First Church was a stately, old church located in downtown Central City. She had a rich heritage along with the other churches clustered around Church Circle. And she, along with the other downtown churches, had her share of people who were always dropping by because they needed something. The “regulars” came by just like clockwork.
Louie was always drunk; I mean eyes-matted-together-slobbering drunk. His still being alive was a miracle in itself.
Hank was one of the most colorful people to come through our doors. I looked forward to passing by him on the sidewalk because he always cussed me out—to music. He cussed everybody out to music. He had one of those contraptions around his neck that would hold a harmonica, and he walked up and down the streets playing the harmonica and his guitar—until he saw you. The harmonica would come out of his mouth and out would come some of the most vile language you ever heard—all set to music. He could shred. Hank had come from Nashville. He had begun to make a name for himself at the Grand Ole Opry. Then his wife was killed in an automobile accident. Hank turned to whisky and music for daily survival.
Wally didn’t ask for anything. Just showed up one Sunday and sat there next to Jake—and worshipped. Wally left before I could get to him, so I asked Jake where he lived. “In a cardboard box just three blocks away from here.”
Linda and I hosted a dinner at our house for the elders and their wives every Christmas. After some discussion she and I decided it was time to do something different. We wanted to have a Christmas dinner, but not for the people who would return the favor at some later date. This dinner was for the Louies and the Hanks and the Wallys who lived in cardboard boxes—people who couldn’t do a thing for us!
Some of the Sunday School classes heard about what we wanted to do and decided to forego Christmas parties so they could help us feed people who were really hungry. Wally helped me get to these people early in the mornings before they folded up their boxes and headed to the streets. After a few days, several promised they would meet us at the appointed place and ride with us to the church, including Hank and Louie. We ended up driving three vans of strangers to the church where they were fed one of the finest turkey and dressing dinners you have ever tasted.
But something was wrong.
Louie was not there. He had promised me that very morning he would come. I mentioned this to Jerry, one of our deacons, and he called the jail. Sure enough, Louie was in the drunk tank. The jailer said that we could have him if we would come and get him. When we got there, Louie was a mess—worse than I had ever seen him. He couldn’t walk—he couldn’t even stagger. Jerry and I finally got him down three flights of stairs, loaded him into the car, and then carried him down another flight of stairs into the fellowship hall of the church.
There was a plate of food at Louie’s place. He immediately face-planted when we sat him down. By this time I was fed up with him. But two of our dear older women pulled up folding chairs and sat down next to Louie. One held his head up while the other fed him. Talk about good Samaritans!
A short program was planned, but before we got started Hank stepped onto the stage—guitar and harmonica ready for action. And he started singing…
All is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin mother and Child…
O come, all ye faith-ful,
joy-ful and tri-um-phant…
For an hour, people who had not sung in months sang the Christmas music of the ages before being swallowed up again by the unforgiving, uncaring city. Whether we went home to a cardboard box or to a warm house—we were all changed that night. Heaven had touched us.
One morning a few weeks later our secretary asked me to come to her office. A man wanted to talk to the pastor. “We’ve barely made it past Christmas,” I mumbled to myself while walking down the hallway. “Happy new year, Dale!”
It was not one of our “usual customers.” The man was clean-cut. Polite. Well-spoken. And he was not asking for anything. He just smiled. And I wondered who this guy was. Then he said, “You just think you don’t know me. But you know me very well. I came to your church the night you fed the homeless. My name is Louie. I was hammered. But those two ‘angels’ who fed me that night gave me hope—reminded me that God loved me—and wanted to help me. I never knew I was important to anyone. They saved my life.”
Jesus set Louie free, but He used two ladies who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
Louie started preaching right there in Central City. He was still preaching when we moved away. I doubt if he’s alive. That was over 35 years ago. Alcohol and whatever else he poured down his gullet had wrecked his body and severely limited the time he had left on this earth. But wherever Louie is, and whatever he’s doing he will always be thankful that love does!
*Names and locations have been changed