Ed eased up to the front door of City Reach.
“Oh brother,” he thought. “One of those soup kitchen places for homeless losers. I don’t belong here. Why did that stupid judge send me to work here? Why couldn’t it be working in the City Park or something?”
He opened the door slowly. The smell of breakfast made him hungry for real food. He remembered the last meal he had was topped with white foam.
Ed looked around for someone that seemed to be in charge. Spotting Becky, who was directing someone to retrieve the salt and pepper, he hesitatingly walked over to introduce himself.
“Hello Miss; my name is Ed Hammberg. I was asked by a local official to give you a hand for a few weeks.” Ed had this part down cold. “Do you need any help?”
“Oh hello, Mr. Hammberg. Yes, the judge called me. He told me you needed a place to do some community service. We’re happy to have you help us for a while.”
Ed flushed. He hadn’t counted on his whole life history being laid out so soon.
“We do have a couple of rules, Ed. May I call you Ed?”
“Uh, yes, of course.”
“Good! You must always respect anyone who comes in here and treat them with love. And, we will have no swearing, no smoking, no alcohol and your first half hour each day here is with the staff only. We will talk about the daily menu for a few minutes and then we all pray for a bit. Sound OK?”
“Oh, uh yeah, I guess so. Pray? Yeah, OK, I can be here.”
“Great! So, Wednesday at 7:30 in the morning? Thank you, see you then.”
The duty nurse came in to check on the patients in 314. Mr. Beckett was sitting up and playing with the TV remote again. Paul was awake but a bit groggy. She slid the curtain back so each could see the other.
She then said, “Well, since you are both awake I think I will let you get acquainted. Mr. Beckett, this is Mr. Weiser; Paul, this is Frank. Enjoy your morning!”
“Good morning, Frank,” Paul said as wakeful as he could, still under some influence of the sedative.
“Uh, HUH,” returned Mr. Beckett, unsure of how to make small conversation with a man he was just now meeting who was probably the father of his daughter’s child.
“So . . . looks like you were in an accident. What happened?”
“Truck; I got hit by a truck,” Paul explained.
“Looks like the truck won, Paul. Are you a Christian?”
“Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” Mr. Beckett inquired.
“As my what? Savior? I don’t know what you mean. I was saved from getting killed, if that’s what you mean. And, I don’t know anybody named Jesus. I know Jose’ who was the salesman in the next region, that’s all.” Paul was unsure about what this had to do with the accident. Maybe Frank Beckett had some brain damage, though his head wasn’t wrapped up.
“No, I meant have you been to church and found Jesus.”
“Oh that. Yes, I went to church. That’s why I’m here. I came out kind of stumped, crossed the street and got slammed. The only thing I found in church was a bunch of people doing some ceremony that didn’t seem to include me. I don’t know how they expect to get anybody to come back when they are so unfriendly.” Paul laid back on the pillow, tired after that rant.
“Yeah, they are like that at the Catholic Church. I don’t blame you.”
“It was that big church down on Main,” Paul revealed. “I’m never going there again!”
Ramona had seen Ed Hammberg come in to City Reach. He looked familiar and thought she should know him but couldn’t place him. As she thought about it, she recalled a few years back seeing him at church. He was just a little older than her and looked a lot scruffier than she remembered.
“What did he want?” she asked Becky.
“You’ll never believe it, but he’s the guy who was driving the truck that hit Paul. The judge sent him here to do Community Service.”
“I think I know him, Becky. He went to my church and married the Pastor’s daughter.”
“Well, that’s interesting. How did Pastor Marlowe allow that?”
Ramona told what she remembered about Ed as she helped Becky clean up. “He seemed to be a decent guy, not my type, but a decent guy. I’m not sure why he went sideways but I heard the pastor was in their personal lives too much.”
“Well that can happen with any parent and their children.”
“No, I mean TOO much. He expected them to be at church for everything and didn’t even let them take time off for a vacation. Ed must have felt he couldn’t—wouldn’t live that way and left.”
Becky sighed. “Sometimes people in leadership use their positions to control others, Ramona. Couple that with the idea that the pastor may have felt that his reputation hinged on the behavior of his children and you have a recipe for misery. It happens too often. I never told you but that’s one of the main reasons I quit being a church member and became a Jesus follower instead.”
“What exactly does that mean?”
“Well, the church I attended was similar to Main Street Church: friendly, like a big family, they said. But when I was there for a short while the youth leader came to me and wanted me to check in weekly with one of the other leaders. I asked why and he said that I needed to be accountable to those over me. I agreed to and for a while it seemed OK, but when the other leader said he needed to approve my social friends I couldn’t see it. I mean, I thought we were supposed to have friends that didn’t know Jesus so we could ‘be Jesus’ to them.”
“So what did you do?”
“I met a few other friends who felt the same way; Jeremy was one, and we started getting together, reading Jesus’ story and asking ourselves what it might look like in today’s culture to share His message with our friends and community. That’s why we started City Reach.”
“Cool!” Ramona said. “At first I thought you were just doing something to feel good about yourself; you know, giving back to the poor people. But I didn’t realize you had a deeper reason. I guess that makes sense. I remember now about Eben, the guy I met my first time here. That is cool, Becky. I like the idea of serving the poor so you can share His love.”
“Yep! After all, He did feed a bunch of them as He told them stories about God and His Kingdom.”
As Mr. Beckett lay there, he thought about the guy in the bed next to him. Anger crept up on his dark side. He was conflicted about how to bring up the topic but believed it was his parental duty to confront Paul.
Paul stirred; Beckett took this as an opening.
“So you know my daughter, Ramona, huh?”
Paul shot a nervous glance his way.
“I’ve met her, yes.”
“She said you’ve more than met. Are you prepared to be a father?”
“WHAT?” Paul reeled from this sudden revelation. “Whaaat?” he stammered again. “Damn, damn, damn!”
“Yeah, you will be,” Beckett returned, “if you don’t own up.”
– To Be Continued –