How to Change a Homeless Man’s Life (Part 3)

I recently read a remarkable book, one that spent more than 2 years on the New York Times’ bestseller list: Same Kind of Different as Me.  It’s an amazing story of an unlikely friendship between homeless Denver Moore and wealthy Ron Hall. In two previous blogs, I discussed what I learned from the book about “how to change a homeless man’s life,” that it takes time and a relationship of equality.

I’d like to share one more lesson I learned, one that encouraged me greatly and hopefully pointed many of the book’s readers towards God.

It takes works of God to change a homeless man’s life.

Same Kind of Different as Me is a book about a relationship, but it is also a testimony miraculous interventions that healed people and relationships. The book is filled with God’s handiwork as He answers amazing prayers, provides supernatural guidance, prompts people to accomplish the extraordinary, and alters lives dramatically.

But the biggest miracle of all is something only God can give: truly unconditional love, demonstrated by the Cross, and imparted to us by the Spirit.

It’s because of that gift that Ron’s wife Debbie touched Denver’s life so deeply and started the ball rolling in the relationship between Denver and Ron. Denver perfectly summarized to Ron how this miracle of God’s love can change a homeless man’s life:

Mr. Ron, I was captive in the devil’s prison. That was easy for Miss Debbie to see. But I got to tell you: Many folks had seen me behind the bars in that prison for more than thirty years, and they just walked on by…. I was not a nice fella—dangerous—and prob’ly just as happy to stay in prison. But Miss Debbie was different—she seen me behind them bars and reached way down in her pocket and pulled out the keys God gave her and used one to unlock the prison door and set me free.

…She’s the onlyest person that ever loved me enough not to give up on me, and I praise God that today I can sit here in your home a changed man—a free man.       pp. 179-180

Lorraine Potter Kalal

How to Change a Homeless Man’s Life (Part 2)

I recently read Same Kind of Different as Me, a true story that chronicles the lives of two improbable friends – art dealer Ron Hall and homeless Denver Moore. The book touched me in many ways while also teaching me several lessons about how to serve our neighbors in need.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the first lesson I learned from this book – that it takes time and a relationship to have any impact on the life of a homeless man.

I learned something else, too: it’s never a one-way street.

Compassionate community ministry is not about the privileged doing all the giving and the underprivileged doing all the receiving.

It’s about a relationship between two people made in the image of God, two people who each have something to offer. Ron Hall and Denver Moore both taught me this lesson.

At one point, Ron asks Denver if they might be friends. Denver took a week to respond to the proposal (partly because he wasn’t sure Ron would stick to the friendship…). Apparently Denver never considered that Ron was condescending to help, but he weighed the offer in terms of mutuality:

… I got to thinkin about [Ron] some more and thought maybe we might have somethin to offer each other. I could be his friend in a different way then he could be my friend. I knowed he wanted to help the homeless and I could take him places he couldn’t go by hisself. I didn’t know what I might find in his circle or even that I had any business bein there, but I knowed he could help me find out whatever was down that road.

The way I looked at it, a fair exchange ain’t no robbery, and an even swap ain’t no swindle.  He was gon’ protect me in the country club, and I was gon’ protect him in the hood. Even swap, straight down the line.  (p. 108)

On the other hand, early on in his relationship with Denver, Ron thought of himself “as some sort of Henry Higgins to the homeless” (p. 209), but that prideful point of view was dismantled as he got to know Denver. In fact, Ron reports that when he and his wife Debbie had their own great needs, the serving tables were turned:

For nineteen months, [Denver] prayed through the night until dawn and delivered the word of God to our door like a kind of heavenly paperboy.

I was embarrassed that I once thought myself superior to him, stooping to sprinkle my wealth and wisdom into his lowly life. (p. 183)

Indeed, as I read the last half of the book, Denver’s words of Godly, Biblical wisdom ministered to my heart over and over. As my spiritual superior, Denver lead me closer to Jesus.

The second lesson Ron and Denver taught me? It’s not about the haves reaching “down” to help the have-nots. We won’t have an impact on the homeless and the hungry unless we serve with humility.

It’s true that Jesus referred to those in need as “the least of these,” but Jesus also said that “the last shall become first and the first shall become last.”

According Jesus’ logic, then, the needy in our communities are truly “the greatest of these.”

Read Part 3, Here

Lorraine Potter Kalal

How to Change a Homeless Man’s Life

What does it take to transform the life of a homeless man?

I didn’t read Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore to answer that question, but it’s one lesson I learned from this amazing book, a book I could not put down, a book that had me laughing one minute and crying the next.

It’s a story filled with miracles. And it’s true.

Same Kind of Different as Me chronicles the lives of an international art dealer (Ron Hall) and a former sharecropper (Denver Moore) from their vastly different upbringings through the intersection of their lives starting at the Fort Worth, TX, Union Gospel Mission.

When they met, Ron had many homes; Denver had none.

I did not anticipate when I started the book that I would learn a lot about what we call “lifestyle compassion ministry,” serving those in need as a lifestyle, on an ongoing basis. But I did.

So, what DOES it take to transform the life of a homeless man? To give him hope and purpose?

Well, for one, it takes an investment of time.

Once a year acts of compassion – like building a Habitat House – have their place, for sure.  And agencies and ministries that help the poor and homeless often need one-time help for big projects. But if you are called to a ministry of transformed lives, it takes the time, consistency, and commitment to build relationships.

Denver Moore put it like this:

[Ron and his wife Debbie] “was different. One reason was they didn’t come just on holidays. Most people don’t want the homeless close to em—think they’re dirty, or got some kinda disease, or maybe they think that kind of troubled life gon’ rub off on em. They come [on a holiday]… then they go home and gather round their own table and forget about you till the next time come around where they start feelin a little guilty ‘cause they got so much to be thankful for…(p. 93)

[But Ron and Debbie would] come ever [Tuesday] and talk to the homeless folks, and not seem to be afraid of em. Talked to em like they was intelligent. I started to think Mr. And Mrs. Tuesday might be tryin to do some real good ‘stead a just makin themselves feel better ‘bout bein rich. (p. 100)

In fact, the homeless at the Mission were so shocked that Ron and Debbie spent time with them, Denver told Ron that “Folks at the mission thinks you and your wife is from the CIA!” Why? “Most folks that serve at the mission come once or twice and we never see em again. But you and your wife come ever week. And your wife always be askin everybody his name and his birthday … you know, gatherin information. Now just think about it: Why would anybody be wantin to know a homeless man’s name and birthday, if they ain’t the CIA?”

Needless to say, Ron and Debbie’s investment of time and interest had an impact on those at the Mission, and their lives as well!

I’ll share more lessons I learned from Same Kind of Different as Me in future blogs.

Read Part 2 Here

Lorraine Potter Kalal