In order to respect the privacy and lives of those with whom we are building relationships, all names are changed.
The first time Brandon came to Grace and Main Fellowship's Thursday night dinner, he came with a cheap bottle of gin in his pocket and he would sneak off to the bathroom to take a nip from it about every thirty minutes. He was nervous to be there, but eager to socialize and meet some new people over a hot meal. Brandon started coming back every week and within a month was
very active in helping us set up the extra tables and chairs and even pitching in with the dishes when he could. He was struggling with alcoholism and finding it very hard to keep a job and shelter. The first time we met him was during our “roving feast:” a meal that travels around downtown Danville and the northside three or four times a week and involves free lunches, lots of conversation, and the building of relationships with people who often find both to be in short supply.
Several weeks after Brandon's first night with us, he was just sitting down to begin his meal when a little boy named Eric sat his plate down right next to him. Eric was four years old and is one of our younger members at Grace and Main. He had met “Mr. Brandon” a few times, but they had never really had a conversation. 15-20 minutes later, I looked down to their end of the table and saw the following scene unfold:
“You need to eat two more bites of your chicken and three more bites of your broccoli” Brandon insisted to young Eric, “if you want to have dessert.” Realizing that whether or not his new four-year-old friend could have dessert was probably not a decision he could make, Brandon looked down the table to where Eric's mom was sitting and added, “Is that alright, Mom?” Eric's mother nodded and Brandon turned back to Eric and continued, “So, you really need a few more bites because if you don't get pie, then I don't get pie.”
That night, Eric was the hands and feet of Christ to a man who found that life was harder than he ever could have imagined. Other had labeled Brandon a drunk, homeless, hopeless, and worthless. But, Eric didn't see any of that—instead, Eric saw Brandon as a potential friend and by the end of the night the two had begun a relationship that flourishes even today. They shared a meal (and pie!) with each other and became friends. In that short interaction, Brandon was able to see a life unlike the one he'd been told he couldn't escape from. Brandon was able to care for Eric and Eric was able to make a new friend.
The next day, Brandon came to our leaders and said that he wanted to “get clean.” We helped Brandon go through a detox and threw him a party to celebrate his liberation from slavery to alcohol, because we can't think of many things more worthy of a party. Brandon has been clean since that day and he is one of our most devoted leaders now. He participates in our planning meetings, organizes and leads volunteers, and shares his invaluable insight into the world of ministry among the homeless, near-homeless, poor, and addicted. In fact, now he is one of the key leaders in the “roving feast,” where we first met him.
You see, sometimes all it takes to change a life is a vision of what Jesus calls “life more abundant and free.” Eric gave that vision to Brandon with a simple meal and the kind of conversation you have with a four-year-old.