Yesterday morning I received a text letting me know that Ron had died the night before in his vehicle. Maybe a heart attack. Maybe he froze to death. Ron was one of our friends that we met at the truck stop. But not just any friend at the truck stop. Ron was the first person who we met and did ministry with – laundry and a meal.
I wasn’t there that night – I was sick. One of our families went over with a neighbor from the church. It was the first time over to the truck stop. They had no idea what would happen. We had talked about the possibility that they wouldn’t meet anyone. But they met Ron.
And Ron became a faithful participant. Ron was an interesting character. He always had stories to share and as we got to know him better, he’d be more comfortable with us and share different stories about his life.
Ron told us that he was going to Tennessee in order to marry a woman and that he would be leaving in a couple of days to go there. He had supposedly been talking with this woman and they were in love.
Well, we saw Ron again in a month. No Tennessee. No wife. We expressed sadness for Ron. And we realized that this was a scam, trying to talk with Ron about the situation. It cost him $750 – money he sent to this “woman.”
Then the cycle started again. Same result. We tried again.
Then the cycle started again. Same result. This time we stopped trying to talk Ron out of it. We realized that Ron didn’t care that it was a scam and that it cost him money that he really couldn’t afford to lose. Each one of these women who wanted to marry him gave him something intangible – hope. Ron was an older man. He was homeless. He had health issues. His life didn’t have a future to look forward to.
But each of these scammers gave Ron something that no one else could offer him – hope. Yes, it was false hope, and it cost him. But it’s what he clung to. People need hope like they need oxygen. Especially people whose lives are a mess.
I’m willing to bet that deep down Ron knew he was being scammed.
It’s my hope that our little ministry also gave Ron hope, but a different type of hope – an honest hope. We weren’t there to “fix” Ron. We couldn’t provide him with everything he needed. We tried connecting him with some of the local services available for a variety of things that he needed. More importantly, we provided Ron with something that he probably didn’t experience all too often – people who cared that he was alive. We knew Ron by name and we always welcomed Ron each time he came to the truck stop when we were there.
As the pandemic hit, things changed. We couldn’t go to the truck stop. We shifted and in recent times we had started making meals to go. We knew were Ron parked his vehicle and our team that met him that first night was faithful in delivering food to Ron and anyone else that happened to be parked there. They would check on Ron, talk, catch up, and more.
I think this is what being a follower of Jesus is all about ultimately. We aren’t called to fix anyone. We can’t. How can we, who are broken ourselves in different ways, possibly fix anyone else?
A parishioner asked me if we were doing the right thing. A question that haunts us as we do ministry with those experiencing homelessness. We can’t provide what is truly needed – housing. But we give what we can. I responded that I think we are doing the right thing. We’re feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger, and visiting those imprisoned. Matthew 25 is a our guide in how we do ministry. Doing all of these things doesn’t fix people. But it provides them with something else – relationships, community, care, and ultimately hope. Hope in the sense that someone cares whether a person is alive or dead.
When I heard that Ron had died, I was hit with sorrow. Ron mattered.
We’re working on figuring out how Ron can receive a proper funeral. As far as we know there is no next of kin. His body lies in the morgue, waiting for resolution, like so many others who live and die on the street with no family. And many of these folks end of being created and put into an unmarked grave – forgotten, much like they were in life on the street.
But Ron will not be forgotten, regardless of what happens to his body. That’s because Ron had something that many others in his situation didn’t – a community that cared that he lived. He impacted our lives. We hope that we had an impact on his life too. And we hope that Ron encountered Jesus through us. We know we encountered Jesus through Ron. Jesus hung out with the poor, the unwanted, the forgotten. Ron was the face of the image of God.
The promise of the resurrection knows no economic levels. The promise of resurrection is the same for rich and poor. The promise of resurrection isn’t a false hope that pulls one over on us taking things of value from us. It is real hope. The resurrection will happen for Ron. And I’ll look forward to seeing Ron again.
In the mean time, rest in peace Ron. Your life mattered. You will be missed.