Thursday, May 22, 2014

Things Are Not Always As The Seem
The green Nissan was waiting at the red light with its radio blaring. The old man was taking his time getting across the street, he wasn't quite half way across the crosswalk when the safety light changed colors, he was now walking in the crosswalk when the sign indicated stop. The man behind the wheel of the Nissan was getting more and more aggravated. He wasn't the most patient person when behind the wheel. Downtown was bad enough because the lights weren't synchronized, time was a valuable commodity. It wasn't long before the man behind the wheel of the Nissan was lying down on his horn, "Damn old man get across the street, MOVE!" The driver was now yelling at the top of his lungs, drowning out the radio. 

A well dressed lady is walking down the street to a coffee shop for an early morning cup of java. Like many others before going to work at one of the local businesses, she needed a wake me up. Looking down thumbing away on her cell phone she bumps into a man.  The man is wearing some rather worn clothes and falls to the ground. The woman just looks at him as he lies there, she walks by, thinking to herself, "A drunk early in the morning who can't stand up and keep his balance, geez man, get a life!" She walks by, the man is on the ground, not saying anything but struggling to get up and not being very successful in his efforts. Others see his effort and pay him no mind, after all, they don't care for downtown homeless "drunks."
Now to reality as opposed to some hopefully thought provoking metaphors that many  have either experienced, witnessed or know about. There are people we see all of the time that we think we know, often based on initial visual observation, sometimes from talking to them, but truth is, there are often times things we don't know and the assumptions we make are incorrect, especially when made on initial visual impressions. For example, on the above observations, what if I told you I used as an example,  two friends, both homeless, one with Parkinson's, the other in need of a knee replacement. What if I went even further and told you that after taking time to get to know these people, having them share their stories, there was much more to them than meets the eye. 

Both men are well known to the homeless advocates and homeless population in Wichita, one having the respect to the point that most everyone on the street and service providers refer to him as Mr. Gracen. I have spent quite a bit of time with the two of them as of late and have become more than a service provider but a friend and a pastor. One common interest as I came to find out was a love for football and sports, something in and of itself that for me was unexpected, especially at the level it has become. It is amazing at the common points of interest we can find with each other in life if we will but spend time together, getting to know each other.

Gracen Guice is an almost 60 year old man in desperate need of a knee replacement. I will hopefully be assisting him in the next weeks to meet with the specialist to get this taken care of. Of course he has a little trouble getting around, isn't running the 40 yard dash like he used to when he was a star football player out of Wichita. A top notch cornerback in his day is now paying for the sacrifices on his body of entertaining thousands.

www.thevirtualpew.comMr. Gracen started playing football at Wichita South East High School. He went on to Garden City Community College and from there to Kansas State University. He had a short stint also playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and believes that if he had gone to a school other than Kansas State he would have been drafted higher into the NFL. Kansas State in those days just wasn't the recognizable power it is now. After his football career he worked for Boeing Military Aircraft for 12 years. He hopes to have a home in the next few months.  Mr. Gracen is as nice and kind a human being as you will ever meet. There is reverence when others call him Mr. Gracen, a reverence that I nor others who observe, can help but admire.

Then there is Richard Metts. What a joy to find out he was originally from North Carolina, a state in which I had lived. He also has a pretty interesting background that drew my interest and curiosity. Richard, who is now in his 50's played football at the University of North Carolina from the late 70's until the early 80's. He was a star running back who was introduced to college football by getting laid out by teammate Lawrence Taylor who flattened him in the backfield. As a Freshman Richard was a 2nd team tail back who was practicing against the 1st team defense. After Lawrence Taylor flattened him in the back field on a pitch out, he pointed at Richard's face saying, "Welcome to college football." Richard went on to play in the Liberty Bowl and the Astro Bluebonnet Bowl. He tells many stories about his teammates like Lawrence Taylor, his coaches and more.

