Several years ago, a man named Joey was released after a 10 year sentence in prison for armed robbery. Joey was in his mid 60’s and had no family nor friends in his life. When he was released, he had nowhere to go and no one waiting for him. He was alone in this world. He was equal parts angry and equal parts sad. His parole officer secured housing for him at the rescue mission where our Team Members were serving.
It was hard to think Joey could ever stay sober. He simply seemed too far gone and too close to jumping back into the pool of addiction.It became apparent immediately that Joey had no interest in the gospel. He found the frequent religious conversation at the rescue mission frustrating and he second-guessed whether it was the right program for him. His demeanor was hard and stoic and he became argumentative when provoked. It was hard to think he could ever stay sober. He simply seemed too far gone and too close to jumping back into the pool of addiction.
The volume of relational time and energy a guy like Joey needed was more than any staff member could ever realistically give.The volume of relational time and energy a guy like Joey needed was more than any staff member could ever realistically give. Though the staff had the desire to give him more, they simply had too many other responsibilities and duties. However, through LTN, a 19 year old named Caleb had the time.
Caleb had just graduated high school in Illinois and had come to serve with LTN for the year. Caleb had no professional training and had never been around someone who had been to prison. He just showed up every day and tried to trust God… and most days that included being around Joey.
At first, their time together wasn’t very smooth. It was awkward and almost felt forced. This went on day after day for months – but in time, they found rhythms to their conversation. They would talk about sports, play a game of cards, share stories of their lives with each other and argue about the Miami Dolphins. Eventually, Joey softened. Caleb and Joey had become friends.
Joey exclaimed, “I just can’t explain why this kid chooses to be here with a bunch of drunks and addicts instead of having the time of his life at college!”After six months, Joey finally came into the office one day and plopped down in a chair. He looked at his program director and exclaimed, “I just can’t explain why this kid chooses to be here with a bunch of drunks and addicts instead of having the time of his life at college! Every day, he keeps showing up to spend time with me. This kid loves me. There’s no way to explain it… unless Jesus is real. And if he’s real, then I want to know what Caleb knows and want to know God like Caleb does.”
That day, Joey became a Christian. The man no one thought would ever climb out of the bottle had climbed straight into the lap of God.
Over the next year, Joey’s hard edge gave way to a grandfather-like presence. He became someone who loved to help other people. He could be trusted for wise counsel. He could often be found wiping away the tears of hurting people as he spoke gently to them and prayed for them. Joey had changed.
About a year into this dramatic transformation, Joey became sick from his years of drug and alcohol abuse. His skin color changed to a bright yellow and he became increasingly weak. Even with extensive medical care, eventually Joey could no longer get out of his hospital bed.
The city coroner said that Joey’s funeral was “the most joyful celebration” he’d ever seen at the commoner’s graveyard.In the days before his death, Joey continued to tell those around him about the goodness of the Lord, his new life and about his friend Caleb.
Joey was laid to rest in a commoner’s grave surrounded by saints and sinners, addicts and pharisees – who worshiped God together in awe at what God had done for their friend. The city coroner said that most funerals he does in that field are not attended by anyone at all and that Joey’s was “the most joyful celebration” he’d ever seen there. Hymns were sung. Memories were shared. The Miami Dolphins were celebrated. And an armed robber walked through the gates of Heaven a free man.
All Caleb could give was his presence and his love… so he did.Joey’s life was transformed because a young adult decided to just show up every day and share Jesus in word and deed with his new friend. Joey wasn’t convinced by powerful arguments or professional counseling. Caleb didn’t have any life experience or special tactics to sway Joey. Caleb couldn’t have changed Joey even if he had tried. Transformation is God’s job. All Caleb had to do was show up every day and trust God moment by moment. All Caleb could give was his presence and his love… so he did. Unusual friendships are always normal in the Kingdom of God.