The home phone rang last night, after 9 but some time before 10. Alex got it and told me it was Nancy somebody. I couldn't catch the last name. I thought, "Someone from church." Then when he was done talking, he handed me the phone, and it was Nancy Sanderson.
Now Nancy and her husband, Jim, have been important people in my life for quite a long time, now that I think about it. When people ask me about my conversion story—aka how I met Jesus—I always go back to our first mission trip to Romania. It was Jim and Nancy's second, and I watched them a lot. They loved the people of Romania in a way I had not seen before. Even the gypsies, who are the lowest of the low, got time and love from Jim and Nancy. At church, they were always involved in the background of things. I also knew that they were involved with the local soup kitchen, feeding the hungry and talking to them about Jesus.
I will never forget the Sunday when Nancy stood up at church and announced that the soup kitchen was looking for a new director and also needed bread and lunchmeat in order to fix sandwiches. After church, I told Nancy I would like to help out by bringing by some bread, and I thought she was going to pop. I found out about six months later that while Nancy was speaking to the church, God was speaking to her, telling her that He wanted me to be the director. The rest is history, and I did that job for five years, and I did it well. In fact, I would say that running the soup kitchen was the one thing that I have done really well.
During that time, Nancy and Jim were always there, supporting me and being a constant force for God. They continued to show me how to love the unlovely, and I did. Something I learned was how to tell if someone was comfortable with the homeless. Did that person refer to them as “those people” and stay in the kitchen and hide? Or did they get out there and talk with them and care about them? They were "my people," and I loved them in a way that I think only Jesus could do through me. I loved Bardo, Billy Goat Dave, Norris, Doug and Janet, just to name a few of them. I loved them, and I lost them to the evils of alcohol and death. It never gets any easier to lose them, even when you’re four years removed and living in another state.
So when Nancy called, I knew something was up. We had lost Clifford, and my heart sank. Clifford was the one that I really spent the most time with, and he was the one that I had faith in, that he could kick the habit and put that bottle down and get his life back. He was a professionally trained chef and taught me a lot about cooking. He tried to put the bottle down but would pick it back up time and time again. They found his body up at the cemetery above the soup kitchen and homeless shelter. They couldn't ID him until they did an autopsy, and he had been up there for weeks. I’m sorry you had to die up there alone, Clifford. My heart breaks as I think of my people. They are almost all gone, the ones that I loved. But Nancy and I know we will see them again when we get to heaven, and they will be waiting for us with smiles on their faces. No more tears, and no more pain. We will all be home for good.