Street missionaries witness many disturbing and fascinating things! Disturbing in that homelessness, addiction, and human brokenness can go so deeply wrong. Fascinating in that God exercises amazing patience and goes to incredible lengths to love and restore His created, fallen humanity. Many of our street friends rebuffed His continually inviting embrace, trading it for the systematic suicide of chemical addiction knowing all the while that they were living on borrowed time.
One such friend is now dead. Dead after weaving himself into our hearts and lives. Dead after seeing God perform such an incredible transformation in his life. Dead after being rescued from the alcohol that so saturated his life. Dead after showing so many others the way. Dead as in the way described in Luke 11:26, Then he goes and gets seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they go in, and take their places there: and the last condition of that man is worse than the first. CA seemed to live out Luke 11:26.
CA came to the Center after being released from detox at Charity Hospital. He had been there for what may have been a record breaking 33 days. The norm was 3-7. Yet when CA was released, his blood alcohol level was still borderline. He had worked for the carnival for 35 years and had been been drinking continually! CA was an amazing man… funny, a natural easiness with people, smart, dedicated. I learned all these things over our six year association. He integrated himself into my life and my family.
Everything changed suddenly. CA left an audio tape in my box one morning. Then he disappeared. Someone told me he was acting strangely when he left. His words were, “Tell the Rev goodbye and that I love him but don’t anyone try to find me.” His parting words were an absolute giveaway of a person who feels like they have failed so badly that no one could possibly forgive… all-the-while hoping deep down inside that someone still loves and cares enough to help AND NOW!
Inside the tape case was a photo of a jack-ass pulling a French Quarter buggy. He claimed to be the jack-ass for thinking things would ever really change for him. He said I was a jack-ass for placing any confidence in him whatsoever as a member of our ministry team. Then I loaded the tape and played it. I am angry, scared, and terrified even as I think about it now!
The tape was a special recording that CA made in his apartment just for me. The recording was his resignation from work, from his adopted family of faith, and from life. It was his swan song. The tape was intended to be found along with his body. It did not work out quite that way.
CA had gone over to the even darker, deeper side. He told me briefly that he had recently tried crack and was instantly addicted. The drug had clamped on to him in such a way that made alcohol seem like apple juice. He had nothing but regrets about that mistake. The tape continued to roll as he was about to free-base his last will and testament in the early hours of that morning.
CA was narrating his own demise! He was telling me what he was seeing, hearing, and feeling. He described what the needle felt like as he jabbed himself. He described the hot rush that came over his body and the pounding of his heart as the chemical overload coursed through his body. I was not thinking clearly. As far as I knew he was dead in his apartment at that very moment… But wait he can’t be dead because the tape was in my box. A glimmer of hope as I immediately began asking who had last seen him. I blamed myself for any failure he had committed.
I guess learned well over the years because he was at the first place I looked. He was checking himself back into rehab… In fact, he was still with the intake worker when I found him. We were both shocked and I would say happy as we made eye contact. They broke every rule in the book that day as they allowed me to see him for a few minutes. I tried to demonstrate the kind of loving care that Jesus would have shown as we had a very serious conversation. I was happy to find him. He was happy someone came looking.
He’s one that got away. I still have profound sadness when I allow myself to think about it. As far as I know CA did not rebound from the crack. I pray that he did. What a waste. So much potential. He had come so far. God had done so much in his life. In the end he went back. I heard that he died on the streets of another city about ten years after he left us.
I do not know how God feels when we continually fail to conform and measure up to the potential he sees in each of us… but I think I got closer that day.