We found James Bunts sitting in a wheelchair under the el track. He wore a military jacket and desert camo bandana from his days as a soldier in the 5th infantry in the Gulf War. I asked if we could ask him about his life, and after we convinced him we had no problem with him, just curiosity, he began. James grew up in the Englewood projects, which he said was just as much a war zone as Baghdad was in 1991. He says that people walk by him every day, looking down on him like he ain’t nobody, as if he did not serve his country. A gas attack, probably Sarin nerve gas from Saddam’s chemical weapons cache, left him without the use of his legs. He doesn’t let that slow him down, and refuses to get an electric wheelchair. “I am the motor,” he says. He doesn’t suffer from flashbacks, but understands the mental scars warfare leaves. One of his friends, a veteran from Vietnam, wanders Chicago’s downtown talking to himself. “He’s crazy,” James says. But hardship and life in today’s society, he says, can turn you just as crazy as any war.
In past winters, he turned to a nursing home to escape the cold, his disability checks paying the bills. He forms a fist around an invisible table knife and demonstrates how people at the home were liable to get upset and try to stab you. War, the projects, the home, you always have to be watching, he says, or you won’t last. He takes a look at my skinny frame and American Eagle button down and issues a verdict: you wouldn’t last a week on the streets. You got to know the rules. Quite true. Holding an invisible syringe, he shows how security had to immediately calm the patients at the home who got out of control. Life on the streets is tough he says, but beats the restrictions on freedom one faces at the home. I signed myself out, he says gleefully, they couldn’t keep me there.
We offer him a lunch, and he gratefully accepts. Wheeling into traffic, se shows us his panhandling methods. Some days he is given almost nothing, a good day will net 60-70 dollars. He doesn’t always stay on the streets; he can go to his sister’s house in Englewood.
Like James Bunts, everyone has a story. The crowded streets of Chicago are teeming with stories, and Christ knows them all. At the end of the hour, we thank James for his time and for serving his country. James encouraged us to go and find other people in the streets, and find out about their stories. As he bid us a very warm goodbye, I think I began to understand the power of listening to someone. Listening shows that you care. It is a greater gift than any sack lunch—listening is a demonstration of love, and feeds the soul. Matthew writes in chapter 25 that when Jesus comes back in his glory, he will judge the nations. Jesus will say to the righteous:
34 “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
The righteous, confused, ask when they did these things for Jesus.
Mathew writes, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
So much of our efforts for ‘the least of these,’ are centered on food for the hungry and clothes for the needy, but we must not forget to visit those in need. The Apostle Paul’s proclamation of Christ crucified for sinners was always accompanied by a genuine love for his hearers. He compared his love to the love of a father to his son (1 Thess. 2:11.) As a loving father listens intently to his son, so we should listen to those who need to hear the Gospel.