Jesus came to my door one Sunday morning, but it wasn’t a convenient time. The night before Jesus arrived, I had attended a local wedding of two good friends, and I was hosting an older woman who had come to Atlanta for the occasion.
On Sunday morning, I hear a light tapping on the front door. Assuming the visitor is a close friend from the wedding party, I throw on some clothes and run downstairs. Surprise. I open the door to a young, skinny white guy with tattoos running up both arms and sunken, dark eyes. At first I think, "Ugh, not this morning," but I am struck by the thought: "Jesus is at my door, I can choose to help or I can shut the door." Since I was not the most Christocentric Friend, I am still surprised at having this thought.
The young man stands in front of my door dripping wet from a rain shower that rumbled through Atlanta several hours before. He quickly explains that his car broke down a few blocks away and asks to use my phone to call his mother. Apologetically, I tell him that I have an overnight guest and offer to call for him while he waits on the porch. I extend my hand to introduce myself and learn that his name is Chris. I also learn that he is bare-bone thin. After reciting his mother’s phone number, he begins to cry. He says, "Tell her I’m ready to do right, I want to come home."
Since his mother is not home, I leave a message on her answering machine. I return to the porch to tell the young man that I left a message and say, "You can check back this afternoon to see if she returned the call. At this point, I can make you some breakfast, but that’s about all I can do." I feel relieved, knowing that I have done my part and will still make it to an early-morning breakfast with friends from the wedding and then to meeting for worship.
I bring several sandwiches, fruit, and water to him as he sits on the porch. As I give him breakfast, he once again chokes up and asks, "Can you call my aunt? I really need to reach someone. I don’t have to wait for her here, I’ll wait on the corner." I figure, in for a penny, in for a pound, and ask for his aunt’s number. I wake his aunt up and explain that I don’t know her but her nephew is in bad shape on my front porch. Aunt Betty starts to cry. She confirms my suspicion that Chris is an addict and says, "We haven’t heard from him in months. I’m coming to get him so don’t let him leave." I protest that Chris wants to meet her on the corner, but she again says, "Please don’t let him leave."
Back on the porch, I tell Chris that his aunt will meet him at my home and it will take her about two hours to drive here. I also explain that I need to check on my houseguest who, with all the commotion, has begun stirring upstairs. My houseguest is a Baptist from a small Georgia town. Knowing that she’ll understand my predicament, I walk upstairs and say, "Jesus Christ came to my door this morning." She looks at me and says, "Well, all right, is the door open?" I realize that the door is open and return to talk to Chris, but I wonder if her question had a double meaning.
Chris and I sit on the porch for the two hours, learning more about each other. He admits that he is a crack addict. He confesses that he has at least three warrants for his arrest. He tells me that he had planned to meet a friend at 9 a.m. outside of Backstreets, a gay club, and I assume that Chris is also a sex worker. We talk about addiction and recovery, especially those recovery programs for people who don’t have a lot of money.
As a former social worker, I recommend a few good programs in the area and wonder if he’ll actually ever follow up on the recommendations.
At some point, I notice that he’s wet and wonder if his aunt knows about the disturbing tattoos on his arm. I run inside and find an old long-sleeve shirt so he can change into something decent and dry.
Like most addicts, he’s in denial about the true extent of his addiction. He knows that he needs to turn himself in for the outstanding warrants, but he also wants to go to his parents’ home for a few days and relax. He tells me, "I just want to live a normal life for a few days, you know, see a movie with my family." I remind him that he last used drugs less than four hours before and that he’d be shaking and trembling by early afternoon. He falls silent. In the silence, I realize that he might like some coffee, and I brew a few cups for him.
At exactly 10 a.m. Chris says, "I hope you didn’t plan to do anything today." Since I am normally settling into meeting for worship by this time, I respond, "I’m usually in church about now, but Jesus came to my door instead." Chris gets this look that says, "Oh no, I’m going to have to believe something before I leave this porch." I just chuckle and reassure him that I won’t evangelize to him. I still find it funny that anyone would mistake me for an evangelist.
Finally, his aunt arrives, and I walk into the house as the tearful reunion begins. After drying their tears, she comes into the house and thanks me, repeating that Chris is an addict and stressing that he needs to turn himself in to the police for his outstanding warrants. I encourage her to remain strong in her belief that he should turn himself in, but I know he will try to convince her otherwise.
For several days I didn’t know if Chris made it to jail or if he went back to using drugs and living on the streets again. Thankfully, his aunt called with a very positive update. She gave him the chance to run away from the situation by parking the car at a gas station and going inside for about ten minutes. To his credit, Chris stayed in the car and voluntarily turned himself in. Upon reporting to jail, the guards booked him on seven outstanding warrants—from stealing cars to robbery to using stolen credit cards. After being in jail for a few days, they asked him about several other crimes, and he admitted his involvement in them as well. His aunt explained to me that Chris would plead guilty to all the charges and spend 3 to 15 years in prison.
On a visitation day, his aunt asked him why he chose my house out of all the houses on my street. He saw me come home with my older houseguest the night before and thought that I was probably the only white person living on my street. He planned to rob me when I let him into the house and was surprised that I showed such kindness to him. He also told his aunt that I left my front door open for about three minutes, and he briefly thought about continuing with the planned robbery.
Recently I opened my door to Jesus, but I have never opened my door to a robber. That distinction made all the difference. Our interactions probably didn’t change his life, but they helped him make the right choices that day.