By: Christie Burnett
One of the best things that can happen to us in this kind of ministry is when a client moves out of homelessness and into a life of their own working for themselves, supporting themselves, content with the lives they are able to lead. We have had two such people at the Opportunity Center and although their lives ended this year this gives me a moment to pause and remember them for their smiles, their lives & the mark that they left on my life because I knew them. They made the step that is so hard for most of our clients to do. They got off the streets, got jobs, and were happy when they passed from this life.
Robert Roberts was a quiet man. He usually kept to himself. He never stayed in a shelter; he liked to camp out; and could usually be found in the company of his best friend Tony. He had a great heart an even bigger smile. He looked high and low for a job and things just never seemed to go his way, but he never ever gave up. One say he came into my office & said, “Christie, I think I may have a job!” and that’s where it began. He was hired by some of the guys he had met from the Jackson Street Ministry in a tree cutting service. He applied for food stamps, got them saved up his money until the day that he called and proudly told me he wasn’t having to sleep outside anymore. We were SO happy he had done it! He kept working and stayed in touch until we got the word about 2 months ago that he had been hit by a car and killed walking across the Frontage Road. I went to my voice mail a few days after his death and there he was calling to check in with me and see if he had any mail. That was a hard one to take and we mourned his loss here at the OC.
Debra Dye was another of our clients who had lived on the streets for a good while.
While a client here, she got into Hinds Behavioral Health & took control of her life. She made us laugh and she never came in without a coffee or treat donation for our center (bought out of her own food stamp money). She married the love of her life at Galloway Church last year and after a lot of work on herself and figuring out what she wanted she was offered a job in TX. Caring for two elderly women. She jumped at the chance to get out of the environment she was in here in Jackson and to do better for herself. She left and did so wonderfully; throwing herself into caring for the ladies like she had done for so many of our clients here with stern, caring, no nonsense, love. She thrived and used to call just to talk and tell me all the fun she was having and how great her life was. She had the life she had wanted for so long. Unfortunately like so many of our clients, what we do in our past has a way of catching up with us. We got word from her family that Debra unexpectedly died of liver and kidney failure last month. We here who knew her were at a loss; she was larger than life. She had been through SO much, and finally had made it only to go so quickly and suddenly.
But here’s the thing that I try to remember. They both lived. They experienced and saw more bad things in their lives than I probably ever will. They had lived life in the lowest of lows – had seen the worst of the worst. But they lived…and I got to be one of the people who were blessed to know them both. I am better for knowing them both.
So, as this thought comes to a close, I’m reminded of the movie “The Last Samurai”. When the Emperor of Japan asks Tom Cruise to tell him how his mentor the great Katsumoto died in battle. And the response is I will tell you how he LIVED. Robert & Debra lived; they weren’t known by many but they were truly loved by those of us that God put in their paths.