Pastor Raynell was an odd mixture of personalities. Most often, he sported an infectious smile – impossibly white teeth contrasted against his dark skin, and most who knew him would unquestionably call him a friendly man, but this did not detract from his unwavering honesty with folks, and few knew it better than Charlie.
They’d first met at a community barbeque, sponsored by several churches in the Tenderloin, including Pastor Raynell’s little Baptist church down the street from the YWAM base. He’d first encountered Pastor while the man was working a grill, flipping dozens of small burger patties, wearing a plastic Glad bag over his chest in a futile attempt to save his clothing from the myriad of tiny grease splatters flying at him. Charlie was instantly intrigued at the way the man spoke with the hundreds of homeless people lined up for a free helping of cheap meat. Somehow, he managed to avoid the slightest hint of talking down to them. He actually seemed to like these people, and quite honestly many of them were the hardest to like. They were the ones that, despite everything one might do to try to help them “get better” or at least get them to come to church once in awhile, it never seemed to matter because they didn’t care enough about life or themselves to want to get better. Pastor Ray didn’t seem to care about that. He loved them anyway, and not just because he was a Christian and therefore obligated. He just loved. That was the friendly part of Pastor.
Later on that first day, Charlie had a chance to witness the honest part of him. Pastor Ray had taken an instant liking to Charlie, who’d found himself working bun duty next to Ray’s grill. Following the event, the grease coated pastor invited him to his house to watch the Giants game on TV. Charlie was caught off guard by the man’s forwardness in asking a relative stranger to his place, but felt quite compelled to tag along with the man who never stopped talking – one minute about his church, the next about baseball, the next about his younger sister back in Chicago who’d just lost a couple toes to diabetes, the next about the brisket his wife was making for dinner, and the next about his unyielding adoration for the Lord. Between his scattered shots of words, he would often stop himself in mid sentence, stare at Charlie in the most unnerving way, and say something like, “Now you listen, son. Any time you catch yourself saying ‘I want dat thang. I gotta have dat thang – you do dat, and you one step away from backslidin’, boy!” As entertaining as Charlie found the pastor’s way of speaking, it was nothing compared to the scene he witnessed once they got on board the Bay Area Rapid Transit to go to his house.
Boarding the underground train, the two were instantly greeted by an overwhelmingly pungent stench of body odor and garbage. Within seconds, the other recently boarded passengers began to coalesce at one end of the rectangular cabin. It took Charlie but a moment to understand why. Sprawled out upon a bench seat, quite opposite the flabbergasted crowd on the other end, a grimy homeless man – the unfortunate source of the unbearable smell, was mumbling to himself, seemingly oblivious to the stir his odor was causing.
Conscious to maintain a caring appearance in front of Pastor Ray, Charlie chose to find a seat near the middle of the train, halfway between the crowd and the mumbling stink man. Pastor found a seat next to him, alternating glances between the man and the people as he did so. The whole situation was exceedingly uncomfortable for Charlie, and he thought that even the pastor – even this man who seemed incapable of ever being uncomfortable around anybody, was at a loss for words. Charlie remained quiet, furtively catching glances of the homeless man out of the corner of his eye; his crusty dreadlocks adorned with dead bugs and boogers, piss splattered trench coat draped around his legs, greasy old 49ers sweatshirt creased up over his bulging belly, and his crusty lips never stopped moving, but there was no way to know any of what he was saying.
“God, he stinks!” a man within the crowd finally blurted out, and as unfortunate as it was to hear, Charlie felt relieved that somebody had broken the silence and thus lessened his inclination that he should in some way do something. Now Pastor Raynell’s attention was squarely upon the man who’d dared to make the proclamation in the otherwise quiet, odorous train. Charlie watched as the pastor eyed the man from head to toe. He was standing toward the front of the crowd of twelve people, wearing name brand clothing, hair crisply styled with an abundant application of mousse; Charlie found himself suddenly and anxiously aware that the man’s outburst was surely going to illicit a reaction from the highly actionable pastor. He didn’t know whether to expect a timely joke to lighten the atmosphere, or a much needed word of wisdom to grant comfort to those squirming due to the unseemly presence of the stinky man. Neither happened.
“You one to talk, Mister!” Pastor Ray called out, quite obviously not for the purpose of a side commentary, but solely for the sake of confronting the one man who had the audacity to say out loud what everybody in the cabin was surely thinking.
“What are you talking about?!” responded the man, and the place became more quiet than ever, as though something had supernaturally sucked away every sound, every rustle of clothing, every foot tap, every clearing of the throat. The only noise was the repetitive whirring of the train wheels and the incomprehensible mumbling of the stinky man.
“You heard me!” Pastor exclaimed, standing to his feet, and Charlie began to squirm in his seat. “You stink jus’ as bad as that poor man there!”
“You’re crazy! I took my shower this morning!” the man retorted.
“Oh you clean on the outside, sure, with your nice expensive clothes, probly got a nice cozy place to go home to, but none a that matters, son! It’s the inside that God looks at.”
Oh, he had to bring God into it, thought Charlie.
“On the inside, you just as miserable and filthy as that man!”
Mercifully, the BART came to it’s next stop, the doors opened, and the crowd filed out; probably only a few had originally intended to stop here, but they all exited in an effort to escape the smell and the tense atmosphere.
On his way out, the man in the designer clothes peered back and said, “Whatever, preacher man.” rolling his eyes.
Charlie and Pastor Ray remained on the train in silence, Pastor occasionally shaking his head while quietly quoting a scripture about how God looks at the heart Two stops later, the pastor got up, and Charlie followed, taking a long look at the stinky man, still mumbling, still sprawled out.
“Now don’t you worry ‘bout him just yet.” he heard Pastor say. “Somethin’ bad’s got holda him. He’s gonna struggle some more, but God knows his name.” Together they exited the train while others boarded, muffling coughs as they did so.
“Yessir, God knows his name.”