GRACEVILLE, Fla. (BP)–He was alone, stretched out on the bench in the gazebo at The Baptist College of Florida. Most students rushed by to make their 8 a.m. classes. Visibly out of place, the stranger had long, disheveled hair, layered camouflaged clothes and a backpack near his side.
Experiencing the first cold snap of the season at BCF’s Graceville campus in early December, one student offered the seemingly homeless bum warmth by pointing him to the student center. Another offered the man hot coffee and food, and struck up a conversation. A professor and two students gave him a Gospel tract explaining the plan of salvation.
Some students and staff members glanced at the apparent intruder and turned away. One staff member, concerned about the safety and well-being of the students on campus, asked him to move along.
The man was invited to attend the 10 a.m. chapel service by two students. He accepted the offer and sat on the back row with one of them.
The chapel service began just like any other with musical praise and worship.
Then BCF President Thomas A. Kinchen came to the microphone to pray and introduce the morning’s chapel speaker.
To the congregation’s bewilderment, the chapel speaker was either late or not coming. Kinchen was in mid-sentence talking about the guest speaker’s topic, foreign missions, when the campus stranger on the back row spoke up and asked, “What about home missions?”
After a brief exchange, Kinchen invited the stranger to come to the podium and allowed him an opportunity to speak. The “bum” obviously had something to say to the students who passed him by yet were enrolled in college to prepare for ministry and service.
The chapel audience seemed to hold their breath as the stranger who had been sleeping in the gazebo now was quoting Scripture and sharing his heart for a lost world.
The speaker’s bold depiction of “when you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it unto me” changed attitudes and hearts in the auditorium.
The kindhearted stranger thanked Kinchen, then removed his glasses.
“I’m not really a bum, y’all came up with that yourselves, based on my appearance,” the man said. “I’m actually a businessman and the pretty lady on my left is my wife, the guy sitting next to her is our chief pilot and will be taking us to Fort Worth and the campus of Southwestern Baptist Seminary as soon as chapel is over.”
Kinchen then introducing the chapel speaker as Richard Headrick, designer and manufacturer of some of the most beautiful signs and crosses displayed all over the world. Kinchen said Headrick has dedicated his life to making a difference for Christ and opening the eyes of people to see the plight of lost and rejected individuals in society.
Headrick said in the 14 years he and his wife have engaged in “bum ministry” at churches and college and seminary campuses, to his disappointment the Gospel message has only been shared with him 20 times.
He was pleased to report the Gospel was shared with him three times that morning on the BCF campus.
“Most of the time my wife and I do the ‘bum ministry’ together, but on college campuses it seems best to do it by myself,” Headrick said. “The thing that hurts me most when I’m bumming it alone is that I’m in the midst of hundreds of people, yet it’s as if I’m invisible to them.
“Loneliness and rejection is a terrible feeling,” Headrick said. “but it makes it much easier to understand why Jesus [before His resurrection] died of a broken heart.”
Sandra Richards is director of marketing and admissions at The Baptist College of Florida (www.baptistcollege.edu). This story initially appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (www.goFBW.com).