On September 27, 2008, the very first Feed 500 at Manhattan Bible Church, Sarah Ngu, a freshman at Columbia was in the audience. She epitomizes what we hope for every Feed 500 attendee.
I'm so grateful for Sarah's prayer, support and faithfulness to the Gospel. Here's her story:
“My friend Joy and I were wandering around Columbia, two freshmen equipped with two sack lunches each looking for a homeless person with whom to eat lunch. This was what we were supposed to do as part of this event called Feed 500 run by New York City Urban Project: get to know a homeless person by having lunch with him or her. It was the first month of school, and we were new to New York. I gingerly approached one lady, unsure if she was actually homeless or just very poor, and then I saw a man looking through a trash bin. Bingo, I thought.
I don’t remember how I approached him, I’m sure I was nervous, but the main thing I remember is that we talked for quite awhile and connected on theology and God. A Korean War veteran, he would peruse books on Christianity in the library during his free time while he wasn’t collecting recyclables from trash cans. As our conversation was winding down, I realized that I felt like I made a friend. If he was just a student, I thought to myself, I would, in my eager-freshman mode, naturally say, “Let’s hangout again.” I felt it only right and proper to hang out with Gilberto again, not because of charity, but because that is not what I would do to a friend, especially a friend in need. I proposed this to him, “I have a meal plan, so every day I go to the dining hall. I can save you some extra food and meet you outside the gates of Columbia at around 7pm every weeknight to give you some food, and we could hangout?” He was delighted.
I kept my promise. We spoke mostly in Spanish, and I learned more about his story and he about mine. We both moved to the US from different countries. He was cheated out of some money awhile ago, which is a big reason why he was on the streets; his family was in Florida and he wanted to go back there at some point. It seemed silly to worry about school stress when talking to him. There were a few times that I forgot to meet him, and many times where I was annoyed that I made this commitment (because of school stress, being busy and otherwise). One night, it was 7:15pm and I realized that the dining hall had pretty much closed. I trudged out to the gates to apologize to him for being late and for not having food, but he was still, to my surprise, happy to see me. The main thing that mattered, he told me, was that I was present and showed up. I realized the biggest gift I was giving him was not the food but space in my life; he knew that he was important enough to me that he was in my schedule, that I was ordering a part of my night around him, and it meant the world to him.
A month later, he told me that he was leaving for Florida the next day. A judge had ordered a large chunk of money to be paid to him, and it was enough to buy him a ticket to Florida and try to start anew. I wasn’t sure if I was misunderstanding him, as my Spanish was limited to what I had studied in high school, but the next day I got a call from a foreign number. “Who is this?” I asked. “Soy yo, Gilberto!” a voice rang loudly into my ears. He was calling from a payphone on a rest-stop, on his way to Florida in a bus. He was free.
I haven’t heard from Gilberto since then, although, of course, I wish him well. My friendship with Gilberto has birthed a college paper (where I argued that recognition of dignity is a better motivation for charity than emotional compassion) and more importantly indelibly shaped all my future encounters of homeless people on the streets. I’m not a saint; I don’t have in-depth conversations with every homeless person I meet. But Gilberto taught me that I had primarily viewed the needy as cash registers where I deposited my guilt in the form of loose change, instead of humans who want love and time and attention just as I do. And for opening my eyes, I am forever grateful.”