A few months ago, I had the honor of celebrating my 23rd birthday with the beautiful people of Baltimore. As hard as it is to be a missionary in a new city, God always has a way of providing new and unexpected gifts. This year, I was able to be a part of a miracle on my birthday.
A month prior, a woman had contacted the Basilica out of concern for her elderly uncle, Ramon, who had disappeared on the streets for some time and had lost his phone. She tearfully informed one of our missionaries how concerned she was for his well-being; he was simple, shy, and all alone on the streets of Baltimore. Without any means of contacting him we were notified of the desperate situation and told to keep our eyes peeled for this man, having his last documented photos for reference. Weeks went by, and no Ramon.
Then, on October 6th after celebrating my birthday with one of our friends experiencing homelessness, I went to the church to pray and noticed a small cart neighboring the pew of a homeless man who found a place to rest.
I looked more closely.
Wrangled and matted silver hair covered the head of a slouched gentleman with dark olive skin. He was unshowered, cloaked in ragged attire, and asleep. His appearance awakened a vague memory of the man from the photos. Living into the new boldness that comes with 23 years of age*, I pulled up his picture on my phone and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, are you Ramon?”
His groggy stare focused on my iPhone where I had pulled up the picture of a past life he once knew. He gave a pause, then a thoughtful nod.
“Ramon, your family has been looking for you.”
I wish I could properly convey to you the childlike joy that surged into my heart as I ran out the door to grab Colin, the head missionary. That very hour we were able to put Ramon in contact with both his niece and sister.
The air was electrifying. The three of us waited on the portico of the church as Colin called his relatives. The excitement and suspense grew with every ring until there finally was a click. They answered and heard Ramon’s voice for the first time in months.
“It’s me, Ramon! I am at the church, I am here!”
Exclamations broke out for both the niece and sister as they expressed their great relief. On his part, Ramon subtly wept and repeatedly apologized for causing so much concern. Tears and smiles were a commonly worn that day. Tears leaked out of the corners of my eyes, as well as Colin’s, as we enjoyed the privilege of witnessing a miracle.
After we finished the call with tangible plans for a family reunion the next day, I went back into the church to offer my prayers of thanksgiving. As I was settling down into my pew to find my own sense of rest, I noticed a growing whimpering sound and intermittent sniffling. Having no idea where the noise was coming from, I looked around the near-empty basilica to narrow in on Ramon, sitting in the same pew as before, this time well awake.
Unsure of myself, I slowly approached the grown man weeping in his arms on the pew in front of him. I bent over and whispered,
“Ramon, are you okay?”
He slowly looked up with a massive smile and teary eyes and paused. Taking a breath between soft weeps,
“They found me.”
Although I was not present for the physical reunion of Ramon and his family, I was told that it was flooded with a divine joy and grace. You can see for yourself in the photo below!
Time went by and I did not hear from Ramon again. Then, on one particularly crisp autumn morning, I ran into his familiar smile as I walked home from church. This time, he was showered, well-dressed with a new leather jacket, without a cart, carrying bags filled with groceries (including a noticeable amount of donuts), and loving life! He told me that he is happy and gladly gave me permission to share this story with you today.
Frankly, I am speechless in reference to the generosity of God. As I reflect on this miraculous encounter, I see the tangible grace that God has given Ramon.
Place yourself in his shoes. Can you imagine what it would be like to be lost with no sense of connection or community? To walk along streets where nobody knows you, no one looks you in the eye or calls you by name? To be divorced from a stable bed, a source of love, and a presence of familial affection, tucked into a church pew trying to receive a little bit of rest–which does not come cheap on the streets? What would it be like to be so forgotten to yourself, accepting that this was your current state in life, when an unfamiliar voice calls you by name? And, to top it all off, you are told that your family has been looking for you?
As much as I cherish writing in dramatic prose (possibly a hubris of a sort), let us take a step back to realize that this is not too far off from our own story. We all experience places in our lives where we can feel isolated, insignificant, and unseen.
There is the all-too-common pain of being overworked at a job that feels pointless, but paralyzed by the sense of security it brings to us and the ones we love. We can all experience a hidden, interior suffering in the midst of exterior well-being. Even if we have housing, clothing, food, and a laptop, we might feel a silent, dull, and painful longing for connection. Too many of us endure the long, drawn-out pain of a relationship where communication has broken down and isolation takes over. And millions of us experience the gnawing feeling of comparison as we scroll through our social media feed that presents plastic, polished highlights of a broken world. If we are being honest, we have all been lost at some point or another.
Then you hear His voice.
John 10:27-28 says: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”
The reality is that we are hard-wired to listen for His voice. We yearn to be called by name. To be recognized, known, seen, and loved. This grace is not made tangible in only extreme cases, such as a dramatic family reunion of a man experiencing homelessness. It is for you, His cherished child. He calls your name today. Ask for the grace to listen.**
“Your heavenly Father has been looking for you.”
* I say this facetiously for those who do not understand my writing style.
** I beg you–in reference to Psalm 95, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”