Epilogue – Notes from Pastor Kurt
After two full days of sharing the intense emotions of the callers plus another four hours with Leonard, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Every day I spend on the streets is full of encounters like those I experienced on that Mother’s Day weekend, but the intensity of sharing one heartache after another and one moment of joy after another for extended periods of time put me on overload.
The anguish that Billy felt after learning of his mother’s death continues to haunt me. No two words can pierce the human heart with pain more than “too late!” My hope and prayer for Billy is that he will reconcile with his heavenly Father before it is forever too late! Jesus beckons to him with open arms, but Billy must take the next step of accepting Jesus into his life.
When Erica put me on the phone with her father, I didn’t know what to expect. He came right to the point. “We need your help, we want to come and get her – at least talk to her. Can you keep her there for a couple of hours until we can get there?”
Startled by the request and with no idea of how to carry it out,
all I could say was, “I - I - I’ll t-t-try.”
“Please, please,” he begged. “Keep her there because she won’t stay. She always runs.” He then asked to again speak with his daughter.
While he finished the conversation with Erica, I had only moments to come up with a plan. Lord, help me, I prayed and then said the first thing that popped into my mind. “I’m hungry.” I felt foolish giving such detailed instructions and insisting that she go to a restaurant quite a distance away, but that was the only way I could think of - to buy time.
Also, I wanted to point her in the direction that had fewer drug dealers and opportunities to get into trouble. Time went slowly for her and for me. When her family finally showed up, I was overwhelmed with joy. She didn’t run.
Witnessing the reunion with Erica and her parents brought me a moment of extreme joy. Watching the car drive away, though, my joy was mingled with sadness. I wished I could have introduced myself and shared in the reunion. Lord, You will have to take it from here, I prayed.
Mentally-challenged David presented me with an even greater dilemma. As soon as I got David’s mother on the phone, she blurted out, “Wait! Don’t give the phone to David yet. Please, please listen to me.” I had no other option than to silently listen while trying to hold David off from grabbing the phone. “We’ve tried and tried to find David on the street, but he always outsmarted us. You have to help us,” she pleaded.
“I will do what I can,” I said. “Above all, don’t tell him anything. We can be there by noon tomorrow. I have your number on my caller ID. May I call you later tonight to get the directions?”
“Sure,” I said as I wondered what I was getting myself into.
While David talked with his mother, I toyed with the idea of telling her that I couldn’t give out directions unless she first talked to David and he agreed. The slim possibility that David would agree, though, caused me to hold off. David really needed to get off the streets. I have known David for years and a few times he almost lost his life from beatings and abuse. I knew he was “slow” and yet had enough smarts to stay ahead of most trouble. He had told me many times that he wanted to go home but was afraid. He had been lost for a long time and needed help, but I never tried to force him to do anything against his will.
Before hanging up the phone, David cried and told his mom he loved her. He apologized for being an embarrassment to the family and expressed his desire to change. The pathos in his voice convinced me that I had to help bring about a reunion between mother and son.
As David started to walk away, I came up with the idea of having him return the following day to wash my truck. Since the truck was dirty, that could be a good deal for both of us. The request seemed to confuse David and he didn’t know how to respond. It was then that I came up with the idea of promising him a big reward. If the plan worked out, there would be a big reward for all of us.
That evening I was at home watching TV when David’s mother Eleanor called. She was so glad to hear about the arrangement I had made with David. “Thank you, thank you so much,” she said. “I hope everything works out, but I have to tell you that I feel uneasy about my part in the plan. It’s risky business to set someone up who is intentionally running from family no matter how noble of a thing it is to do.”
“Please, please Pastor Kurt, you have to help us. David’s father and I are getting older and we have tried so many times to find David. This may be our last chance.” The desperation in Eleanor’s voice was obvious and I wanted to help, but I needed to make one thing clear.
“If word gets out that I’m sneaking around trying to help families find their loved ones, I would be in a heap of trouble. In this case, I’m willing to go out on a limb for you, but I need you to promise that you won’t try to force David to do anything he doesn’t want to do. If he doesn’t want anything to do with you, let him go. Is that a promise you can make to me?”
“Yes. All we want, Pastor Kurt, is to see David again. If he doesn’t want to see us, we will leave. We love our boy and just want to let him know that we ...” Overcome by emotion, Eleanor could not go on.
David’s father came on the line. “Mom is very worked up about this. Can you give us directions and we will meet you tomorrow?”
Between the two of us, we figured out the back roads that led from their town in Alabama to I-20 and the rest was easy. “I’m scared of driving in the big city and need clear directions of where to go when we get to Atlanta,” he said. Once before, they had driven to Atlanta, where they thought they might find David. Driving the strange streets of the city had made both of them nervous wrecks.
Although I had Eleanor’s promise that they would not do anything to force David to do anything he didn’t want to do, I needed to hear it from his father too. With a chuckle, David’s father said, “Pastor, we are old and couldn’t force a fly into a bowl of soup.” The humorist twist in the conversation put my mind at ease.
“Before we hang up, could I pray with you?” I asked. After a brief hesitation, he agreed. My heart overflowed with compassion as I asked God’s guidance and direction in reuniting this family. When I finished, Eleanor got on the phone to again express her thanksgiving for my help. I hung up the phone hoping that, once again, “God would work good in all things.”
The next question to concern me was, Would David show up on Sunday? By showing up early, though, he raised another question. Could I keep him busy until his parents arrived? I did a lot of stuttering as I continued to give instructions for more work to be done after he thought the job was finished. At any moment he might get disgusted and say, “I’m outta here.”
All the while, of course, I wondered how David would react when his parents arrived. It could have been a traumatic experience for all of us. All I could do was pray that David and his parents would accept each other. David’s burst of joy at the sight of his parents released all of my anxieties. Thank You, Lord, my heart repeated over and over again.
Thinking back now, I wonder, What were the odds of the vicarious connection between Marlene and Leonard through the necklace? I pray that tender memories of his childhood will go with Leonard back to Kentucky to help him begin a new life.
Long after Mother’s Day Marlene continues calling her children and her mother. Whenever she sees me walking the streets, no matter the time, she calls home. Her mother always makes sure the girls take time to talk to their mother. Her mother knows that Marlene will probably never make it home and this may be the only connection their little ones will have with their mother - unless God works a miracle and Marlene is willing.
The necklace that continues to hang in my truck serves as tangible evidence that I serve a miracle-working God. Indeed, I could not even begin to do what I do in my own strength. But “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13, NIV). I am blessed because, while working with the poor, I get to see God’s miracles every day on Skid Row! Jesus is indeed the master of “new beginnings.”