, I totally missed the blessing that is until this moment. So, thanks to Luis, we will now be able to help our friends on the street even more.

He called me twice on Tuesday and I reminded him of our plan, and chatted with him briefly to make sure there was nothing else he needed. It was interesting to me that he wouldn’t tell me what he needed. When I asked if he needed food, he just said no he was ok. And you can’t exactly force it on someone. You know most of the people we run into are somewhat honest about their needs, at least when it comes to something to eat. But Luis never really asked for anything other than a place to stay, and eventually he just talked about wanting to go home to his mom.

Wednesday came around and a couple on our team was able to pick up Luis from his hotel and bring him to church. He seemed so nervous. By this time, I knew some of the questions he was going to ask because he would always repeat the same ones. He would ask things like “Miss Brandi, do you think everything’s going to be ok?” “Is God real?” “Do you think God cares about me?” I stood with him while he got coffee and we headed into the sanctuary where we had some seats saved. I wasn’t sure if he would be able to sit the whole service, at this point I was still unsure exactly what was going on with him. Past experience with others told me that he may walk out, so I just told him “If we get separated, meet us back in the café.” But to my surprise, he was there the whole service. A couple times I looked over and it was the first time I had ever seen Luis smile, and he was smiling so big. Pastor Mike preached a phenomenal message, and not only did it stick with us, but it also stuck with Luis. And I know that because he was talking to me about it on Friday.
Service ended and another team member took him to grab a bite to eat at the food trucks while I got Lennon from the kids. The lines were super long, so I spent time catching up with a member of our team that’s been on leave in one line while the other member chatted with Luis in the other line. (Side note - I didn’t ask the team who wants to be in on this story by the way so that’s why you keep hearing me say “a member, a team member, another member” etc. but I have to pause to give a shoutout to our people for the amount of teamwork that went into ministering to Luis this week. I won’t call them by name because of that whole part where I didn’t ask but I am incredibly proud of each person that has played a part in this story up to this point. None of this was possible without them and their obedience to serve the Lord by serving Luis.)  I caught up with Luis and we talked about what he wanted to do. He had mentioned the day before that he wanted to go home, to the city he was from. That city was a 6 ½ hour drive from where we are. So, I talked to him about a couple options.

Option 1 was we could continue to try to get him into a shelter, but the timeframe on that was unknown. We knew that getting him into the 1 shelter in Baytown wasn’t going to work out if no one could get ahold of them. The concern was him running out of time in the hotel before we could get him in a shelter. Option 2 was finding something in Houston. I told him there were some options in Houston, like Star of Hope, but my concern was him getting stranded out there if we get him out there and it doesn’t work out. Option 3 was to get him a bus ticket back to this town that he was from. He asked if Houston was dangerous, and I told him the truth that it can be, yes. And being on the streets out there is not a good situation. He asked me again, “do you think everything will be ok?” Then he expressed an interest in going home to his mom. We talked for a bit about that situation and how things were with her. He was honest and said that they did fight a lot, but he missed her. I asked if he thought she would take him back in, and he said yes. So, it was then that we decided his best option was to get back to where family was, to where he was from. Even if he ended up on the streets out there, it was a better option than being on the other side of the state in a town he didn’t know. He wouldn’t talk about how he ended up in Baytown despite me asking. I didn’t push the issue. He repeated some of the same questions throughout our conversation. It finally occurred to me that there was a chance that perhaps this man was autistic. At this point we knew that it wasn’t drugs because there was no way he had access with no money in a town he wasn’t familiar with, not that quickly anyway. But it was more likely that this man had survived on the kindness of strangers this whole time. Another couple took him back to his hotel that evening. As I left the church, I drove to the front to make sure all was well and I saw him sitting there so happy eating his pancakes there on the curb in front of the church (the couple was giving him some time to eat). That picture will stay with me for a while, and it makes me smile just thinking about it.

Thursday came and I was unable to answer Luis’ usual morning call. I had spoken with my outreach director Wednesday evening about getting him a ride to get on the bus and she got back to me with a gentleman that serves at our church who was willing to take him. I spoke with his wife at Lennons practice, and we made a plan to get Luis to a bus stop on Saturday morning. I tried to call his hotel room that evening, but he did not answer so I was a bit concerned. Friday morning, I was in my one-year plan, and I came across Luke 10:25-37 (NLT):
25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

I started crying immediately. On Sunday, I was the priest and the temple assistant. I was not the Good Samaritan. The member who helped Luis was. Our team was. But it wasn’t until God gave me a second chance that I was. Then I thought of the second thing that had happened. Last week, I went into Dollar Tree, and I saw a man sitting on the curb with a crossword puzzle. He had food and a drink and seemed content. I didn’t stop to talk with him. I went in to get what I came for with Lennon. Which ironically was Easter eggs for Serve Saturday. But that’s not usually me. I almost always stop. But that day I was so concerned with running my errands and getting what I needed that I walked by. I am still not sure, but I think that may have been Paul, the homeless man who died on Monday. That stuck with me. That was a missed opportunity. I sat there knowing I needed to get ready for work just crying and repenting for not being the Good Samaritan right off the bat. I got ready for work, dropped Lennon off and headed to the park for my morning walk. And there I made a promise to the Lord that I would never walk by again. I will never pass another person by who is in need. I was reminded to allow interruptions of “my plans.” God places people in our path for a reason. I won’t miss another opportunity to share the Gospel again. What happens after is out of my control and I accept that.

