This post was written in 2013, three years ago, in honor of Father’s Day. Some of the writing is less than stellar and its been a little while since these events took place. However, I can’t think of a story that more clearly shows the heart of my father.
I will never forget the night my dad met Bear.
It was the day of Grace Community Church’s annual community service blitz, known as Operation Serve. It was huge, with mission projects taking place all over the city. My dad was one of the main directors for Operation Serve that year, and I had been serving as his right hand man that day. As the day winded down, there was only one project still being worked on. It was an Extreme Home Makeover type project, where a house was being totally renovated. Pretty cool. What was even cooler was that the people who lived there would be coming home that night to see their transformed house. My dad and I decided to end our night at this project and see the reveal. We waited patiently outside the house with a few other men. This is where we met Bear.
He came stumbling down the middle of Summit Heights Road. He was about 6′ 2″, with a massive face, thick glasses, worn out jeans, and no-longer white sneakers. From the moment any of us saw him it was clear he was heavily intoxicated. He continued to lumber towards the group of men I was standing with. He addressed the group, with no apparent person as a target for conversation, like he was just throwing out a net, seeing who he would catch. All of the men, including myself, sheepishly looked right, left, at their watch, at the ground, anywhere but at Bear. I was busy checking my phone when I heard a familiar voice issue a response. It was my dad. I think we all cringed a little, knowing full well that once my dad started talking to him, he would be here for awhile. Within minutes my dad found out: he was known as Bear, he lived down the street by himself, and he was on a mission to sell his watch for drug money. As the conversation went along, people slowly started to drift away. This man’s presence alone was enough to make us all uncomfortable. Not my dad though. Leaving this man wasn’t an option for him. Miraculously, my feet were firmly planted in the ground and I decided I wasn’t going anywhere either.
A few good samaritans decided to stick around and assist my dad, probably out of fear for his safety. As people drifted away, my dad continued a steady conversation with him. All Bear wanted was for somebody to buy his watch, so he would have some cash to get his fix. No dice. Instead, he received a half hour of loving and encouraging conversation. He revealed that he knew there was a God, but he was way too messed up for him. My dad gently corrected him. He mentioned how he would like to go to church but he was way too dirty, inside and out, to walk into a church. My dad and others found him a ride to church the next day. Through all of this, he was still set on getting his fix. The men pleaded with Bear not to go further into the ghetto. You WILL get hurt they told him. They did everything they could, but there was no stopping Bear. Apparently his name was an earned one. He said his goodbyes, thanked the men for talking, and continued on his mission for crack. He looked even worse walking away then when he stumbled upon us. He didn’t make it more than ten steps before his legs gave out on him, and he fell to the ground with a solid THUD. I can’t explain what made him fall, but it seemed like God literally sat him on his butt. Bear wasn’t getting away from God tonight.
My dad bolted to his aid. He and a few others painstakingly got Bear back on his feet. My dad continued to show him love as he loaded him up in our truck and drove him a block over to his house. My dad helped him into his house, got him situated on a couch, and even left him with a DVD we happened to have in the truck, Radio I believe. He reminded him about his ride to church in the morning, knowing it was a long shot, and we were on our way. I had been silent the whole night, both overwhelmed by the situation and in awe of my dad’s actions. I remained speechless until we were in the car heading home. I don’t know why, but I lost it. I broke down, and I cried. What I had witnessed had shaken me to the core. I had seen God working so clearly, through my dad, through the other men, and even through Bear. On a day completely dedicated to missions, the purest ministry had happened through simple conversation with a random stranger just looking for a fix.
The next morning at church I talked to friends as they all shared incredible experiences from their Operation Serve project. I wanted desperately to talk about Bear, but I didn’t even know where to begin, so I kept my mouth shut. I walked over to get a drink of water, and when I looked up, I saw a 6’2″ man, with a massive face, thick glasses, worn out jeans, and not-so-white sneakers come lumbering through the doors, carrying a DVD in his hand. I wanted to cry, I wanted to shout for joy, I wanted to thank God. I timidly walked up to Bear, reached out my puny hand to shake his enormous hand, and asked if I could sit with him. He kindly said yes, apologized for his actions the night before, and walked into service with me. We sat through most of the service in silence, with him mentioning a few times how groovy the music was. We chatted briefly after the service until we found his ride home. I shook his hand, thanked him for coming, and wished to see him again.
I haven’t seen Bear since that day. For months after, I watched patiently every Sunday, hoping and praying he would walk through the doors. My dad and I went by his house once or twice a couple months later hoping to find him home. It appeared he didn’t live there anymore. I started volunteering with Manna Cafe Ministries, hoping to run into him there, or maybe meet someone who knew where to find him. A few people had heard of him, and gave some vague ideas as to where he might be, but nothing substantial. I don’t know what happened to Bear. But I do know that for that one night, he was freed from the hold that drugs and alcohol had on him by the simple love and kindness of a few good men. For that one night, Bear was shown the love of God. All because one man, my father, decided to live out the Gospel to a random stranger. Thank you Dad, for showing me how to live out my faith, to love people well, and to serve boldly.