Normally, few people would care that Marvin Boyd, 55, will likely die before next Christmas, except that eight years ago, Alan Hardwick, 53, decided to start caring. Now an entire church will mourn Boyd’s passing.

I wrote about Hardwick and Boyd in a column five years ago, recounting how the pair met while Boyd was a homeless panhandler.

Hardwick encountered him at an intersection near our church and gave him a few bucks, but soon saw that Boyd needed far more than money.

Hardwick invited Boyd to church (Impact Community Church in Sacramento), and despite Boyd’s disheveled resemblance to a worn-out Santa Claus, Hardwick recalls that “Marvin took to it (church) pretty well and everyone liked him.”

Several months later, Boyd asked to be baptized.

When our pastor, Barry Smith, introduced Boyd for baptism, he reminded our congregation that, “He’s taught me the power of the few. We thought we would help change Marvin, but really, he’s changed us much more than we could have ever changed him.”

However, Hardwick knew he must offer more than just a hamburger and a hymnal. He’d read the interesting question posed in the Christian New Testament from a guy named James:

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

Hardwick answered the question with a down payment on a fixer- upper home for Boyd. “He’s Jesus with skin on,” Smith says of Hardwick. “The real deal who backs up what he believes.”

After Boyd moved in, he had a serious heart attack, but amazingly did well through surgery and cardiac rehab. However, early last year, doctors made an another finding.

Cancer. And not a little cancer ­— a boatload that includes bone, stomach and colon cancer.

Last Sunday, as Boyd and I stood outside our church, he said that his doctors found 12 spots in his stomach that will soon burst. Since that event likely will put him in a coma, doctors want him in hospice.

Boyd doesn’t see bed rest as an option. He has a message to spread. “I told them (the doctors) that I want to bring more people to God before I go, as many as I can and where I can.”

Surprised at his answer, I told Boyd that some people would find this as a justification to curse God. Again, not an option. With his typically wide smile, he replied, “I try to be joyful no matter what is going on. I don’t have no sadness. I just keep telling people that God is there for you. You need him and he will come.”

Hardwick believes that meeting Boyd has changed him. “Now, when I’m approached by someone asking for a buck,”says Hardwick, “I buy them lunch. I do that more now that I know Marvin. I think it’s more about doing what God commands us to do than it has to do with judging them for the things we think they should do.”

Looking back on the first time they met, Hardwick says, “If he’d had the heart attack under the bridge, he’d have died with no one to call an ambulance.”

Boyd recently thanked Hardwick for all he’s done over the past years. Then he made Hardwick this tearful promise: “I’m going to be standing there with a fishing pole waiting on you.”

Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.”

You can call him at 321-549-2500, email him at ask@thechaplain.net, visit his website thechaplain.net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.