Wealth and poverty share the same sidewalks of New York City.
Celebrities from all walks of life grace the city with their presence and their dollars.
Street vendors sell their wares to awe-struck tourists looking for a piece of the Big Apple to take back home. "I 'heart' NYC" items sell like hot cakes at stores everywhere throughout the city.
An old man, huddled beneath a mound of dirty blankets struggling against the 24-degree weather, accepted a half-smoked cigarette from a man walking past him. The man asked if he needed anything else, to which the old man replied, "I need something to eat, man."
I heard the man's request for food but kept walking. A few steps away from him, I remembered the pieces of bread in my pocket. I had enjoyed a sumptuous lunch at the trendy Cafe Lalo and wrapped the leftover bread inside a napkin and slipped it into my coat pocket to later share with my daughter-in-law. I walked back to his mountain of blankets and offered him the bread. He thanked me with a "God bless you." The verse from Matthew 24:34 came racing to my mind, "...when I was hungry you gave me something to eat..." I returned his blessing with "Merry Christmas."
The Salvation Army bell ringers stand their posts at street corners graciously accepting donations from passersby. The giver is greeted with "Happy Holidays" in thanks for the money dropped in the red kettle.
Blended aromas of street-cart-cooked hot dogs, roasted nuts, and pretzels assault the shoppers on their way to the next tourist attraction or business meeting. The ever-present desire to eat walked with me through the clouds of tempting food smells.
Central Park is an enigma in this city of skyscrapers, constant noise, and chaos. The Park is quiet and serene. I felt like I stepped back in time before developers snatched up the land and started plopping buildings down everywhere. Peace, so unnoticed in the City, enveloped me like a warm blanket as we followed the winding walk trails through the Park. The ice skating rink in the Park provided an uncommon form of relaxation for Misi as she skated lap after lap.
Sirens blare non-stop. Policemen are on every major street corner watching all who walk past, ever vigilant to look for trouble before it breaks out. Office buildings have guards posted at the entrances to check all who come inside. The events of September 11th forever changed the emotions of the city.
I saw a man lying on the sidewalk by my hotel, shot dead by police officers minutes before I arrived to hail a taxi. The victim was a sidewalk vendor who fired rounds at an undercover cop when asked for his vendor ID and permit. Crowds gathered as the officers screamed for everyone to "get back." The shooting left me nervous, and I watched people closer as I passed them on the street.
Price-gouging, or that's how it feels, is rampant. A package of cigarettes costs $11 and people pay the price. Some restaurants charge $12 for an egg, cooked any way; but that's all you get: an egg cooked any way you want. A bowl of oatmeal cost $10 at our hotel.
It is a city unlike any other I've ever visited. I felt myself sucked into the excitement and wonderment of the place called The Big Apple. I fell prey to the magnet of souvenir vendors just like thousands of other tourists. I stood transfixed at the sounds and sights of this city different from my own.
As I explored the city by myself one day, I came upon the First Baptist Church of NYC. An elderly lady greeted me at the front door and invited me to come in to see the auditorium and rest for a moment. We talked for a few minutes, and I asked her this question: "How do you share you faith in a city like this one?"
She chuckled and said, "Well, you just open your heart and share it. It's real easy, you know. People are hungry to know we are here."
She explained that the Baptist Church doesn't meet on Sunday evenings and a Presbysterian congregation rents the building for their services. The place is packed out with young people each Sunday night and many are being reached for Christ, right in the heart of the city. Praise the Lord there is a light shining in the darkness.
Yes, New York City sits on a pedestal of its own in a variety of ways, but it shares a commonness with even the smallest of towns: people looking for their way in this world, to be loved and to love. As the lady at the church said, "just open your heart and share it."
"Lord, thank you for the opportunity to experience New York City at Christmas. Thank you for providing together time with Misi. Thank you for people willing to share their faith in a city focused on the window dressings of life. Bless those who serve you and increase their efforts. May New York City feel your presence, not just in the lights and sounds of Christmas, but all year long."