“The man was dead. He was. I checked his pulse; I checked whether he was breathing, and there was no sign of life in him. His body was still warm, but listless. Life was gone. I covered him up with a blanket and went to the police station nearby to get their help. They said there was no vehicle in sight. It was then that I called Pastor Tim and you to go pick up the body and drop it off at the morgue.”
The man sleeps just 100 meters away from the gate of our compound. He is sadly deranged, hates to wash himself, his hair is a long matted dreadlock, he has one tooth, and he sleeps under a tree by day and under a roof of an overhang by night. His speech is mostly incoherent, except when he requests his drink of choice: 500 ml of coke. He is barely 35 kilos and his life has ebbed away due to some unknown illness—probably TB.
When we received the news to pick up this man’s body and bring it to the morgue my heart sank. We have walked or driven by him countless times. Did we do enough? The questions erupted in my heart. Did he hear from my lips the Gospel of God’s redeeming grace? Did I share in so many words that Christ came to redeem his soul, his life from eternal punishment on account of his sins? Did he know that he was looked upon in love by Divinity who proved that love so perfectly on the cross of
Like others I would give him some food or drink, maybe some money, attempt to sputter out a few words of love and grace, but rarely did I ever spend more than 30 seconds with him. Restrained by my own comfort-zone, it seems, I did little more. Subconsciously I rationalized that he was too deranged to hear the Gospel. But was he? And did I think he was too deranged to feel the compassion of Christ? There seemed to be so few who showed him love, if any. He was our Lazarus. And the dogs would have licked his wounds and the rats nibbled on his toes.
And now he was dead. How did he die? Could he have died honourably? His condition was beyond pitiful and his own family looked askance when they passed him each day. But what was the state of his soul? My mind charged ahead into the inevitable: did he or did he not enter into a Christ-less eternity?
You see the rumour mill has produced some fallacious stories about this man. One in particular is that a number of years ago he burnt his Bible in a symbolic act of giving his life to the devil. The Lord in turn, goes the rumour, turned his life into a living hell. He was cursed, and wondered the streets as a lunatic, with a long overcoat, torn and ripped trousers and an unwashed body with lice infested hair that served as a natural repellent for even the most compassionate of heart. Was it true? Did he die a slave of the devil who captured his soul and played havoc on his mind for all these years?
Pastor Tim and I had to go see him. We discussed our options and realized that we needed to find a ute to transport the body. As ours was in the garage, we found a friend who was willing to help us out. The plan was to meet at the body. Sorrowful, circumspect and apprehensive we drove the 100 meters to the deceased. We parked. We stepped out of the car. And there we stood gazing at this small, shrunken body covered in a blanket with coke bottles and lids strewn everywhere and soiled and dirty clothes heaped under his head. Our hearts burned with pain. This is not; This Is Not; THIS IS NOT how God created it to be! This is the all-destructive power of sin! What evil. What desperation.
Then he moved. His diaphragm was moving the blanket up and down. His arms jostled a little from under the blanket and a thin, skeletal-hand appeared slowly, even eloquently moving the flies away that had come to gather on an exposed bed sore on his shoulder. The man thought dead was now breathing again. Our friend who called us and had served as the coronary would attest unequivocally to his death. But here he was living, breathing his last breath, maybe, but breathing nonetheless. More questions confronted us: had he really died? Did God resuscitate him? And why?
We bent down to speak to him. He turned to us. Exposing more of his body meant seeing life within a skeleton. I took his hand. His working eye (the other had been removed, it seemed) focused on us. A smile creased across his face. It was a warm exchange. With his hand in mine, we did what we are called to do, share the Gospel. He listened. We continued. We spoke about the door that was opening before him. We shared that he would pass through that door very soon. He would enter into eternity and meet God. He needed to believe in Jesus Christ and what He did for him; and to confess his sins and repent of them! Then he spoke. He spoke about seeing a vision of sorts, but it was all rather unclear. He was pointing to the sky and we heard what seemed to be the name of Jesus slip from his lips, or maybe we just wanted him to say His name. We prayed for him. We prayed that God would do a miracle in His heart and that this man, a tattered and broken image bearer of Him, would see Christ’s face not as a stern Judge but a loving Saviour who came to save! We prayed. He listened.
We finished and we asked him what he needed. He said, “500 ml of coke!” That has been his diet for many years. We asked him if we could bring him to the hospital to get some extra help. He refused. We chose not to force it as he would not last long in their care. We then began to realize that he was able to understand more than we first imagined, but unfortunately I had to go. The women in our church had asked me to speak to them at their Bible Study and I was already over half hour late. Pastor Tim took the opportunity to purchase some food for him and administer more love. But he too had to leave. Ministry seems to have a way of keeping our feet moving to the next call.
What has come of this gentleman? About a half a kilometre away he has a niece who is married and is ready to help out…finally. They said they would take him there and wash him and care for him. I’m not sure if they will. If they don’t we need to do something.
The fact is if he has died recently, he will die shortly again. But the question continues to surface: what was our Lord trying to teach us in all of this? Was He revealing to us that He does not forget about the people we are quick to ignore? Was he showing afresh that he loves the Lazarus outside the gate? Was he again reminding us that “He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” and that love should compel us to love? Was He trying to break through the walls that define our comfort-zones?
Sometimes as missionaries we can become so focused on making sure the truth, the doctrines of grace, the confessions are clearly taught and understood---and this we must do---but sometimes it means we fail to hear the cries of those who need to receive the compassion of Christ! God will not let us do this. He will not let us ignore the destitute, the sojourner, the orphan, the widow and the beggar outside our gate! I believe I needed to be reminded of this again. For if I am not showing unconditional love, I am nothing more than “a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.” The call of the Gospel it to love as God first loved us, and that call should also never be restrained by one’s so-called comfort zones!
Since that day, we and our coworkers have continued to visit with this man named Silas, just about everyday. We've realized that he was very weak from mal-nourishment and so we have been feeding him soup and have noticed that he is slowly gaining his strength back. We do realize that our caring for him between the four of us is not a realistic long-term solution though. We soon leave on furlough and it may be difficult for Tim and Francine to keep feeding him everyday on their own. Our attempts to find one of his family members to care for him have been unsuccessful so far. The friend of ours who originally found him "dead" has said that he and his wife are willing to have him come and stay with them, and we will pursue this further, but we have many questions as we struggle with how to help this man. It's very difficult to know how to help someone whom we're not even sure wants to be helped. He doesn't say much when we go to feed him, although he does quickly drink down the soup. Would he even want to go and stay with our friend? Or is he content to stay sleeping under the little overhang of an abandoned business, taking food and drink if it comes, but not doing much if it doesn't? Has he been devoid of love and attention for so long that he no longer responds to it, and doesn't care if he lives or dies? We also wonder how our friend and his family will be able to provide for him as sometimes it's difficult for them to provide for their own needs. We are also not sure of Silas' mental state--if he is unstable, will this put our friend's family at risk? This arrangement may not be a realistic long-term solution either.
So many questions and not many answers yet. Please pray for us that we may know how to help Silas! And please pray for Silas, as we are not sure where he stands with the Lord. We pray that he does know Jesus Christ as His Saviour and King and Lord!