So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7 NIV
Since Susan and I both had to go to work we were in a bit of a quandary as to what Mike should do during the day while we were gone. We offered the option of staying at our home but he declined. He said that he would prefer to ride downtown with us and hang out at the Minneapolis Public Library. It was a familiar haunt for him where he and other homeless people often took refuge during the winter months. The library was near where Susan worked so we agreed to drop him off there. We insisted however that he plan on meeting up with us outside Susan’s place of work at the end of the day. We assured him that we wanted him to come home with us again and spend the night. It seemed strange to leave him at the library and raised concerns about whether we would ever see him again.
To my relief, when I arrived where Susan worked that evening, Mike was waiting outside on the sidewalk. It was a welcome sight and his congenial countenance presented a stark contrast from our meeting the night before. He reported what a good day it had been. He was reveling in how different the world around him now appeared in the light of his life changing encounter with Jesus. Amazingly he had not felt any temptation to return to his old lifestyle. He even had some opportunities to share his new found faith with a couple of old library cronies.
Over the rest of the work week we maintained this same arrangement with Mike. In the evenings we began to discuss some of the challenges he was facing in putting his life back together and forging a new future. Our first order of business was to do some clothes shopping with him. The scrawny little guy definitely needed some duds that fit. It proved to be a fun outing for all of us. Mike as always was very appreciative. On the weekend we took him to our church, introduced him to some of our friends, and shared a bit of his story. Mike loved the worship experience but did not enjoy being in the testimonial limelight. We could tell his shyness and self-effacing nature coupled with the fact he was self-conscious about not having any teeth made him feel very uncomfortable. The fact that he needed dentures now became the next big hurdle.
We were enjoying having Mike live with us. We knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God had sovereignly sent him to us and were gripped by His love growing in our hearts for Mike. With each passing day we were feeling more and more like his stay with us, rather than just a few days, could extend to weeks. There was much to be done in Mike’s restoration process and he would need a support network to accomplish it. Without any further thought about it, trusting God who got us into this, we let him know our commitment to providing a home for him for as long as he needed it.
Over the next few weeks many of Susan’s family who lived in the Twin Cities had an opportunity to get to know Mike and take a genuine interest in him. One of the people whose Mike’s toothless plight tugged upon the heartstrings was Susan’s Aunt Betty. “Oh Mike!” I can still hear her exclaim. “We’ve got to get you some teeth!” It just so happened that Betty knew the dean of the dental school at the University of Minnesota. With that strategic contact Betty went to bat for Mike. In short order as his passionate advocate with the dean, she secured a commitment from the dental school to provide Mike a free set of dentures. Everything about the whole process had the mark of God’s miraculous provision and it was a huge answer to prayer for all of us. Having teeth really changes and improves a person’s looks. Mike was no exception. It gave him a newfound confidence in himself, and most importantly in God.
Mike felt indebted to the Harvest Field Mission where the love of Jesus, expressed through the couple who ran it, had paved the way for his salvation. Early on in his stay with us he asked us to take him there so that he could tell them what God had done in his life. His gratitude was genuine and he wanted to thank them in person. When we visited the Harvest Field on a Friday night during their regular weekly service and meal we were deeply moved. The proprietors, George and Patty Bruin, were marvelous people, with hearts for the Lord and the lost, as big as all outdoors. They were just thrilled to see Mike and hear about his miraculous redemption experience. His testimony greatly bolstered their faith and he became a kind of first-fruits poster child for their ministry. George had a weekly radio program on a small local Christian station and inteviewed Mike and me on the air several times.
Through Mike, Susan and I became fast friends with the Bruins. For several years I had a standing invitation to preach once a month at the Mission to the captive audience waiting for a meal. It was my very first preaching assignment as a young Christian and God used it to teach me many lessons about ministering His Word. It was a learning environment where throughout my message I got unfiltered feedback from the people off the street, who weren’t there for a sermon. Plus, when I went over my allotted time by even a minute, as most preachers are want to do, I heard about it immediately because people and their stomachs started growling.
Several months passed with Mike becoming more established in his walk with the Lord and in his sobriety. With the spring weather he began to take some steps to find employment. It was a discouraging process for him with no meaningful work history or skill, and no transportation. We did the best we could to help him. Ultimately it was family and friends who were able to find Mike a string of odd job opportunities to begin to put money in his pocket.
As summer began, with some savings set aside and a growing sense of independence, Mike finally felt he was ready to face his biggest challenge yet. It was the unresolved issue in his life that had plagued him since becoming a Christian. We had been talking about it for some time and praying for God’s direction. It was clear. Mike now wanted to get in touch with his family. When we took him downtown to the bus depot where he bought a round trip ticket to his small hometown in Iowa we were all on edge with trepidation. What would he discover as he now sought to reconnect with his wife and children? They had not seen or heard from him in seven years. How would they respond to the changes in his life and overtures at reconciliation? One thing we knew, he was prepared in his heart, no matter what he found, to trust God to see him through it.
When Mike returned we were sad, but not really surprised, to hear that his wife had chosen to get on with her life without him in his extended absence. She had divorced him and remarried. The children, shielded by her from their estranged father, would at least for the time being remain that way. By God’s grace, Mike took it in stride. He had bravely faced his regrets and fears. He had expressed repentant apologies for his wayward abandonment of his family. He had done what he could. So now he was enabled to move on with his life, holding his head high while still hoping that the day would come when he could be reconciled to his children.
By midsummer, with the help of Aunt Betty who was still advocating for him, Mike landed a job as a hired hand on a farm west of the Twin Cities. His journey with us, which had begun five months earlier, was finally at an end. It was God’s timing for him and for us to bid a fond farewell. Five is a number of completion and a number that represents grace. I can honestly say, that for the three of us it had been a grace-filled ride. Susan was now seven months pregnant with our first child and new horizons awaited us. Mike, now firmly rooted in the Lord, was ready to explore new horizons himself and launch out on his own. We kept in sporadic touch with Mike for several years. The last we heard of him was from a family member who had run into him downtown. She reported that Mike looked good, seemed to be happy, and was living in an apartment in Minneapolis.
When I think of Mike, the passage cited above from Colossians 2:6-7 comes to mind. In retrospect it was one of the greatest privileges in my life to see this guy who came in from the cold, “receive Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live [his life] in Him, rooted and build up in Him, strengthened in the faith . . . and overflowing with thankfulness.” That pretty well sums up the Mike we knew and his remarkable testimony. Undoubtedly he is now enjoying eternity’s rewards but I look forward to meeting up with him again. Only this time, I’ll get to see him dancing on streets of gold. To God be the glory, great things He has done!
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