Commentary: Homeless man teaches Christ-like giving, living

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Commentary: Homeless man teaches Christ-like giving, living

An e-Review commentary by Leslie Berlin | April 28, 2009 {1008}

NOTE: A headshot of Berlin is available at

I remember clearly when I first met Ronald Stufflet.

I was standing in the back of the sanctuary at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church (in Tampa, Fla.) by a display for Cornerstone Family Ministries’ 29th Annual Wonder Walk for Children’s Services. Steve Langford, Cornerstone’s executive director, had just done an awesome sermon that had inspired Ronnie to volunteer for the Wonder Walk. Ronnie came up to me and asked how he could sign up.

I’ll admit I looked at him with a bit of skepticism. Not only was he on crutches, he had only one leg. He was a nice enough looking man, probably in his 40s, in jeans and a T-shirt, but he was clean-shaven with a short haircut and a friendly smile.

I said, “Sure,” and gave him a pledge form. He thanked me and then asked for more forms. He said he planned to go door to door and collect money for those “poor children.”

I was wearing a Wonder Walk T-shirt over another shirt that day to promote the cause, and he asked me for one. My medium fit him just fine. As I was packing up the display, he asked if I needed some help getting it to my car. Outside, he asked for a ride to where he was staying, which gave me a chance to get to know him better.

Walkers participate in the Wonder Walk. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Family Ministries. Photo #09-1161.

Of course, the first thing I wanted to find out was what had happened to his leg. Turns out he had been in a motorcycle accident when he was 19. Yet, he didn’t ask for pity.

Ronnie had just moved down here from Pennsylvania, but wasn’t having any luck finding work. He told me he was experienced in construction, painting and landscaping, saying it with such confidence that I believed him, although I wondered how he managed.

He had me drop him off at a street corner on Hillsborough Avenue, and I suspected he didn’t have a place to stay, other than where the other homeless people stayed near there. As he hobbled away on his crutches, I really didn’t expect to see him again.

Early Monday morning, my phone rang. It was the guy who’s in charge of counting the money at the church, and he said a man on crutches had shown up with almost $100 and wanted to know what he should do with it. I smiled to myself as I told him to put it in the vault.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Ronnie would make the two-mile trek to the church at least once a week to bring in more than $500 for Wonder Walk, picking up more pledge forms each time. The pledges were usually $5 or $10, but there were a few for $20 and even one check for $50.

Every penny Ronnie collected was accounted for and handed over. I’m not sure what he told the donors, but it seemed to work. I did get a call from Kitty Carpenter, director of development at Cornerstone Family Ministries, saying someone had called to verify he was really collecting for the Wonder Walk. “Yes,” I assured her, “he’s legit.”

On March 21, the day of the walk, I got to the host church, Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, early to help with registration. I kept looking for Ronnie, but he never showed up. Did we leave him at our church waiting for a ride, I wondered? Had we let down the guy who walked more than 90 miles to collect donations for the Wonder Walk?

The next day (Sunday) Ronnie showed up at church with a big smile and $127 dollars for Wonder Walk. He sang and praised the Lord with the rest of us. Turns out he’d had a problem with one of his crutches the day before and after he found a new crutch at a garage sale, he went on to collect more money for those needy children instead of coming to the Wonder Walk. Relieved that we hadn’t let him down, we recognized him as one of the biggest money-raisers for our church.

A lone walker makes the trek for children during the Wonder Walk. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Family Ministries. Photo #09-1162.

Early the next morning, I got a message to call the church. I called back, and Ronnie took the phone to tell me he had split his tennis shoe with all the walking he had done and knew of a place to get some new shoes for only $14.99, but the pastor wasn’t there. I gladly picked him up at the church and took him to get the shoes. Inwardly, I was amazed at his integrity, that he had not pocketed any of the money he had collected for himself, but had given it all for the Wonder Walk.

He put the new shoe on his right foot, asked the clerk to throw away his old shoe and had them put the left one in a bag. I asked him what he would do with it. Smiling, Ronnie told me that he’d wear one for “everyday and the other one to church, of course.”

As I was dropping him off at the street corner on Hillsborough Avenue, he pointed out the building he’d been sleeping behind. I gave him some phone numbers of people in the construction and landscape business and sent him on his way. Little did I know I’d never see him again.

A week later I got a message on my cell phone from Ronnie telling me he was going back to Pennsylvania and thanks for the shoes. I couldn’t help but drive down Hillsborough Avenue looking for him among the homeless, but he was not to be found.

So what is God teaching us in this? Is it that we shouldn’t underestimate what anyone can do, even a homeless person with only one leg? He got more than 100 people to donate money for those “poor children.” I certainly didn’t ask that many people.

Or is it deeper: that we never know how much time we have with someone and to do the best that we can whenever we can? Couldn’t I have offered more to Ronnie? In hindsight, I got a whole lot more from him than I gave. In fact, without him, we would not have made our goal for the Wonder Walk. More than that, he inspired me to do more with the gifts that God has given me. Did this brother in Christ come to Tampa with hope, give everything he had, only to leave with nothing? I wonder if this is how Christ’s disciples felt after he was gone. 

(Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church raised more than $10,000 for Wonder Walk and has been the top fund-raiser for three of the past four years, according to Cornerstone Family Ministries leaders. When all the funds are tallied, the church might be number one again, leaders add. More than 550 volunteers helped with Wonder Walk, and early totals show more than $95,000 was raised for Cornerstone’s children’s services. More information on Cornerstone Family Ministries and the annual Wonder Walk is available at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Berlin is Wonder Walk coordinator for Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Tampa, Fla.

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