Henry’s reality and the reality accepted by most of us don’t exactly agree. Until he gets to know you, he rarely says much more than, “Hey,” or “Thanks,” in a low, growly voice; even after he knows you, he only adds, “Good to see you,” or “Fine.” He’s been on the streets for 20 years or more, living under a bridge and enduring all kinds of weather. Yet we’ve been blessed to have him as a regular at Canvas almost since the beginning.
He is always welcome and frequently worships with us-well, he stays with us drinking his coffee and muttering to himself while worship is happening. I’ve invited him to receive communion many times which he politely declines. Dennis, another of our friends from the street, makes him coffee (even in August.) We’ve offered him shelter in nasty weather, but he has preferred to stay on his own-until this winter. This winter was rough on those living on the streets, and Henry became open to a change in his living conditions. First, he accepted the invitation of Dennis Beavers (local homeless advocate) to stay with his organization. After Dennis’ untimely death, those left in charge tried to help Henry with a serious medical condition by having the police take him to the hospital. Into this situation of broken trust, Kara (one of our saints) stepped in. She, our lead pastor, Carter, and I all visited Henry. When he was released (without receiving full treatment), Kara, Henry, and I chatted. He said his aunts in upstate New York told him (through the satellites) that it was ok to trust us, and we began to help him apply for benefits. I was able to help him enroll in Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act; one of our volunteers who’s a lawyer got his disability benefits approved; and Kara has been with him the whole time, taking him to appointments and generally showing him love through her very presence. She also helped him navigate the process of getting subsidized housing. Today, Henry has his own place, a phone, an income, is almost fully recovered from his procedure, and even has a TV with some John Wayne movies to watch.
This happy ending required much patience and teamwork to see happen. It’s like building an arch. Canvas began building on one side leaning toward Henry. As we earned relational capital and as Henry was willing to trust, Henry built toward us. At the right time God brought Kara, the keystone, in place to bring both sides solidly together. Our experience with Henry teaches us that change for the better only takes place in relationships, and relationships grow slowly and with much patient love. This is truly a marathon team sport!