Sometimes when I’m down at Washington Park, the people there are concerned about me, and warn me about reprobates that hang around that they consider dangerous. They’ll tell me, “Stay away from so-and-so. He’s bad news.” When I hear that, I may be a little cautious, but I realize that means that ‘so-and-so’ needs God even more than most. I learned that from Charles.
I was in the park with the church during the “Good Sam Run”. The others from the church were busy handing out sandwiches, so I just stood to the side and asked God to bring me someone that I could minister to. Then I noticed a man standing with his friends nearby. He was very rough looking, with a mean expression on his face. He had only one eye, without a patch on the ‘bad’ one, so it just hung in his socket like a white ball of mucous. He had not shaven and had a rough beard. His dingy pants were held up by ragged suspenders over his grimy t-shirt and his huge belly hung out over his pants.
He approached me and demanded roughly, “What are you doing down here?” I told him I was with the church, and that I was here to pray for him if he wanted me to. He grunted and walked away. After a moment he hesitated and then turned and walked back toward me. “Yeh- I guess I could use some prayer,” he said nonchalantly, almost as if he were mocking me. I smiled and took his hands, and asked if there was anything special he needed prayer for. “Nah” he replied. “Just some prayer I guess.”
I asked his name and he told me “Charles.” I closed my eyes and began to pray with Charles. At one point I felt compelled to say, “Jesus wants you to know that he loves you very much, Charles, and that all your sins are forgiven.” As I ended the prayer, I looked up. I was surprised to see tears rolling over his cheek. He had a look of surprise and gratitude. He told me he had been praying and praying for forgiveness the last few months, but had not felt it until now. He had prayed with ministers and had said the sinner’s prayer many times. “But,” he said, “this is the first time I have really felt forgiven.” He said it was a huge weight lifted off him, and then he began to tell me his story. He had been involved in almost every sin imaginable. He had killed people in drug deals, and he had people killed. He had been a pimp and produced porn movies. He had robbed and stolen and lied. He had lost his eye in one of the drug deals gone wrong. He was considered a big dealer, and always had plenty of money, so he could buy almost anything he wanted.
Then he found out he had stomach cancer, but it was so far advanced that the doctors couldn’t do anything for him. He knew he didn’t have much time left and for the first time in his life, he began to fear death. And for the first time, he began to regret the things he had done in his life. And the more he reviewed his life, the more he knew he could never be forgiven. He prayed, but God didn’t seem to be listening, and he felt he had probably been disowned by God. He didn’t blame him. And he was scared of what lay ahead for him. He had been praying almost constantly for the last few months since he found out, and he’d turned away from selling drugs, his income at the time. All of his ‘friends’ had deserted him when the money ran out. He began ‘flying a sign’ on the side of the road to support himself. And now here he was in the food line to get sandwiches, and sleeping on the side of a vacant building.
All that time, he knew that God wasn’t going to have anything to do with him….. until we prayed. He said he felt like love had consumed his heart. He knew Jesus was with him, finally. Everything was going to be ok, and he no longer had to be afraid of dying. I could see that his expression had changed from bitterness to joy.
I saw Charles a few times after that down at the park, but within about three weeks he died. But during those three weeks, he had been telling everyone he knew about this amazing Jesus. People came to tell me they were amazed at the change in Charles. He was happy, and was helping people and was always talking about Jesus. One of my friends at the park remarked, “I thought I told you to stay away from him.” He was one of those people they had considered dangerous and irredeemable. But God had nudged him to come pray, and God knew that was exactly what Charles needed at that moment.