Adventures with Joe and Melvin

Our friend Joe is a zany character. It’s hard to describe him, but he is a joy to have as a friend – fun, insightful, crazy, blunt, bold, God-fearing, Christ-honoring, and definitely not afraid to share the love and forgiveness God has given him with others. Joe, an ex-Harley biker and all-around tough guy, likes to say that he has a “ministry on the streets” in which he helps people in need – a car broken down on the side of a road, a homeless man in need of company, whatever. He helps them out, talks to them, and shares Christ’s love with them.

Joe recently bought his first house, and has put a lot of work and effort into it. There is still lots to be done, and I went over to Joe’s house in Portsmouth the other day to help him replace the gutters on the back of his house. We were almost done, and realized we needed more supplies. So we went to Lowe’s, bought the needed supplies, and got back in his truck (F-250) and were ready to pull away, when all of a sudden, a 60-something year old African American man on a bike toting multiple large bags flags us down. His belongings look to be similar to those characteristic of the many homeless people in Hampton Roads. He tells us that he needs to get over the river to downtown Norfolk (about a 15 minutes drive) to the Farm Fresh market (upscale grocery store). Joe presses him for more information, and the man tells us that he has been trying to get a ride for five hours to get to the grocery store to play the baby grand piano. After Joe asks the man several times if he is telling the truth (and the man insists that he is), Joe takes him to the back of his truck, puts the man’s bike and bags into the bed, and continues talking to him. I am still in the passenger seat, not able to discern completely what the conversation is about, but I can tell that Joe is continuing to ask the man what is going on, and then tells the man of God’s love and forgiveness of sins through Christ’s work on the cross. The conversation wraps up, the man gets into the truck bed, and we take off for downtown Norfolk.

On the way over, Joe tells me that he loves helping people in similar situations like this, but from his experiences, not one person has ever told him the truth – he has been told that a car is out of gas, when the car is running and the gauge clearly reads half full, he has been asked for money for all sorts of things, etc. Joe assumes this man wants to either get to the nearby soup kitchen or score some dope. On our way to Norfolk, we pray for God’s guidance, and for Christ to be exalted no matter what the situation.

Upon parking next to the Farm Fresh downtown, Joe instructs me to stay with the truck while he brings the man (Melvin) in to the store to get cleaned up, and to figure out what’s going on. A few moments later, Joe comes out alone with a stunned look on his face – speechless. Apparently Melvin plays the baby grand piano at the Farm Fresh market frequently. I follow Joe in to see for myself. Employees hug and high-five Melvin as he makes his way to the piano. He promptly leans into a soulful rendition of Silent Night infused with jazz improvisation and gospel funk. His thick, worn fingers seem to flit and float over the keys, not hitting one wrong note. It was incredible. Joe and I stand with gaping mouths, beside ourselves because of our unbelief.

After Melvin’s second song, an equally-moving performance of Away in a Manger, we tell Melvin we have to get going. Surprised and humbled, we ask for forgiveness from Melvin for not believing his claims. It turns out that Melvin plays at a couple of the Farm Fresh markets in the area, never getting paid, but he still holds out hope that the stores will pay him. We also tell Melvin that we had assumptions of doing him a favor, but he was the one who did us a favor and gave us a gift instead. Melvin smiles, shakes our hand, thanks us for the ride, and for sticking around. Joe then launches into a clear presentation of the forgiveness God has given his children through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ, and the promise of eternal life.

On the way back to the truck, all Joe and I can do is laugh in amazement at how God works. We were completely wrong in our assumptions about Melvin’s claims. Here are two boys trying to help out a helpless older man, thinking we are doing him a big favor, but God had other plans. Truly, as 1 Corinthians says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” Paul goes on to say that the wisdom we can know is in Christ Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'”

Joe and I were humbled by the situation – we totally did not believe Melvin, and our inward thoughts were leaning toward building ourselves up because of it. But God knew that we needed to learn a lesson in humility and total reliance and trust in Him. I write this now not with the attitude of trying to show how cool we were, or to draw attention to ourselves, but to boast in the Lord for his goodness and faithfulness to me. Joe and I give God the glory for humbling us proud and sinful creatures. We thank him for forgiving sinners like us, and pray for boldness to share the love of God with those who don’t know the forgiveness of sins and the joy that is in Christ Jesus.

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2 thoughts on “Adventures with Joe and Melvin

  1. That’s a fantastic story. My admiration for Joe grew as a result of hearing how freely and quickly he spoke of the gospel to this strange stranger. We covered Philippians 2.14-16 in Bible study last nite, where we are challenged to “shine as lights” in the midst of a “crooked and twisted generation.” Joe was certainly faithful to shine in this story. Give him a hug for me.

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