Our house church was wrapping up. A few people were lingering, chatting away. My husband was starting to doze off on the couch. I offered the visiting missionary pastor another drink and as I got up, he said, “That kid Eric that was here, he’s not a Christian. He couldn’t possibly be a Christian like he says he is.”
I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, “God, this pastor is our house guest and he’s come a long way. Please help me not to offend.” I sunk slowly back onto the still warm cushions of my couch and turned to him, “Why do you say that?”
“He is still struggling with drugs and his language was bad. He is not a Christian.”
Eric was hard, and to be honest, hard to love. We’d known him as one of the teens that hung out at our coffee shop. He and Damon were the “go to” dealers for the suburban rich kids who had left home to live under the bridge. The first time I met Eric, he had layers of chains jingling around his neck and he walked with one hand holding up his pants and the other spoke for him in rhythm, over his head. Since those days, he had gone to prison, where he found Jesus, got on a methadone plan and spent most of his days walking our city streets with his pit bull chained to his hand.
Faithfully, every Sunday night, he’d show up for house church. You always knew when Eric was there. He was loud and shrouded by a musty, mildew smell that comes from not washing your clothes, for weeks. We’d have to remind him to chain the dog up outside, away from the kids. I’d constantly bite my protective mama, bottom lip and suck down my worry.
He wasn’t the best methadone patient. Every few weeks or so, Eric would show up in the middle of the day to ask if he could borrow $12-$15 for a prescription, bus money, a chain for his dog and even gas for the car he didn’t own. On the streets of Baltimore, $12-$15 is code for a hit of heroine. We’d say no. But, he’d eventually find his way back to Sunday night gatherings, once he was back in the “program”.
In the midst of all his struggles, there were times with Eric, I felt the breath of God, so tangibly, in my home, all traces of stale orthodox air was absent. There was the time he broke out into free style rap, a lyrical poem he wrote to thank Jesus for what He had done. These were not empty words, but words owned and bought with a price.
“Pastor, I can understand how you could think that, but let me ask you a question. In Turkey, where you are sharing, ever so carefully, your faith with the young men, if one of those young men gave their lives to Jesus, would they change their Muslim culture overnight?”
“Oh, no! It would take many years to change their customs and cultures.”
“Well, I see Eric the same way. He grew up in a home with a mentally ill mother. His neighborhood is one of the roughest in this city. He knew violence, gang and occult activity and was using drugs as a young kid. He was abandoned, ignored and fought to stay alive. He is in process. From where he was, to where he is today, he is being transformed…be it ever so slowly.”
Eric passed away a couple of years ago. I learned more about Jesus through the life of Eric than through my many years in Sunday school. Through Eric, Jesus taught me to forgive 70 times 7. Every time he asked for money, I wanted to slam the door in his face and let him know he had disappointed me, hurt me, taken advantage of my trust. (I had to turn off my churchy need to point out his sin.) Every time he walked in my house, I choked down my fear of what my kids might hear or what his dog might decide to do. When his fragrance filled the room, I had to learn to not be offended. (Even though cleanliness is next to godliness, right?) Jesus patiently walked me through my relationship with Eric and held my hand. I was in process too. He was stripping away my religious standard…be it ever so slowly.
I got up to get the pastor’s drink with the words settling in the room. I’m not even sure where this theology had come from. Those words hadn’t be rehearsed or wrestled with over a bunch of apologetic books; they had been slowly woven into my fibers very patiently replacing those I’d never questioned before.
When I returned, the pastor rose, gathered his things, accepted the glass of water and as he left the room, he turned back slowly and said, “Thank you. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
I’m pretty sure I feel the same way about this now as I did then. There is a piece of me that wonders, “If we had had faith like a mustard seed for Eric, couldn’t he have been totally delivered?” I’ve had friends who when turning their life reigns over to Jesus, were delivered of heavy drug addictions immediately. My (pastor) dad shares similar stories from the 70’s of immediate deliverance. So, why not Eric? I’d love to hear your thoughts.