Walker met his Savior face to face on the night of April 30, 2018. I saw him earlier that morning on my food truck run. It was most definitely a meeting of providence because I hadn’t seen him in a few months and I decided to take a different way back to the kitchen. I stopped a few blocks down in the direction he was walking and as soon as he saw me, his face lit up and he started running. I had no idea that would be the last time I’d see him, but he squeezed me tight and told me he loved me. I guess that’s about as good of a goodbye as I can ask for.
I met Walker sometime in 2013 at Church Under the Bridge. He had the warmest personality and welcomed me as his friend almost immediately. He was instrumental in God changing my heart towards the homeless. We could not have been more different though. Walker was an older black man. He grew up on the East side of Midland and graduated from Carver in 1968 when MISD was still segregated. He had been to prison and he was all but alone in the world. With all the differences, we were brothers in Christ nonetheless, proof positive that true unity can only be found in Jesus.
I remember seeing him worship and as a new believer it stirred my affections for the Lord. This was the first time I had seen a man going through such trial, yet he clung to his faith all the more. There were nights I would drive around looking for him in the cold and when I found him, his smile could have melted all the ice. I never recall hearing him complain about anything.
One year, I had gone by an old building someone was letting him sleep in to make sure he was ok. It had been really cold and thankfully the building had power and he had a little space heater in there. After getting him an extra sleeping bag, I left and as I drove home, I thought about the events of the next few days where I would be celebrating Christmas with my family. I felt the Spirit leading me to turn around and go invite Walker to join us but he was not there when I got back. I left a note in the door hoping he would find it and be ready for me to pick him up on Christmas eve. He didn’t have a phone to let me know.
The day before Christmas eve, we had a significant snowfall; something like 7 inches. I went by to pick up Walker and noticed the snow piled around the building. As I walked up to the door, I did not see any footprints. I knocked and heard a faint reply but the snow drift had iced up around the bottom of the door. Walker was snowed in. I found a re-bar on the ground and started chipping away. Some people in the neighborhood walked by and must have thought I was nuts. “Who’s this white boy in a Christmas sweater chipping ice outside of an abandoned East Side bar.”
I finally got the door opened just enough where he could get out. He hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since I had last seen him so we stopped at the store on the way to church. Thankfully, as good Baptists do, my family got there early to claim our seats. Walker wasn’t wearing any special Christmas clothes but he did bring his Bible. He always had his Bible but he looked…homeless. Regardless, he was welcomed warmly by everyone around us and as the music started Walker immediately started singing to his Savior. My daughter Truma let him hold her during the sermon and it was an incredibly sweet time for all of us.
Afterwards, my family asked us all to go to a steakhouse and I didn’t realize how big of a deal that would be for Walker. He looked nervous as we walked in and the first thing he said when we sat down was, “I don’t remember the last time I saw a menu.” We pretty much forced him to get a big Ribeye and we talked and laughed as family does. These days, the table is so underutilized and yet, such a perfect place to build relationships and bridges.
We had become really close that year. I had been unemployed and we spent a lot of time together. We mostly rode around in the truck talking about Jesus and listening to In Memory of Elizabeth Reed by the Allman Brothers. After the holidays I started to get really worried about Walker’s health. He finally went to the hospital and was diagnosed with COPD and Emphysema. We were getting his prescriptions filled and I started feeling in my gut that the streets were just about to kill this old man so I started looking hard for a place for him to live.
I had no idea how hard it would be to find an apartment for someone with a felony; even though his felony was for a forged check in 1975. After getting rejected at several places, I found one that would take him and we started getting the paperwork ready. Walker asked me if I could take him out to the parole office to report before we went to the apartment so we headed that way. He went in and about 10 minutes later, his parole officer came and told me that he hadn’t reported the prior month which was a violation. A cop car left the parking lot with Walker in the back. I found out later that the reason he didn’t report was because the parole office is almost 3 miles from the nearest bus stop, and a 68-year-old man with COPD and Emphysema can’t walk that far, many people can’t. But I digress. I wouldn’t see Walker again for over a year.
Walker and I corresponded throughout his imprisonment. He never complained and would always look for the purpose God had ordained him to be there. He was always more concerned about my family than himself. Looking back it reminds me of the Apostle Paul. Walker would tell of the many opportunities he had to share the hope that was in him with his fellow prisoners. He wasn’t supposed to be locked up very long, but his parole officer wouldn’t approve any of the housing options we found. It was about this time Briana and I left for Austin, and Walker was still locked up. Finally, after months and months I was able to get a hold of a higher up in Austin that pretty swiftly assigned a new parole officer. Walker had made contact with an old elementary school friend with a spare bedroom and he was set to parole out again.
Some of you may have contributed to his GoFundMe campaign we started to help get him on his feet. It was because of your generosity that we were able to pay for 6 months of his rent, during which he was able to find gainful employment and eventually support himself. He had some struggles during that time, no doubt, but by the grace of God, he was no longer homeless.
We came back from Austin and had a sweet reunion with Walker. He preached at Church Under the Bridge and told me that he thought he was being called to be a preacher. He surely had a testimony to share.
In one of our last conversations, I was trying to encourage him to stay straight and keep on trying. I shared my desire for him to be our first Missional at The Field’s Edge. He couldn’t come to live with us as a homeless person anymore, but he could come on mission; to be an example for others and point them towards his Savior, Jesus Christ. I am terribly sad that we won’t ever live in community together and that others who could benefit from Walker’s story will never hear it from his lips. We had been talking about using some of Walker’s poetry in a photo project that Briana is working on and hopefully we can still honor him by finishing that one day.
Death always adds urgency to our mission. We felt it last year when Lois died and even more so now that Walker has left us. Our hearts break that people on the streets are dying without the love and support of a community. Thankfully Walker had the greatest treasure of all, a relationship with Jesus Christ. He had hope that was imperishable, undefiled, and kept in heaven for him. At The Field’s Edge, our mission is to cultivate home for the chronically homeless and even though we can’t house them yet, we can tell them about an eternal home with Jesus much better than anything else we can offer.