I got home and called the hotel and Luis answered. I told him the plan and how he needed to be sure to be at the hotel Saturday morning and who would be picking him up. After work I went to Freedom and one of our team told me her husband was taking Luis out to lunch. We had discussed getting him a Bible but there’s not a lot of places to do that locally, so I had grabbed one of mine. I wrote my phone number in it in case he lost it. During Freedom she got a call from her husband, and he was in tears because Luis had touched his heart too. I won’t go into why, but it was clear that every person that encountered this man was touched somehow. There was something very special about Luis. I found out after that he had decided to stay at the monument, which is a very peaceful place on the water. Her husband would go back to check on him later in the evening or wait for him to call. It was dark by the time I got a call from a gentleman. Turns out, Luis managed to ride the ferry to the other side. This gentleman was kind enough to watch out for Luis while our team went to pick him up to take him back to the hotel.

Saturday morning arrived. I put out a prayer request for Luis’ journey with our prayer team and with the outreach team. I spent the first few moments of the morning praying for him as well. Then I spoke with the gentleman who was going to give Luis a ride and he let me know that there was no check in desk or anything at the Greyhound pick up spot. He intended on speaking with the people to let them know that Luis was autistic and homeless and would need some help. We told Luis many times be sure to ask for help, show them your ticket, don’t lose it, and call me if he needed me to help with that. The bus was delayed by almost 2 hours, and he decided to wait with Luis as long as he could. But we went ahead and got Luis an Uber to Houston to the main station. We knew he was going to miss his connecting bus, but Greyhound is supposed to get you on the next one free so we prayed that it would be one that went straight to his town and didn’t have the layovers. He had 3 layovers on that bus ride (which is crazy) so we were very concerned, but we had to place what happened next in God’s hands knowing that we did what we could. Today is Sunday and that was the last I heard of Luis. It made me a little sad to not get that call last night or this morning. I wonder if he ever made it to his home, or if he decided to stay in Houston. The ticket never updated to let me know if he actually got on that bus. I hope to update this story one day that Luis calls me and tells me he made it back home. *It’s actually the next Sunday now, and still no word from Luis but he has been in my and many others prayers.

Luis taught me more than I ever thought a person could in that short period of time. For one, he sparked a level of compassion in me that I never knew I had. The kind that leaves the 99 for the 1. The kind that would give up anything to help. Or as we say around our church and only FFC people will get this one – the kind that tears down a building. Because of Luis, we will have a response team and possibly more. We will see what all God does with that. A team that will know exactly what to do. A team that is way more connected to ministries that can help in last minute scenarios. Because of Luis, and my coach, we now have bags with more sustainable food in them in case someone comes in.

Luis, and Paul, reminded me to never turn a blind eye to my neighbor in need. No matter what’s going on. And the situation opened my eyes to some areas that could use some improvement. It gave me some specific prayer targets. I also got to see some amazing, dedicated members of our team in action, and I am so proud of them. It took a team of people to make sure Luis was taken care of and God used every one of those people to minister to him. But I think in a lot of ways, Luis ministered to them too. And some of them I am going to ask to comment on this blog about their encounter with Luis so you can see more sides to this story. God used Luis to light a fire of compassion in me that’s not going out. As a matter of fact we had another situation pop up this weekend and this time I can say I and a handful of others went above and beyond to help 2 ladies out there. We marched into the enemies camp boldly to find one of God's people. We go after the one because there was a time when we were the one. And there’s still times that we can end up being the one. We are the one that Jesus loves. You are the one that Jesus loves. Your neighbor is the one that Jesus loves. The one he will leave the 99 for. The one he will risk it all for. The one He gave His life for. Love your neighbor as yourself. Learn to love people through God’s eyes and incredible things will happen. Listen, we’re not perfect. We’re going to miss it sometimes. I did. And I’ve been doing this for years. But we learn from those mistakes. We learn from people like Luis. We learn from the unexpected situations that pop up in our lives that we don’t quite know what to do with. We’re all growing in this walk.
 
I pray this is the motivation you needed. I pray that you find your “Luis.” You know I was talking to someone last year about my “why.” My why is first because this is what God asked me to do and I owe Him everything. I love Him too much to say no. But the other part of my “why” isn’t a nice clean vision statement. Though I do align with the vision of our church because that is important (which is “We exist to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.”). But the other part of my why is a name. It’s a person. The first was Jesse. We used to say he looked like Jesus. That’s a story for another day. Not too long after that I met Timothy. And countless others whose names I will carry with me as I do this. Luis is now on that list. So is John, another person whose story is his to tell now. My why is the one Jesus loves. That’s why I do what I do. It makes it a lot harder to walk away from a name. To give up on a person. To say that I don’t need to do what I do, I could do something else. Because sometimes that thought does cross my mind. But I do need to do this. Because my why is a name. You go find your why. If you already know it, hold onto it, and don’t let go. And don't treat what you do for the Lord as something casual because it's not. It is an honor and a privilege to be trusted enough to serve the Lord. Let us never be so full of pride that we forget the first why - because we love Jesus. Our positions and what we do for God do not define us, but that does not diminish the importance of the assignment He gives us. Go have a conversation with the Lord today about this. Ask Him to show you what you can do, or what you are already doing, to love your neighbor well. Be a light in the darkness.
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