Let me tell you about my friend Jack.
Jack was somewhere between forty-five and fifty years of age. Even though he was a grown man, he was very childlike, and sometimes he was very delusional. It was obvious that Jack lived a life of mental illness. He was all alone in the world when I met him. His father and mother had both passed away years earlier.
After I got to know him, I came to realize that Jack’s mother had been his primary caregiver—and from what I could tell, she had kept up with his many needs as best she could. According to Jack, she had been murdered in a very violent way, a fact that seemed to torment Jack . . . and the fact that those responsible were never caught made matters even worse. Jack was obsessed with his mother’s death and would walk for hours and hours on a regular basis just to stand at her gravesite. Afterwards, he’d always say, “I went and talked to Mom today.”
After his mother’s death, Jack wasn’t able to take care of himself so he was given a caseworker and put into public housing. In cases like Jack’s, caseworkers are also caregivers, and the person’s benefits and money are filtered through that caseworker so that rent and utilities are paid so the client doesn’t end up on the streets. But what often happens is that clients end up in run-down apartments or group homes, and what money they should have to live on seems to disappear. It’s scary how often the ones who needs help the most are taken advantage of. This appeared to be the case for Jack.
I met Jack in 2004 while I was in Nashville serving the poor. He was a regular at our Thursday night meals. He was one of those who wants to help, to be involved, to have a purpose, and then to be told they did a good job. Jack’s face would glow when someone bragged on him about the way he rolled the plastic forks and spoons in napkins or swept the floor, so needless to say he became part of my family of misfits. He wanted to be a part of this family so much that he would walk in the pouring rain from his apartment, which was eight or ten city blocks away, to come roll forks. The only reason he would miss is when he had to work his job at Goodwill, which he walked another six blocks to get to. At Goodwill he made only about four dollars an hour, but the way he spoke about it, you would have thought he was next in line to run the place.
Life with Jack wasn’t without challenges. Like I said earlier, he was obsessed with his mother’s death. I remember one Sunday morning, he came to church with me, and we were seated in the back by the sound board. (Running sound was one of my jobs on Sunday morning.) Jack dozed off and started talking in his sleep. When I tried to wake him, he sprang to his feet and started cursing and describing all the things he was going to do to the person who killed his mom. Now luckily, at the Fortress we were used to having the community disrupt the services, so no one got bent out of shape, but it did make for a frantic few minutes as I tried to get him outside and calmed down.
Another time while I was taking him home, Jack tried to get out of my truck while it was moving. Once again he had dozed off and woke up disoriented. I quickly learned to keep Jack just busy enough so he would not fall asleep.
With folks like Jack, it’s not always about the quality of the work they do, or the need for the work to be done; it’s about them being able to do something that gives them purpose. For instance, we started rolling the plasticware in the first place so Vicki would have a specific task for Jack to do.
About five years ago, Jack went to be with Jesus. He was killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking home from Goodwill. Sometimes, we as Christians get so wrapped up on speaking the Word of God that we forget to live it. We need to quit ministering with only our mouths and start ministering with our hearts. After all, that’s where the Holy Spirit lives. People need to be needed; they need to know they’re not a mistake, that there’s a place for them to be safe, and that there’s a place for them in heaven.