A Pauper's Grave - January 24, 2019
On a frigid morning between Christmas and New Year’s, we buried him in a pauper’s grave. Fitting—he lived and died a pauper. Now he was buried among others like him, shadow-dwellers, poor in resources and relationships. Paupers indeed.Small to start with, cancer shriveled him. He couldn’t have been more than 75 pounds, bones so brittle that doctors feared doing CPR—it might shatter his chest.His real name is David. We met him and his roommate Vinnie* down a dark alley in a battered motel room—David shy, Vinnie* a raging extrovert.
Vinnie’s* stories dominated our time, while David hid in the back room. That changed. Diane “happened” to meet them at the hospital when David was given his diagnosis. Then, the floodgates opened—he was eager to visit, shared openly, grateful for prayer. He hugged gladly, even through the pain of his brittle body. We would say to them, on heading out the door, “We love you guys”; David would say, “I love you too.” His story is hard, almost too hard to write. At seven he was on the streets. Seven! Our oldest granddaughter is seven. The thought of anyone that age on the streets breaks my heart and makes me furious. Worse were the things he endured just to survive.Warmer memories came out—before hitting the streets he would read the Bible aloud to his grandmother. He knew Jesus, a shelter through a storm-battered life.
Once, he sang in a choir and told us his favorite song was “To God Be The Glory.”Gifted enough to be both a mechanic and a chef, there were times of stability, but they didn’t last; the street always won out. Ten years ago, on his way to the street, Vinnie* took him in. Somehow, they survived, both working, semi-homeless at best.David fought, but the cancer was relentless; there was nothing to do but help him die peacefully. He told Diane he feared he would die alone, no one even knowing where his body was. That could easily have happened. Until we came along, Vinnie* was his only friend.
Knowing the end was near, Diane and I went to the hospital; he was barely responsive. I read from John 14 and told him Jesus was preparing his heavenly room. We sang, “To God Be The Glory,” and prayed, leaving with a promise from the nurse to keep us updated. Another team member—Jamie—sat with him through the afternoon; yet another—Dave—went to do the evening shift. But David had been discharged and the hospital wasn’t sure where to—maybe Denver Hospice, maybe back to their apartment. Dave went both places—he wasn’t there! It seemed like David’s fear of dying alone might come true.We found him, across town. Dave raced there. Joined by Diane, they sat with him through the night. In the morning, Diane went home; Jamie rejoined Dave. Vinnie* showed up as well. He patted David on the arm and said, “Come on buddy, time to go home.” Minutes later, David died; Jesus came and took him home. David did not die alone! He was surrounded by people who loved him.
What we—our Jesus on Colfax family—did was what families do; we loved David to the finish line. I call it the “death watch”—sitting, watching, praying, waiting for death to come. We took care of arrangements, coming up with the money to bury him, honoring his request to not be cremated.And then, on a frigid morning between Christmas and New Year’s, we buried him in a pauper’s grave. About ten of us—our JOC family—gathered graveside to honor him. We sang— “Amazing Grace” and “To God Be The Glory.” We read Scripture—Psalm 23 and John 14. I talked about Jesus’ promise to prepare a room for David and how, when it was time, He came to get David and took him home. A pauper no more!
Increasingly, I think of our ministry as becoming family with our lonely, isolated friends. Jesus is clear—go love lonely people and create family, giving to them, receiving from them. Others share this work with Diane and me. Without that, David would have died alone. Given how erratic the hospital was, even Vinnie* would not have been there; no service would have marked his death. A pauper in life, a pauper in death.We—Diane and I and our JOC team—get to become family with those we serve among. David’s story is a snapshot of our work—showing up, loving people, building family. For most of us, it is the richest experience of Jesus and His church we have ever had.
*Name changed to protect his identity.