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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Wednesday, February 3

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.
—Hebrews 13:3

Ernest Milligan was probably 55 years old when I first met him. We were in the basement of my parish church, in an office that served as headquarters for a fledgling ministry to homeless men, women and children. I was a new volunteer, unsure of myself but eager to help and be “of service” to the people who came in asking for shelter or clothing vouchers.

Ernest was a client, too, but, as he said, “I don’t want much.” He did not want shelter vouchers because he preferred to sleep in alleyways (“You should see the stars that shine down into that alley,” he told me). He didn’t want food or clothing vouchers (“My SSI check covers those things,” he said).

What he wanted was a chair in our ministry office where he could spend some time each day talking to us. We loved having him there, as he knew more about street ways and available services than any of us. And he could spot a con artist instantly! (He’d frown and barely shake his head when he thought we were being lied to.)

For several years, Ernest sat in the same chair every day, and when he died unexpectedly, it was a great loss for all of us. We put a plaque over his chair: In memory of Ernest Milligan who taught us the meaning of courage and dignity.

When I read this quotation from Hebrews, I thought of Ernest, who helped me understand that homeless people—along with all those who are in need of clothing or shelter, food or opportunities—are not categories; they are individuals and children of God, who make valuable friends.

Help us, O God, to see through statistics and categories, into the hearts and minds of individuals. And thank you for the life and ministry of Ernest Milligan. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2007.