It was Cliff’s idea.
“Hey, let’s go and visit Dennis.”
Dennis is the busker friend we know who had met with a series of recent crises and unfortunate events in life. Having suffered depression amidst heartbreaking circumstances, he had moved into a one-room flat he was sharing with another man. Since the last time we met, when he asked for a loan, we had not met in a few weeks. So when Cliff suggested to pay him a visit and bring him a care package, I thought it was a great idea.
We didn’t know what he needed, really. He kept saying he had everything needed to be content. A friend working at my church community services had also recently dropped off some groceries and food items at his place. Remembering that he had mentioned how much he missed cooking and baking, the two of us asked around and managed to find an oven toaster and a little electric stove to bring to him.
That morning, it was raining. The items were heavy. Dennis stayed a long way away. But Cliff, being ever chivalrous, graciously carried the heavy metal items all the way up to my office cubicle so I wouldn’t have to carry them alone. After work, he came to pick me up as well. 14 train stops and a little walk later, we arrived at a block of little units. It was a quiet, quaint neighbourhood.
Along the corridor, a train of oldies music led us to Dennis’ humble home. Dennis was overjoyed to see us. He was at a little table, preparing his music scores for busking the next day at the train station. There was a mattress on the floor, a table, his flat-mate’s simple bed, boxes of food and plastic drawers filled with music scores, and oh, cooking utensils and a stove. It was then that we found out, that he had managed to take some of the items from his old home with him. So he neither needed a toaster or an electric stove. Cliff and I smiled at each other. We could have been upset at each other, having gone through the hassle of finding and lugging the items along, and in the rain too, but we both knew it was a worthwhile effort. We wanted to show that we cared, and ensure we didn’t miss the opportunity to bless him if he had initially declined to receive out of guilt or embarrassment.
“Cliff, you haven’t heard me play and sing before right?”
After a carefree song “Mrs Robinsons” played beautifully on the guitar and sung languidly by Dennis, we chatted more. Since linking Dennis up with my church’s community services arm, he had received his first package of cereal, instant noodles, oil, biscuits… but we also learnt that these were items he did not use or eat. Instead he gave them to his flat-mate, a man with cerebral palsy working at a place which employs people with disabilities. It was then that it struck me, that as helpful and wonderful programmes are to reach the needy, love still has a face and requires a personal touch to meet an individual’s needs. If we truly care, then we must continually challenge ourselves to find out the specific needs of the person and humble ourselves to meet them.
Pride, however, often sets in. We wonder, how can someone in need be so choosy? I’ve found myself even asking before, how can so-and-so ask for this-and-this? It reminded me of the Thursday “bread pack” we receive from Grandpa Zhou every week. He would give us a bag of bread passers-by had dropped off to him through the week, but that he would not eat, because “I’ve grown so scared of eating bread” when really, all he wants is a hot meal of rice and vegetables and a little protein. In the same way, I realized that for Dennis, we too, had to humble ourselves to find out his needs. And my regular emails to him just wasn’t enough. Cliff was right- we had to visit him.
What he needs may surprise, or not surprise you. You might think it’s not “basic enough” or too “extravagant”. Don’t get me wrong, he is content. But as we talked, we learnt that a washing machine would help him greatly, and save him the long and heavy journey of taking his clothes to a Laundromat a long way away. He shared that a “top-loader” sort of washing machine instead of a “front loader” (where the door opens at the front) saves more water and electricity. We also saw, that with a single bed frame where he could place his mattress on, it would give him a better place to sleep and create more space for him in the little flat to store his items under his bed.
A washing machine? A bed? Come on, shouldn’t we be happy already that Dennis has a place to stay and food to eat? A hot meal of rice and vegetables? Seriously? Shouldn’t Grandpa Zhou be happy enough that people buy him bread?
When we think this way, compassion leaves us, ushering only self-righteousness into our hearts.
On the way home from Dennis’ place, Grandpa Zhou gave us our bread package and… a box of Golden Village popcorn someone had given him, obviously because they didn’t want it. That made me angry in a way- Grandpa Zhou just laughed it off, saying he had no teeth to eat popcorn anyway. Why didn’t anyone ask if it was something he wanted? On the other hand, it also pained us to know that with a chicken rice stall and two other hawker centres nearby, nobody besides us had been buying him warm dinners, since the lady who used to give him a pack of noodles every Thursday night had gone overseas.
I remember one day, I had tears in my eyes. Since Cliff and I married and I received a paycut, we had been a lot more prudent about spending, especially in light of the fact we were preparing ourselves for overseas missions. One week, I remember being especially frustrated- a friend had asked me out for tea at an expensive café, and to be honest, I mulled over it more than I should have, fretting over how much it might cost, what we’d have to cut back on for yet another “unnecessary” expense. I had tears in my eyes that day when this friend not only bought me coffee, but an expensive tiramisu to bring home to share with Cliff. That gesture moved me to tears, for some reason, showing me how God uses His people to bless us above all that we can imagine, even extravagantly, yes, beyond what we “need”.
Tiramisu? Are you kidding me? You’re like wanting to do mission work among the poor and you were craving what, a fancy dessert? That experience humbled me. It showed me that we are all human, that we all have needs we wish we didn’t have, that we can all be content with what we have, but that the generosity and sensitivity that people can shower upon others to meet thier personal and specific needs can truly be a channel of blessing and God’s deep love.
I don’t like the fact that we label only Christmas as the “season of giving” but truly, if this season, you feel led to bless and touch somebody’s life, here’s an opportunity to do so. Cliff and I would really like to buy Dennis a simple top-loader washing machine and a single bed frame. Second-hand prices are not much different so we’d really like to go for new ones. The total for both, with free delivery from Courts for a discounted washing machine and bed frame is about $470.
If you would love to be a part of Dennis’ Christmas surprise, please drop us an email at email@example.com with your name and address within the next 5 days (last day on 4 Dec) as we’ll be leaving for India shortly after. For every $10 donation, we would like to mail you a copy of “I love you” as a Christmas gift for you to share with your friends and family about the meaning of love. We’re not celebrities, but if you like, we will sign on them for you. To help us logistically (we don’t have a manager to manage our books and have to do this ourselves), we can only mail out a minimum of 5 books for a minimum of a $50 love gift for this cause. You can view the e-book here.
Whether it’s Dennis or somebody else,
be a blessing this season,
to meet someone’s deep and personal need.
And if you see a busker on the street, remember to tell him how much you appreciate his music,
or ask someone like Grandpa Zhou if he’d like a hot meal.
Blessings to you.
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
– Hebrews 13:16
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,
but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.
Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say,
‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin.
You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.
For there will never cease to be poor in the land.
Therefore I command you,
‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ “
– Deuternomy 15:7-11