Few knew it, and many do not know it now, but I am essentially shy, triggered by an event when I was a kid of fifteen and heard my dear Aunt Cleo say (she didn’t know I was in ear shot), “Well, Kent, he is kind of homely.”
My family hails from the Sand Hills of northwestern Nebraska, and “homely” was a word I heard from time to time. Since I really was just a skinny little kid with big ears, I internalized the idea that I was funny looking, so I avoided ever dating a girl or going to a dance while I was in high school. Although an average student and a fairly good athlete, I nevertheless acquired a kind of shyness. It is with me to this day.
So, there I was on Haight Street in the winter of 1967, and it scared me. Here were all these hipster types looking and acting weirdly in their multi-colored, strange clothing and long scraggly hair, and I didn’t know how to approach them. I wanted to, and inside of me was a desire to tell them about Jesus, but I could not bring myself to do it. What to do? I had nothing, no Gospel tracts or New Testaments to hand out yet, so I walked up and down the sidewalks of several streets trying to get up courage to talk with someone.
Walking toward Masonic Street on Haight one day probably in March, I spied a scruffy kid sitting on the curb, and beside him was a battered green suitcase. I noticed a number of similar kids with sleeping bags and old suitcases (back packs came later) around the district, and I knew they were new arrivals.
This happened before the days of my journal writing, so I don’t know the kid’s name or too much more about him, but what I do remember is that I worked up enough courage to sit down next to him on the curb, which was a big deal at that point.
I said “hi” and waited. I told him my name. Nothing. I asked, “How you doing?” He started to cry. With the dam now broken, he told me his story—how he had read about “it” all in the papers and wanted to give it a try. He didn’t want to go into the Army either, so he headed out west. His parents didn’t know where he was.
This kid thought he was a Christian; yes, I did start to tell him about Jesus. He listened politely, did not get upset, and told me he had gotten saved as a little kid. I asked him if he was sure. He said no. I asked him if he wanted to make sure. He said yes. We prayed the traditional sinner’s prayer.
The rest of the story is pretty simple. I called his parents, they talked to their boy, and in about an hour he was on his way home on a Greyhound Bus.
Wow, I thought, that was easy. So, I kept this up for the next three-plus years. That battered green suitcase often came to mind while sending yet another young boy or girl homeward bound on the bus. It was wonderful. If I had had any sense of the future, I would have taken pictures, but it simply did not seem like a big deal to me to send prodigals back home. I hope it meant something to many parents who graciously received them back.