Let me tell you a little story…
“Buenas tardes,” I said to the passers by. We don’t tend to see neighbors very often in our neighborhood so we try to be as friendly as possible to everyone we see. “Hola, como estas?” this gentleman seemed overly friendly to me as he walked his bike alongside his wife of over 30 years. He began to engage me in conversation in a way that was a bit too friendly but something pulled me towards the couple as I responded.
“Today is our day off. I just wanted to go buy a coke. I can’t be too long or my wife will worry.” – these thoughts began flowing through my head as I pushed through to be friendly to this couple. You know, you are on a mission but something pulls you aside.
“Jesus lived a life of distraction.” This quote is something which my wife often tries to remind me of as I tend to be very task oriented. On our days off we tend to stay indoors so that we can’t get easily distracted. I tried to not focus on these thoughts and convinced myself that if I just give these kind folks a couple of minutes, I can go back to laying around and sipping an ice cold Coca Cola. God had other things planned.
As I began to engage the friendly man, I began to notice that there was more going on here. As he was talking I noticed that he was ever so slightly slurring his words. Occasionally the gentle breeze would waft the scent of alcohol to my nostrils. As he continued to talk to me, I noticed his wife nodding her head in disdain. The man was an alcoholic. I learned that his wife had hunted him down in the community to the local store (where I was going to buy my soda) because he had stolen some cash from her and was trying to buy more alcohol. She finally interrupted him and asked that I pray for him. In our conversation I had revealed that I am a missionary living on this street and I serve “up the hill” in Linda Vista. The man asked me to be his priest (he grew up Catholic). His wife is a born again Christian and faithfully attends a church close by but her husband refuses to go to get help.
“Will you help me?” he asked. I have been asked this question by many men over these past couple years in the same situation. Immediately I began to wonder if I could take this man in for just a couple months to get him sober and on the right path. I then wonder how many more years it will take to put together the recovery house we have been dreaming about with City of Refuge church.
“I can only do so much, but I know someone who can truly help you. Jesus. He is the priest of priests and He loves you and wants you to get better. He wants you to be obedient to Him.” I don’t know if it has been my years of trying to encourage drunk men that live in the street or my need to rely on God’s words because I usually feel helpless in these situations. Lionel’s wife, Mirna, immediately agreed. I encouraged him to go to church with his wife and to listen to her guidance. I encouraged Mirna to remain faithful and rely on God for strength. She was telling me a snippet of all the things she has suffered in dealing with his alcoholism for decades.
Lionel broke down in tears, “I don’t want to be like this anymore.” Mirna shook her head in disbelief as many broken and tired wives do with alcoholic husbands. My heart was broken for them. I prayed over them: cleansing for Lionel and that God would take away this addiction and cleanse his body and I prayed for strength and endurance and wisdom for Mirna as she continues to love her husband unconditionally despite his own brokenness. They thanked me, wiped tears from their eyes, and began their walk home. I bought my coke and returned home to let my wife know I was ok and tell her the story.
Since then, Mirna has brought Lionel to our house so that I could pray for them. It’s a humbling experience knowing that even though I pray for them, I cannot make the changes in their lives. “Only God can change the heart,” we remind ourselves when people need to make better life decisions. I willingly prayed for them and have tried hard to believe that God will change them. After a couple times of praying over them, I never heard of or saw them for at least a month until just last week as a team member and I were packing up the van. Mirna came by with a huge smile on her face.
“Lionel has stopped drinking!” she exclaimed to me. “About 3 weeks ago he woke up one day and the Lord just took away all desires to drink!” I couldn’t believe my ears. Maybe my Spanish training was failing me. Did she really say he was sober?
“I am so happy for you guys!”
“I wanted to come by and tell you but didn’t want to be a bother,” she then confessed.
“That’s not a bother, that is reason to praise God,” I encouraged her. “Please bring him by so we can talk.” I had later explained to the teammate I was working with that I feel it is always a gamble in trying to talk to a drunk person about the steps they need to take towards sobriety. Now that he is sober, we can have a solid conversation and Lionel can continue walking his path to recovery.
Not too long ago, we had been talking with other missionaries about how easy it is to divide areas of our lives, even in ministry. Sure, we serve various families in communities around us and even make the 10 minute drive up the hill to serve in our church, but what are we doing immediately around us? God has blessed me with being a part of what He is doing right here in our own neighborhood! Please join us in praising God for this miracle He has performed in our very own backyard.