Fourth Sunday Reflection
“I stopped going to methodone treatment after two months. It doesn’t work. My body was still aching, but I have been clean for two whole days,” the heroin addict said with complete honesty and with a sense of pride. “I overcame my addictions to marijuana and crack. I can overcome heroin, too.” Ramon stood for the first time after being homeless for more than a year in a sweatshirt and blue jeans in his new one-bedroom apartment. I asked him, “What makes you think that you will be able to overcome heroin?” He said, “I have my own place now and won’t be surrounded by all that. I am 57 years old, and it is time to change.”
Ramon has been in and out of prison for most of his life, mostly for drug-related offenses, both using and selling. He is HIV positive, has mental health issues and has burned most of his bridges with friends or family.
Journey Home Inc., the nonprofit organization where I live out my calling as a home missioner, is working to try to end chronic homelessness in Greater Hartford, Conn. One way we are working to do this is by prioritizing people like Ramon for subsidized housing with services. Many people have asked me why I would work to reward someone like Ramon with housing and services when he has done so much wrong in society and is most likely to fail again. I sometimes respond by saying it is partly our society’s fault for causing him to fail, so it is society’s duty to grant him another chance.
When reading the scripture for today’s Lenten message, Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21, my mind settles on the other real reason that I work with individuals like Ramon. I believe in the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives. As the scripture says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Belief. If we do not believe that the Son of Man can transform lives, even in the most difficult cases, then who will believe? Society has surrounded Ramon with unbelief, but we as deaconesses and home missioners must be beacons of light and beacons of hope.
The buzzer rang from downstairs, and Ramon went proudly to answer it. It was a group of church members from a neighboring town that I had asked to help furnish Ramon’s apartment. They came in carrying bureaus, a bed frame, a couch, toiletries, food, even chocolate chip cookies and milk. They helped put together the furniture, put away the dishes and groceries and make the bed. It was the first time in almost a year that Ramon had a bed of his own and a place to call home. Then we surrounded Ramon and laid hands on him and prayed for him in his new life.
A couple of weeks later, I called Ramon to see how he was doing. He said he was back on methodone treatment and had paid his rent. He is working with his case manager, and he also joined our consumer advisory committee that is made up of others who have experienced homelessness in their lives and is a group that advocates for social change. I told him that I was proud of him, and I let him know that his church friends were praying for him and asked him to let me know if he needed anything.
Only God knows if Ramon will get arrested again, and he might die from AIDS before he overcomes his heroin addiction, but I praise God for giving him hope, and I pray that he will continue to believe that he can change, that he will continue to let others help him, and that Jesus Christ will heal and transform him.
Forgive us when we doubt. Forgive us when we are skeptical. Forgive us when we do not lift up the Son of Man and share with others about the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Forgive us when we settle, when we slip, when we waver, when we fail. Forgive us when we lose hope. Strengthen our faith to be impenetrable, a wall of confidence and belief that can move mountains and give hope to individuals who feel hopeless, that the sheer force of our belief would be a grappling hook for those around us to get to safety and freedom in Christ, to transformation, and to eternal life.
Home Missioner Matt Morgan is the executive director at Journey Home Inc. in Hartford, Conn.