Years ago, I traveled quite frequently and on this cold winter night in 1985, happened to be in downtown Chicago. I was staying in a hotel downtown and wanted to take a short walk before retiring for the evening. I stepped outside and saw a gentleman slowly walking toward me. He was a haggard soul, wearing a hat, walking with a cane and humming a gospel song that I recognized from my days as a young man at camp meeting in Texas. As he approached, I asked him how he was and he said “Blessed, I am blessed”. I asked him his name and he replied in the most curious way—he said to me, “I have no name, I have no face, I am but an ordinary man, but God put me here to spread love and cheer and I am doing the very best that can. If we would but give our hand to our fellow man this world would be a much better place.” He then tipped his hat, pushed off with his cane and walked away with a smile on his face, humming that same song. I stood there for a minute, trying to take in and absorb what this 70+ year-old man had just told me when I decided to catch up to him and give a few dollars to help him along his way. I rumbled in my pocket and pulled out six or seven single bills and handed them to him, and he said to me, “the Lord thanks you”. Again he tipped me his hat, put down his cane and walked off still smiling and humming that song.
I watched him as he walked along that frozen sidewalk on that cold, blistery winter night—stopping every time he saw another distressed individual on the street, and he would share with them some of the money I had just given him. As I walked back up to the hotel, I asked the doorman who had witnessed my encounter, “do you know him?”—the doorman replied, “I know who he is, but don’t know his real name, we all call him Holy-Roller Sam”. He said none know much about him, where he came from, or how he got here, but he walks around always smiling, humming that same song, saying the same thing to everyone he meets. “ I have no name, I have no face, I am but an ordinary man, but God put me here to spread love and cheer and I am doing the very best that I can. If we would but give our hand to our fellow man this world would be much a better place.” The doorman went on to tell me that Holy-Roller Sam regularly shares with all the homeless who are most desperately in need of the funds people give him on the streets. I went to bed that night, and could not get Holy-Roller Sam off of my mind.
The words he said to me kept echoing through my brain over and over—“I have no name, I have no face, I am but an ordinary man, but God put me here to spread love and cheer and I am doing the very best that I can.” In this one instant, all that I thought I was and all that I thought I could be seemed to dim in comparison to who I knew he was in God’s eyes. I wanted to know more about him, and so I decided to venture out that next night to see if I could find him, and talk to him. For about an hour or so, I walked up and down the block hoping to see him—but no Holy-Roller Sam.
I saw the doorman and walked over to ask him if he had seen Holy-Roller Sam—it was then that the doorman told me that Sam had been struck by a driver and killed earlier in the day. I stood there stunned for a moment, and I slowly walked back to my room—amazed by the tears that had welled up in my eyes. To this day, I ask myself, if only I had shared with him more than a few bucks from the thousands I had in my wallet—if only I had of gotten him a room for a night or two . . . perhaps I could have changed the course of his demise.
Since my chance encounter with Holy-Roller Sam, I see the homeless in a different light—and I always will. We are a society overly obsessed with our looks, and I am just as guilty—or more than many—always wanting to look my best. I used to be more so, always making sure that I looked absolutely perfect. I paid special attention to my face, ensuring it was perfectly pampered . . . all until that fateful day when I met a man who said that he had no face—no face, no identity, no pretense, no vanity, no airs—only an ordinary man giving his hand to his fellow man from the crumbs he collected from strangers. As I look in the mirror each day I see the wrinkles that have formed on my face over the years, and I remember the man—Holy-Roller Sam—who told me he had no face, and my concern turns to a smile, letting me know I’m okay with a few wrinkles.
That chance encounter with Holy-Roller Sam on that cold Chicago winter night forever affected my life for the better. Holy-Roller Sam was homeless until he moved in with Jesus.
And by the way the song he was always humming is the song I shared in my last blog – I find myself now even at this moment tearing as I write.
Unworthy, unworthy, a beggar; In bondage and alone
But He made me worthy and now by His grace,
His mercy has made me His own.