In the fall of 2008, Embrace Richmond received an AmeriCorps grant which we have used to hire a number of homeless and formerly homeless men and women. Many of these individuals are graduates from The Healing Place a 198 bed residential recovery program based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Rudy Green was among the first group of men we hired from The Healing Place.
I remember the day I first met Rudy, his large sensitive eyes revealed a depth to Rudy that I doubt anyone will ever fully understand. As a child Rudy was bright, he showed great potential. Growing up in the projects where less than 50% of students graduate from high school, Rudy beat the odds. He went on to college and his entire family believed he would be the one; the one to escape the generations of poverty that had held his family back from living the American dream.
Though Rudy escaped the outward indications of bondage, he had been infected with a deadly disease that steals far too many promising lives; the disease of addiction. Rudy will tell you that he was addicted to everything; drugs, money, guns, alcohol, girls, and anything else that helped him feel alive and on top. He was smarter than the rest, he kept his disease under control for years.
After six months of college Rudy dropped out and eventually joined the army. He found himself stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, just a few miles from my hometown, of Lampasas. I remember growing up that we were warned to stay away from Fort Hood, that it was a dangerous place. I was warned never to go near people like Rudy and for good reason. It was at this time in his life that Rudy’s drug use got totally out of control and he found himself being dishonorably discharged from the military.
Rudy’s story gets a little fuzzy at this point. He spent time in jail and somehow made his way back to Richmond, Virginia where he had grown up. He found himself homeless, friendless and penniless. The bright boy with a bright future found himself living in an abandoned building, begging for change on the street corner, and living day to day for the next fix. Most “Rudy’s” never make it past this point; most die on the street. But somehow, for some reason, Rudy found his way to The Healing Place. He went there first to get out of the cold but was drawn into the program by those who had gone before him and who professed to have made it out.
Upon graduating from The Healing Place, Rudy choose to stay for six months and serve as a peer mentor. He gained a reputation for being an honest trustworthy friend to all and this is where I met him. His sad eyes revealed the depth of the hell he had survived but also held a glimmer of hope that was captivating.
When I asked Rudy what he wanted to do with his life he answered “I just want to help people.” For those of you who know the story of how Embrace started, you will recognize those words. Those were the words spoken by a homeless heroin addict five years ago that drew me into this ministry. My primary calling is that of a dream releaser; helping people find their calling in life and live it. I could see so much potential in Rudy but had no idea where it would lead.
In the early months of his time with us, Rudy served in our warehouse. On his spiritual gifts inventory Rudy scored high in the area of leadership. However, it soon became evident that years of surviving on the street had undermined Rudy’s ability to supervise his peers. There was some kind of secret code of honor that I found puzzling at first. When given responsibility, most of my guys did not want it. One of my men finally confessed “I just want you to tell me what to do; I don’t want to tell other people what to do.” I caught me completely off guard. I have always worked with professionals who were programmed to climb the corporate latter; gain responsibility and move up in life. But I found many of my Healing Place friends, simply lacked that drive. There was a contentment that I still so not understand; contentment with being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it. While Rudy suffered from the “I don’t want to tell others what to do”, he was not content just taking orders. Deep down I could sense he had dreams, he wanted more out of life but for months we struggled with one another. Rudy seemed to be just existing, floating through his time with us and after trying multiple roles and having the same outcome, I was ready to give up.
One fateful day, we had a group of youth come to serve at Embrace from my daughters High School. I asked Rudy to share his story and I watch as he captivated the attention of over 50 students who were enthralled with his subtle way. Rudy’s gentle voice and calm demeanor lulled them into thinking he was just an ordinary man, but when he shared his extraordinary journey to the depths of depravity and back, I could see he made a connection that few could have made. In those moments of sharing, I saw Rudy come alive. A week later the youth form Monacan High School, made cards for Rudy and Tom, the other member who shared, expressing their heartfelt gratitude for having heard their stories. I remember one said “Rudy is the Bomb”, which made us all smile. All the cards contained honest reflections on what they had gained from their encounter with Rudy and Tom. Rudy took those cards home and over the months has spent time reading them and reflecting on that experience.
I decided to have Rudy act as a guide for our Unity-Works training sessions and found that he had the same impact on adults. Rudy has a way of sharing himself that brings others into his story, leads them to new insights, and transforms their minds. I tend to be a bit loud, excited and passionate about what God has done through Embrace. That passion can move a crowd to action but I watched as Rudy’s gentle way of sharing himself lead the group not to action but to new insight and understanding which ultimately prepared them for thoughtful action.
One of the projects toward the end of Unity-Works is to draw a picture of what you would do for God if you knew you would not fail. Rudy drew a picture of himself teaching and leading youth. Rudy had finally found his call. On his picture he wrote the words “Every ending has a beginning” and he remembered that bright young boy who could have done so much but who lost his way due to drugs and alcohol. Rudy’s dream is to help that boy avoid the things that led him astray; to guide the next generation to a better future. As Rudy shared his dream, I felt as though the heavens had opened up and spoken to Rudy with such clarity.
For months I had watch Rudy float through life, doing what he was told, but never finding his place. A few weeks after he revealed his picture of working with youth, we were doing morning reflection and Rudy shared a story of how he had introduced his 12 year old nephew to the drug trade. He shared the guilt he felt over having used this innocent child to further his own selfish gain, and how he so wanted to make amends not only to this young man but for all who could follow in his footsteps. It was a solemn offering and we could all see the pain he carried.
I began reaching out to ministries that I am aware of who work with at-risk boys and began talking with Rudy about his future and his dream and God began to confirm that dream in Rudy’s heart and mind. This week, I heard Rudy say something I have heard him say many times before but this time, he said it with a new conviction; this week Rudy proclaimed with boldness “It’s good to be me.”
So what did I learn from Rudy? I learned that we must be true to ourselves. For months, I have been trying to be something I am not; I am not a business manager of a furniture bank. I am a minister. While Rudy was floating on a river of discontentment; I have been paddling with all my might up stream, trying to save a sinking ship; a ship that needs a real captain. While I am busy bailing water, a true leader could help this ship navigate to calmer waters and could steer the furniture bank onto a new course. I have tried to be something I am not and I have made myself and everyone around me miserable. I have worked harder in the past few months than I ever have in my life but we are still taking on water. It is time for me to turn this boat over to a more capable seaman and go back to what I do best; helping “Rudy’s” follow their dreams. When I am doing that, I too can say with confidence “It’s good to be me!”