*The following article contains some controversial language used by those depicted in the story.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and a rare one at that as at 7:30am all of my kids were still asleep. Having been up for some time to read, pray, and be with the Lord, I headed out the door for a walk while Shelly enjoyed the quiet and a cup of coffee in the sunroom. I have found the spiritual practice of ‘prayer walking’ to be incredibly beneficial to my soul, and not only that, but I see and experience my community in a whole new light. This particular morning proved to be no different.
Walking around South Park, right down the road from our house, I saw the occasional neighbor walking their dog, but otherwise, the only other people in the park were the transient people that often blanket the park. Even though it was early in the morning, there was already a lot of activity with this group of folks. A few people sitting here and there with their cart full of belongs, others sitting on the picnic table under the pavilion, and one altercation as someone was apparently angry as they yelled and fought with another group of people that were obviously intoxicated. My heart was sad and heavy. Such brokenness and despair. Such bleakness.
Going around the park for a second time, I noticed a man in his 50s holding a woman’s arm to help her balance as he tenderly walked her to his truck. Walking by him I asked, “Is everything okay? Do you need some help?”
The man responded, “This is my wife of 17 years. Sometimes she disappears and I find her here to drink with her friends, like she did last night. I just need to get her home.” Introducing myself, Bill[i] asked if I worked with CLDI as he noticed my t-shirt. I told him that I did, to which he asked if I would please pray for his wife Linda, that God would deliver her from addiction. Holding a nearly empty fifth of very cheap whiskey, Linda told me that she had a vision years ago and that Jesus told her she was a ‘chosen of God.’ As I began to pray, Linda yelled and screamed, cursing her husband and cursing God. Upon saying “amen,” she asked if I would sit and talk with her.
Walking over to the picnic table, her husband stayed by the truck and her two drinking friends came over to sit with us, Marsha and Stanley. As they passed around what remained of her cheap whiskey, she continued to curse her husband. “He’s a faggot! He’s a faggot! Why did he do this to me? Why? Why did God allow this to happen?” Years ago Linda’s first husband left her and took their kids with him; she never saw them again. Then after meeting Bill and having another child, he tragically died when he was only five years old. Through sobbing tears Linda told me that Bill had cheated on her with other men. “Why did he do this to me,” she moaned, “Why?”
Walking over, Bill said, “You know I have tried to leave that lifestyle. I’m sorry Linda. I love you. I want to be your husband… I want for us to love and follow God. I want you to be free of this addiction.” Linda continued to pour out her hurt and pain with me. Having literally lost all of her children, she had no family members other than her husband for they all had passed away, many of them from drinking. Raised in the foster system, she was raped continuously by her “brothers”, and the woman she called “mom”, her foster mother, knew about it and never stopped it.
“Why did God allow this? I am a piece of shit! I am just a piece of shit!”
What could I say? How could I even begin to relate to just a fraction of her story? Her tragic loss, pain, and betrayal? In anguish and tears, I told her how incredibly sorry I was. “Linda, this is not God’s heart. You are special and you do matter.”
“How do you know that?” she demanded.
“Because you have been made by God, the one perfect God that created the heavens and earth. Because He has made you to know, love, and delight in Him. Linda, only Jesus can fill this hole in your heart and take away your pain. He has called you, but now it is time for you to come to Him, to give Him everything and experience His healing touch and know His love. When we come to know and believe in Jesus in this way, He makes us His children… His desire is for you to be His princess, His precious daughter whom He loves so very much.”
Much calmer, with less rage and hate in her eyes, Linda asked if I would pray for her again. As we all gathered around her, she fell into my chest like a young child, weeping as I called out to the Lord for His deliverance, for His healing, and for His grace.
Putting aside your old way of living, come to Him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God – and you too will be like a living stone, being built into a spiritual house, to a holy priesthood, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light; for once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB)
Leaving to go back home, I left Bill and Linda my phone number. Later that day Bill texted me and said, “In all my years at South Park I’ve only run across three missionaries like you. I’ve been going there since 1968. It has truly always been a stronghold for Satan.”
I find great hope in Randy Nabors’ book Merciful as he reflects on the hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Randy, born and raised in abject poverty, writes, “In the midst of hopelessness, fear and weakness, there’s a Savior whose name is Jesus. He is able to take the victims and transform them into being members of God’s royal family. Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, it’s difficult to explain how great and wonderful a difference it makes for someone trapped in poverty to enter into a personal relationship with the living God” (Nabors, 2015, p. 16). Randy has ministered as a pastor for more than 40 years to people in need.
[i] Bill and Linda’s names have been changed to protect their identity.