Posted by: Darrell Johnson | December 6, 2009

December Newsletter

Growing up my favorite comic strip in the newspaper was Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson. The popular comic strip about a highly imaginative boy, Calvin, and his sidekick, a stuffed tiger who came to life when no one was around, Hobbes, was syndicated in the “funny pages” for a little over a decade. In the final comic strip from December 31, 1995, we find Calvin and Hobbes overlooking a freshly snow laden hillside. Amazed at the transformation that took place overnight, the boy and his sidekick, all bundled up in their winter garb with sled in hand, proceed to share motions of optimism and hope while they behold a whole new landscape “full of possibilities.” At one point, Hobbes notes that the world now looks brand new. To which Calvin replies, “A new year, a fresh, clean start! …let’s go exploring!” The comic ends with the two sledding down the hill into a magical world, full of possibilities; an appropriate ending to venturing out into new territory.

This past month I had the privilege to attend and celebrate in the first ever Fresh Start graduation here at Jeff Street. In a way it was a milestone for both Jefferson Street Baptist Center and the lives of those who stayed on course with the Fresh Start program, which began this past year. The Fresh Start program is one of our residential programs here at the shelter where men who have had a history of addictive behavior come in order to seek change that is only possible through Christ. By encouraging our residents to develop relationships with mentors who come along side and disciple them as well as seeking out the Lord on their own and by being active in a local church community, and participating in Gospel-centered classes, the Fresh Start program has served as a wonderful agent of change for its participants and graduates. I thank God for the way He is at work within this program and for those who take time to invest in the community here. It was very encouraging to see four of my friends complete the program and it’s been a greater blessing recognizing how the Lord has provided a new landscape “full of possibilities” or better yet “a fresh, clean start.” Much like Calvin and Hobbes in their finale, the Fresh Start graduates are venturing into new territory. And I encourage you all to keep the graduates and the current participants in the program in your prayers.

One of the graduates, Sean, has become a pretty good friend to me and I have to admit that when I first got here I would have never seen that coming. My first impression of Sean was not a positive one, I hardly ever heard the man say an encouraging thing and it seemed like if there was a verbal jab to be made, he was the source. But over time I began to recognize a change in Sean’s demeanor that was completely beyond my comprehension. I thought for sure that he was in trouble with the law or was about to be asked to leave Jeff St. because of some disciplinary issue; I was quite wrong.

It turns out that Sean had begun to build some strong relationships with the staff and HOPE team members, but more importantly he was beginning to embark in a personal walk with the Lord. One day Sean and I were playing canasta in the shelter and He began to ask me why I was here. To which I answered his with a question. “Why do you think I’m here, doing this?” And very subtly, yet sincerely he replied, “Because you love Jesus.” Now, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that playing a couple of games of canasta with Sean would lead to him being comfortable enough to sincerely talk about Jesus with me, but he did. Since that day back in the summer, Sean and I have become pretty good friends and I was more than thrilled to see his relationships with the residents take a more positive turn. Again, I have to give thanks to God for working through the Fresh Start program and working in the lives of all who are a part of it.

When I came back to Jeff St. in September to begin my year long mission here, I was warmly welcomed back by my friend Sean. “Welcome back bro,” he said. It was a kind gesture from a man in the midst of some exciting and inspiring change. The following month I found out that Sean was getting involved in a local church down the street from the shelter and that he felt the call to be baptized and to give his life over to Christ. Words cannot aptly express how I felt when I heard this, even reflecting on these events gives me chills. He was baptized on Sunday, October 18; it was quite a memorable moment watching my friend dressed in a white robe walk into the baptistery and be immersed into the water. Later that day, I asked him if he was nervous about being baptized and speaking in front of the congregation. He shook and all he said was, “whatever.” I already knew the answer to my question, because right before the service began my friend Sean was on the sidewalk in front of the church dressed up in his white robe, wearing his leather jacket and smoking a cigarette while pacing back and forth. It was somewhat humorous to me, but still God was working on my friend’s heart that day.

Today Sean, is getting more involved with his church and is moving on from the Fresh Start program. He continues to reside here as he plans for what lies ahead, beyond Jeff St. I’m not sure when he’ll leave 733 E. Jefferson St. but when he does I will miss him quite a bit. But before he does I’ll be sure to get in one last game of canasta. Why? Because, that’s part of being in community with our neighbors at Jeff St.; that’s part of living life together, just being there. Whether it be to encourage or to share in pain, to correct or learn something new; life here is hardly ever boring. And I am thankful for all the wonderful people that God has put in my life during my time here and I look forward to the new year myself. I look forward to “a fresh, clean start” that is awarded to us daily through Christ Jesus. So, let’s go exploring.

OH LORD, guide us all.

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