His breath reeking of alcohol, a grizzled, rheumy-eyed old man wearing a torn high-school letter jacket sticks out his hand and slurs through some monologue about bus money. His story sounds cockamamie, and your street wisdom tells you where a donation would likely go. Maybe you should offer to take him to a restaurant or rescue mission. But you shake your head, thrust your hands into your pockets, and keep walking.

You bump into people like him whenever you go downtown, but rationalization soon papers over any lingering guilt. After all, you have important business to tend to. And other people specialize in ministry to street people—maybe you’ll contribute some money to them.

Even so, you wonder, What would a person look like who took literally Jesus’ sweeping commands and acted on them? What would a Good Samaritan look like in urban America in 1989?

Such a person might look like Louise Adamson. She is a missionary, but not a typical missionary. She is more like a full-time Good Samaritan.

She sits in a cramped office of an aging Presbyterian church in the shadow of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The furniture is government-issue hand-me-down. The carpet smells like the scrapings off the soles of 30 years’ worth of shoes. Louise is in her sixties. She has an ample nose, strong, straight teeth, a pitted complexion, a full head of graying hair. She is wearing a simple purple dress that could have come out of any decade but this one. Her voice cracks as she talks, giving the impression that she is on the verge of tears.

Louise talks nonstop. In response to a simple, “Louise, tell me about yourself,” she is still going 45 minutes later, recounting her life in the rather odd lilt of an Old Testament prophet. “I am like Gideon, ...

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