I sat in silence, stunned by a phone call from a brother in Christ, who asked me to pray for a mutual friend. Our friend was in intensive care with severe head trauma and was not expected to live. Test results showed that much of Russell’s brain no longer functioned. We prayed that his extended family would be able to get to his bedside to say their goodbyes as they had to travel hours by plane. We prayed for his young children who lived in our city. Thankfully, his children were given special permission to enter ICU so they could say goodbye to their daddy. We prayed for a miracle. He was only 53 years old.
I first met Russell and a couple of his younger children during Christmas of 2003. One of his daughters had received colouring books, crayons, and drawing paper as gifts and brought them along to dinner at our mutual friend’s home. It was clear that Russell doted on his kids, and he admired every piece of scribbled artwork they showed him. His girls were relaxed around their dad, and his calm presence bolstered their courage to visit with the rest of the people gathered. This little family blessed me with a crayon sketch one of his girls drew that day, and it stayed on my fridge door for years. It was a sweet night of fellowship. Russell’s wry wit and down-to-earth insights contributed to the joy-filled evening.
When I received word of Russell’s plight a couple of years later after our Christmas dinner, I immediately began praying for him. I first needed to ask the Lord to give me the grace to forgive my friend’s attackers. Russell had fallen on hard times after several years of living clean and sober. He was back living on the streets after a series of unfortunate circumstances caused his life to fall apart. As temperatures dropped to just below freezing that day, Russell found shelter behind some bushes in a downtown back alley and curled up in an old coat in an attempt to keep warm. Four teenaged boys swarmed him, beating him unconscious. As Russell had no money, drugs or even alcohol on his person, their motive was incomprehensible.
Even though law enforcement immediately contacted his family, local news coverage merely identified Russell as an unidentified elderly homeless man. There was no need to withhold his name, but the media felt his name wasn’t worth mentioning. After all, he was just another homeless drunk, beaten in the downtown core. Perhaps, they assumed he was involved in a drunken brawl. They didn’t know Russell and didn’t bother to get to know his story.
Russell was loved, deeply regarded, and sorrowfully missed by those who knew him. As his friends came forward to the local TV stations, Russell’s tragic story became citywide news and eventually reached the national news. Social agencies and church groups who had recent contact with this tender-hearted man all spoke of his dignity and respectful manner, even when he was intoxicated. Those who knew Russell well talked about his loyalty and graciousness.
The media no longer portrayed Russell as a homeless, unloved, unnamed drunk. The Chief of Police promised an investigation and a crack-down on random beatings in the downtown core. The Mayor spoke of the senseless death of this innocent man. In death, Russell received more attention and respect from the general community than he had ever received in life.
Several years have passed, and the Chief of Police and the Mayor who were in office at that time are no longer there. A couple of the ministries that tried to help Russell closed shop due to a lack of funds. One of the missions he frequented burned down, and there is only an empty lot where it once stood. The homeless are still at risk; they are still targets of brutal crimes. Life goes on.
However, Russell is not forgotten by those who loved him. His family and friends feel his loss during the holidays and special occasions. His youngest children grew up in foster care, and his friends lost contact with them over the years. Some of his friends continue to live with regret; if they had only obeyed that inner nudge when God said to find Russell and take him out for coffee. If only they pulled over and chatted with Russell instead of driving past him. If, if, if… As time passed, his friends forgave themselves, but their regret still lingers.
Lord, give us the courage to see those we would rather not see. When our friends stumble back into addictions and destructive patterns, remind us that you never gave up on anyone. Even in Your dying breath, as You submitted Your life into Your Father’s hands, You interceded for Your enemies and cared for Your friends. Give us the same sacrificial heart.
I could include Bible verses such as Matthew 25:35-40, but we all know Jesus asked us to reach out to the poor and needy and those in prison.
I urge you to stop looking at the homeless as the homeless – a generic label that gives us permission to tag them as someone beyond our help and allows us to pass the buck to ‘those better equipped.’ See them as people, each with a unique story, each with a story of pain. See them as someone’s loved one, someone’s son or daughter, someone’s uncle, someone’s aunt, someone’s brother or sister. Most of all, see them as God’s beloved creation. He happens to love them very much and He hopes people will see them through His eyes.
If you have a prodigal in your life, a friend or a family member who once walked with the Lord but have since wandered away, don’t give up on them. Continue to pray for their return. If their addictions or poor life choices consume them and it is genuinely unsafe for you to be in direct contact with them, pray that the Lord brings people along their path who can lead them to the help they need. If you don’t know how to pray for your prodigals, the following article will be of great help. Praying for your Prodigal by Ruth Rousu.
Want some ideas about how you can practically help? Carry bottled water with you that you can hand out. Invest in purchasing a few ready-made hygiene kits such as this, so you can offer them as a gift. Buy an extra coffee in the morning, if you work in a downtown area, and look for someone to give it away to, make sure to grab an extra sugar and a cream.
All Bible verses, unless otherwise attributed, are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Until Next Week
©2017 Katherine Walden
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