Ron continues his life story. In 1998, Deborah and Ron make their first visit to the Union Gospel Mission, driving through the tunnel that segregates the east side of Fort Worth from the rest of the city and the “haves from the […] have-nots.” As they are let in through a security gate, Ron wants to bolt, but Deborah tells him that she had a dream about the place, except that rather than its current dirty, worn-out appearance, it was brightly painted and covered with flowers. She believes it is a vision of it future.
This is the first of many visions, miracles, and supernatural events that take place throughout the story. Though the truth of any of these is impossible to verify—and Ron himself is initially skeptical—their occurrence obviously has a great impact on the people involved and the development of their characters throughout their story.
Inside, Ron and Deborah meet the director, Don Shisler, as well as Chef Jim, an enthusiastic older man who went from a prestigious catering career to drug addiction and homelessness following a series of family tragedies. Now, he lives and works at the mission. Jim invites the Ron and Deborah to come every week to serve food to the homeless and to “Infect em with love!” Deborah is enthusiastic about the proposition, but for Ron, it is just a means to please his wife. Deborah promises that they will be there every Tuesday. That night, she dreams again about the Union Gospel Mission, this time about a man she believes will change the city.
Chef Jim exemplifies the argument that homelessness isn’t due to laziness or stupidity, but rather brought on by difficult and painful circumstances, often completely beyond one’s own control. Deborah’s second dream is prophetic, foreshadowing the transformation of Denver from violent homeless man to leader, speaker, and national influencer.
Initially, contact with such bedraggled people depresses Ron, but Deborah immediately insists that they refer to the homeless as “God’s people.” Each day, the homeless people are only allowed to eat after listening to a roaring sermon from Brother Bill, an old preacher who is nearly blind. Unsurprisingly to Ron, none of the homeless never seem at all affected by Brother Bill’s sermonizing.
Once again, Ron and Deborah’s characters exist in contrast to each other. Ron represents a typical response to homelessness by seeing the people on the street only for their present circumstances. Deborah, uniquely inspired by her faith, sees the homeless for the potential inside each of them, demonstrating the more loving, Christian response.
A thin black man in a clean suit warns Ron that, although Ron must think he’s doing them a favor, he could just as easily wind up homeless like the rest of them. Although Ron is not yet as invested as Deborah, the encounter causes him to consider that maybe his purpose is not to analyze or make judgments, but just to hear these people out and spend time with them. Deborah, meanwhile, “[falls] in love with everyone of them,” memorizing their faces and praying for them by name each night. After a couple weeks, noticing that the people at the back of the line receive less food, Ron and Deborah encourage Chef Jim to make a little extra. Despite how small of a gesture it is, Ron realizes it is the first time he himself has actually done anything to try and improve the lives of the homeless.
The man in the suit’s bitter warning to Ron further reinforces the argument that the homeless are people just the same as anyone else, and even someone like Ron could find himself in their position. Starting with this encounter, Ron’s character is slowly beginning to soften. Rather than considering only himself, Ron’s request that Chef Jim make a little extra food is the first notable time that he has done something that does not in any way benefit himself. This suggests that Ron is beginning to develop a real sense of compassion, though he has a long way to go in fostering it.
On their third week, a “huge, angry black man” throws a chair through the dining hall and swings his fists at whoever is near, shouting that he will kill whomever stole his shoes. The man frightens Ron, but Deborah excitedly grabs him by the arm and tells him that that is the man she saw in her dream, and that Ron needs to become friends with him. Ron is skeptical.
Since Ron did not know Denver as a child, before he became a hardened, mean man, Ron only sees him as a “huge, angry black man.” This exemplifies the manner in which one’s prejudices and assumptions about someone else are generally inaccurate, based upon limited knowledge of the other person.
Ron and Deborah start watching for the man, who tends to be alone. While the others do not ignore him, they do keep a “respectful distance from him.” Often, he comes in as the mission is about to close its kitchen and asks for two plates of food, one for him and another supposedly for an old man he knows, though everyone assumes this is a lie. After a few months, Ron and Deborah finally learn his name is Denver, but he is “about as approachable as an electric cattle fence.”
The workers at the mission make the assumption that Denver is merely greedy, taking both plates of food for himself, though it will be later revealed that the second plate truly is for an old man. By doing this, the narration draws the reader into making the same assumptions and thus later inviting them into reflecting on their own prejudices as well.