Monday, June 27, 2011

Charles, Cleaning Man and Saint

I came out of the stairwell door into the La Cantina night club. I was in uniform with a badge. Charles, the night cleaner was at work, sweeping up napkins and plastic drink cups. The club was closed and he was working alone.

I was new on the job and we had yet to meet. He looked up when I came through the door, he had a startled expression when he saw my badge. Then our eyes met and I could feel him relax..

We started to talk, about general things, just friendly talk. I checked the doors and the patio. I looked to see if anyone was in the pool or the health club. I came back and saw that he had stopped sweeping and had taken a folded paper from his back pocket and was studying it. He saw me looking at him and explained, “I'm just looking at my Bible lesson for Sunday. I like to be prepared.” After looking it over he began to sweep again. “I study too”, I told him, “I teach.” I showed him the book I carried in my uniform pocket.

‘You gave me a start “, he told me, “when you came through that door. But you know, you can always tell another Christian, can't you?”

I agreed. I wondered what his study was about and he told me. “It's from the Book of Romans,” he said, “and I'm not sure I understand”. He showed me the text; "And so all Israel shall be saved". Romans 11:26. “I am wondering”, he said, “how can all Israel be saved if they rejected Jesus?"

We wondered what "All Israel" meant. It sure couldn't be each and every Israelite. Was there another Israel? Maybe a group within the nation that were the true Israel? We were both still learning.

“I could call my preacher. He would talk to me for hours,” he said smiling, “he loves to get into the Word. But I just don't have the time, much as I would like to. I have another job and I am treasurer of my church. My wife is paralyzed so I have to carry her to the bathroom and bring her all her meals. I clean the house and do all the work.”

I wondered how he had time to do it all and said so. "I tithe my time", he told me. "I give the Lord one tenth of my waking hours and I always have enough time for everything."

Weeks went by and I visited with Charles every chance I had. There was a bond between us that night workers often have. Our shared faith sealed it. I learned so many lessons from this humble man. He was a true peace maker.

He told me this story; "You know there are a bunch of boys that hang out on the street where I walk to go to church. They used to block the street and not let anybody get by. A lot of guys got really mad. One of them said, "I'm going home and get my gun". But I had my little granddaughter with me and I just walked out in the street with her, walked around them. "How are you, boys" I said. I waved my hand to them and smiled. Next Sunday, there they were, still blocking the walk. But when my grand daughter and I came up to them they made way for us and let us through. No need to get hostile", he said, "Better to show them a little respect, they don't get much."

I got another job on a different shift. But I kept thinking about Charles. He had told me he always wanted a study Bible, one with references and notes. I went to Oak Street and asked to see a New Scofield.. Gary loved to show Bibles. I told him I wanted the best he had. “Here is one with linen paper pages,” he demonstrated. He crumpled up a page, then shut the cover on it and pushed down. Then he opened the cover and smoothed the page out good as new. He held onto a single page and shook the whole book, but it didn't tear. “This one has a goatskin leather cover," he said. "It's better than sheep skin. It's the only time, concerning the Bible, where goats are better than sheep”, he laughed.

"I'll take it,” I told him. It came in a nice box. The next morning, as the sun was coming up, I went to the motel where Charles worked. I asked the desk man if he had seen him. “He's still here," he pointed to the lounge across the way. As I went in, he was coming out of the ladies room with a mop and bucket. “Charles”, I said, “Here's your study Bible you wanted.” He lifted it out of the box and turned the pages and looked at the notes. "It's really nice", he said, "What do I owe you?"

"Nothing,” I told him, "not a thing.” It was true, I owed him.

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