A Chance Encounter with a Sign Waver

By Sheree L. Downs

"Oh yeah, there's one and I'm in the right lane for once."

I bet you aren't as happy as me to see a sign waver by the side of the road. You see, I carry what I call "hand-up" bags in my car. In a plastic bag there is a bottle of water, a packet of noodles, a pouch of tuna, a pouch of peanut butter, some hard candies, a sandwich bag with a knife, fork, spoon, a granola bar, wet wipes, and napkins. I also include a note that says, "Things will get better—you must believe that. God loves you and so do I! Prayers for you." Most importantly, I include a small Bible. It has just the New Testament and Psalms in it but is just the right size to put in the bag. I even carry some pouches of cat and dog food, just in case.

Lately, it seems, I am always in the wrong lane to get to someone or I just haven't seen anyone. So, when I see the guy sitting by the side of the road, I pull into the parking lot and grab a bag.

He looks up at me as I get closer, then stands up and smiles at me.

"Hi, I have this for you. I call it a hand-up bag," I tell him.

He looks at me, puzzled. "Why do you think I need one?" he asks.

Oh dear, have I made a mistake? Was he just waiting for a bus?

"I saw the sign, I'm so sorry," I stammer as I back away.

"Wait, don't go. What sign are you talking about?"

"The sign on the ground, right where you were sitting."

He looks to where I'm pointing and we both look closer. It isn't sign, just a piece of cardboard with HEP on it.

"Wow, I'm really sorry. I thought you were a sign waver and it said Help." I turn around and start to walk away.

"Please, wait. I'd like to know more about your bags. Maybe I could use one, talk to me."

I turn around. "What do you mean, maybe you could use one, are you homeless or not?"

"Let's go over there and talk. I'm Bryan, by the way."

"I'm Sheree, but I want some real answers."

We sit down at a nearby bench and I hand Bryan the bag. He opens it and examines each item. As he reads the note, I see tears in his eyes. Bryan looks up at me.

"You don't know how much I needed to hear these words today. Yes, I am homeless, I just didn't want to bug anyone today for a hand out. I was feeling like no one really cares about me."

"Oh, but God cares about all of us, never give up on him."

"I know that, really. I guess I just need to be reminded. I'm so glad you stopped."

Bryan asks if I will pray with him, "Yes, of course I will."

As Bryan prays, thanking God for me, I say a prayer thanking God for Bryan and for hope.

I give Bryan my address and he tells me to expect postcards from him.

A week later, the first one arrives. Bryan is still on the road, with an extra item in his backpack, a full size Bible. He says he is reading it cover to cover but some days he will just open it up, point to a verse and it is a verse that speaks to him that day.

I still give out my hand-up bags. I try not to just hand them out the window. I pull over and really talk to the person. I've heard a lot of real stories and everyone lets me pray for them. I don't see just a sign waver anymore, I see real people just like you and I.