A different kind of memorial service...

A week ago Sam and I hit the streets with some sack lunches for our weekly outreach to the homeless neighbors in our vicinity. Sam is a recovering addict who deals with some pretty tough disabilities (bad heart, partial blindness) yet who feels compelled to give back. He has been well loved by one of the local congregations and he wants to share that similar love with our other neighbors. His story is probably worth a separate post.

Anyhow, our first stop last Tuesday led us to Jim, a man who lives in his 90's Oldsmobile Cutlass. He was parked in the Big Saver Grocery parking lot and when we shared a lunch with him we asked him if he had seen Dean. Dean is a regular in the area who we have seen in and out of rehab. He's an average sized man in his fifties with thinning gray hair and a face with an appearance that tells of years of outdoor living and alcohol abuse. We've known Dean for several years. We once helped him get into the Salvation Army rehab center, only to have him kicked out for smoking indoors. After he was kicked out of rehab last fall he ended up back on the streets in Bellflower, and in rougher shape than ever. He was experiencing auditory hallucinations and fairly incoherent.

Jim, the man with the cutlass, immediately told us that he "was sorry to be the bringer of bad news... Dean passed away yesterday." A sadness came over me that I didn't expect. We had just seen him two days earlier... and now he had passed away? Quickly, I started calling people and encouraging our homeless neighbors to share the news that we would be having a memorial service a the community center the following week. The word went out and the homeless community was saddened.

Last Saturday, a few days before the memorial service was planned, the team at Kingdom Causes Bellflower was hosting a training at the center for local churches. WHile I was presenting, another homeless neighbor named Jim peeked his head in the door and interrupting my training said, "Dean's not dead." What? He's not dead? Could this be true? I dismissed it as the hopeful musings of an inebriated friend. So, yesterday, the day before the memorial service, I sent Joel to the hospital to find out and sure enough, he confirmed the news...Dean was alive. He had had a seizure of sorts and was in bad shape but he wasn't dead... WOW.

Rather than cancel the service and try to inform everyone before hand we instead decided to continue with our plans and to gather his friends for a time of prayer and a celebration meal. About 15 friends showed up, all in varying degrees of sobriety. We talked about how the story of Lazarus in the Bible tells us that Jesus knows what it is like to have a close friend who is sick and dying... and that he has the power to heal, and even raise people from the dead! Our prayer time was incredible... raw, scriptural prayers prayed for a friend close to death. Sam was back and he shared a challenge that only a recovering addict can give... "What's happened to Dean should cause us all to look in the mirror. He's in the shape he's in because of his drinking... and self abuse. If we don't change...then we might go down the same road."

Everyone said they were thankful for the time to come together to pray for their friend... to have a meal together. Many stayed to help clean up. It was one of the most meaningful experiences I have had since I started getting involved in work with the homeless.

My prayer remains that God would continue to surprise us. That many more of hour homeless neighbors, especially those who we have assumed are too far gone in addiction, or too self destructive, would be found to be alive, renewed. Lord come quickly to save.