Richard's accolades doesn't stop there though as it was on a more important field of competition that he garnered my attention. Richard also served as a United States Army Ranger for 13 years. He did tours of service in Beirut Lebanon, Panama, the 1st Gulf War, Bosnia and Somalia. It was on Richard's last tour of service that he was injured, sent to Germany for treatment and ultimately medically discharged. Through the Veterans Administration he hopes to be in housing in the next few weeks. Mosaic is providing some home furnishings, helping with the move and providing him a 37" television. 

www.mosaicwichita.comOver the last weeks I have spent hours sitting and talking to these two gentlemen. Some may say or think, "what a blessing I have been to them," but to the contrary, I would say, "what a blessing they have been to me." You see, I have new friends, friends I respect, admire and appreciate. Men who participated in a much higher level of sport than I and men who have served our country with diligence and pride. Mr. Gracen is, as he should be, respected by most all on the streets who know him, unfortunately, he has also shared with me the perceptions he has seen from others, the comments that have been said about him being a little slow, being impatient as he walks across a crosswalk, talking about him being drunk, although neither him or Richard drink at all. Then there is Richard.

Richard after coming home from serving his country developed the horrible disease of Parkinson's. Unfortunately, he says I am the first one to be honest with him about what all that is yet to come, the long term effects. Sometimes an honest friend who will tell the truth is something people need. Richard can hardly sit down or get up now without having to be helped. Yet he keeps on, he has been bumped into on the streets, fallen down, only to have the person walk by thinking he is a drunk. It won't be long now before Richard is wheel chair bound. I have kidded him about hitching a ride on a hover round. He laughs it off and talks about how I will need one before long and we can race each other. I have asked friends, "How does he do it, walking the countless miles across town, going from one place to another?" They reply: "He just does it, he has more will power than anyone I know."

As a follower of Jesus I am appalled at how we as "Christians" sometimes treat people, including the homeless, the veteran or the hurting. Do we consider their contribution to society, these two men at one time had young people seeking their autographs. They served our country, they entertained tens of thousands, yet they are often treated as infidels and trash because of the initial impression many have of them. All because some didn't take the time to get to know them. It reminds me of Jesus own words, what you have done for the least of these you have done unto me. Then, while not technically appropriate theologically, it also reminds me of the concept that we as followers of God don't know when we are entertaining angels. Here is the irony though, of all of the people I have met in the last few years, I can think of few that have inspired my faith like these two. They did something for me that hadn't occurred in several years at a recent church service at Mosaic; they brought me to tears to the point that I had to get a Kleenex. They shared that despite their accomplishments, despite their needs, despite their situation, by and far the most important thing to both of them was their relationship to Jesus Christ.

www.mosaicwichita.comMany wonder about the need or reason to push Jesus at times, why it is that I stress and never compromise my relationship with Jesus nor the aspect that I think he meant just what he said when he said about himself, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me." The reason is, when asking Mr. Gracen and Richard they both say, they know their conditions are temporary. They know, one day they will live in mansions, with complete whole bodies, free from injury and pain and they have the hope, expectation, knowledge that because of their relationship with Jesus they will experience eternal life. Because of their faith in their condition, I have been moved to have faith and confidence. Yet, they are presently, and have been for some time, homeless. I can talk about a hamburger, barbeque, a needed shirt, all of these things but it is our relationship with Jesus that we share which provides the opportunity where we can talk for hours about things like heaven, housing, hope, and yes, even football. That all said it is our common relationship with Jesus, our brotherhood if you will, that brings us together. Without Jesus they may inspire, we may even be friends but we wouldn't be brothers. Because of Jesus, we are family, not just a proverbial, hypothetical, allegorical family, but a real, honest to goodness, family. That is one of the many benefits of sharing a faith in Jesus.  

The following video shows some of the work we do at Mosaic.  To see the video just click on it, if it doesn't appear, click on the following link:

Please note, some of these photos are courtesy of Shayla Duart and Jonni Rich Tennant.

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