“John, this is Jeff. He is working with us today.” Jeff was a 30 something, African American man. His hair was intricately braided into rows. He seemed very quiet.
It is common to meet new people in our project oriented work group who are working in community service due to a traffic ticket or some other minor infraction of the law. So I assumed that Jeff was with us for those reasons.
During the four hours we worked together it seemed that Jeff was not so energetic about being there. He seemed lost and confused for the most part. At the end of the day our supervisor was getting ready to shut things down for the day and said he had to leave quickly so he could get Jeff to the bus stop on time. I asked where the bus stop was and it was right on my way home, so I offered to take him so as to ease the rush of closing down the shop.
I am really trying to work on embracing people without regards to preconceived ideas of who they might be or where they may be coming from in life.
I made some pretty specific assumptions about Jeff. I presumed that he was certainly a community service volunteer. I thought his lack of energy was due to a total disinterest in being in our company for whatever reasons he was there. His skin color and braided hair added to my perceptions that he was from a different and foreign life experience from ours. Our shop is in an upscale suburban location. There aren’t many African American volunteers that work with us there.
Due to my desire to be inclusive and embracing of all people I worked hard during our time together to include Jeff into the mix of conversation and our projects. Our little work group of volunteers is very friendly and completely non-judgmental so it was easy to include him. I was proud of my accomplishment of inclusion and positive attitude towards Jeff. I felt good about how non-judgmental I was.
“Jeff, get in, I’ll take you to the bus stop.” After we got in, I began to ask questions of Jeff to make sure I continued my interest in him as a person even though I had already made my assumptions about where he was coming from. “So, Jeff, were you here with us today volunteering for community service?” Jeff’s reply, “No. I am living in a half way house and I have been really bored there. I was looking for a place where I could help out and do something positive with my time.” So, Jeff rides the bus 15 miles each way just to help us out .
Well, this was the first assumption that was blown away. Jeff was there because he wanted to be there, to do something positive. He wasn’t there because he had to be there! I went on to ask him about his half way house. “Jeff, what kind of program are you in?” He went on to tell me that he wasn’t in a program, but the half way house was his prison sentence. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was arrested for something that was pretty minor. He had a one year sentence at the half way house. He was very forthright with me about his heart and his struggles with his circumstances.
He went on to tell me that he had been really tired lately because he has Sickle Cell Anemia. There goes another assumption! He wasn’t lazy, or disinterested, he was tired from being affected by a terrible disease. But, he wasn’t sitting at home feeling sorry for himself, he was out working for free to help someone else.
When we got to the bus stop I told him I would be in prayer for him and the circumstances he was in. I wanted him to know that I had a relationship with God and that I would pray for God’s grace upon him. “John, thank you so much. I have been praying to God for the very same things. I am asking Him to help me to handle my circumstances better and for His help to get me through all of this.” Another assumption challenged. Jeff may even be a Christian himself.
My heart was tugged towards Jeff and I asked the Lord if He was bringing Jeff into my life for some special reason. I wondered if I was to follow up with Jeff in some way. It was obvious that God was in all of this and I wanted to follow the plan He may have had for our meeting.
As he shut the door I sat just for a moment while I processed all that had just happened. I had judged a man completely by his looks. I was humbled to a point of personal embarrassment. I was so wrong.
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
One thing I can say that was good. I didn’t leave him with my assumptions. I asked questions and really wanted to hear his heart. Jeff was a really nice guy, decent, honorable, and certainly not who I thought he was.
Two days later I had the opportunity to talk with our supervisor about Jeff. He said Jeff would be with us for a year. I found out that he was working with Jeff to grow in personal ways with regards to his work ethic, timeliness, and development of skills to make his time with us more rewarding for us all.
We discussed how God had placed Jeff in our hands for some special reason. We prayed for how God wanted us to minister to him while being with us. Our work group is a team of people who will love Jeff and treat him with respect. That is just the way we are. I have seen our little team accept all kinds of people and welcome them into our lives.
When I arrived for another day of working with our team Jeff was busy at work painting and didn’t stop until his job was done. At the end of the day our supervisor was looking for his keys to take Jeff to the bus stop and once again, I joyfully agreed to take him. In our time together we talked further about his living situation. He poured his heart out about some of his hardest struggles in being there. I was glad to be a listening ear for him. He talked about some of his values in being honest and honorable in his behavior. “John, I am not a trouble maker. I really try to do the right thing.”
As we stopped I reached over to shake his hand to say goodbye. Of course, I began with a traditional white American handshake and it quickly got all discombobulated due to his trying to go through a “brother’s” hand shake. I said, “Jeff, I don’t know how to do all of that stuff.” Jeff replied, “Yeah, I know, you got me all confused.” We broke out in a hearty laugh and it was so good to see Jeff smile for the first time.
Jeff followed up giving me a lesson in how to shake hands like a “brother”. I told him it may take more practice. I have a suspicion that I have more to learn from Jeff and how my original “profile” of his life, without knowing his heart, was not only wrong in the nature of the information, but wrong in my judgment of Jeff’s heart.
In our country profiling of African Americans causes major racial divides. Racism divides the church keeping our body broken and dismantled.
I write a lot about homosexuality. I wonder how often we judge homosexuals without knowing them as people? Do people profile them wrongly too?
As Christians are we missing out on many parts of the body due to our wrong assessments of the hearts of others? Do we think we are better than someone else? Do we have it right and others are wrong?