Stories, thoughts and reflections on the Bible from the WSFC Staff.
This article was originally written by Craig Oviatt for Rethink Magazine January/February Edition.
It all started that first day when I walked into the Edgewater District as a volunteer of the Salem Dream Center (a ministry that reaches people through volunteer service and works projects). I stepped on to the edge that day; looked over and jumped. My life has not been the same.
On my first day in Edgewater, my team and I knocked on the door of a woman who wouldn’t tell us her name. Week after week she would talk to us, but never tell us her name. Our conversations were always centered on everything that she did, kind of her way of telling us, look I’m OK; I don’t need your help. I was resolute to learn her name. Every Saturday we would knock on her door and try some new clever way to learn her name, only to be thwarted by her determination to remain anonymous, and I guess impersonal.
This battle went on for some time, then on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, when we knocked on the door, it swung open and a hand thrust out. In a stern and harsh voice she proclaimed, “I’ve had enough of your friendliness, leave me alone,” and the door slammed in our faces.
That was a first. We weren’t sure what to do. After walking away in disbelieve we talked about what just happened, and what we should do. We came up with a plan to write her a note that said we were sorry for bothering her, that bothering her wasn’t our intent. We only wanted to be friends. We acknowledged all that she did: working full time, going to school, and helping to raise her grand kids.
We closed our note saying; “We won’t bother you, but we will always be out here on the street on Saturday mornings if you need us.” We placed that note on her door on a Saturday, the week after Thanksgiving. We snuck up, quietly put the note on her door and ran.
That same day our anonymous woman called West Salem Foursquare Church, and asked if we were part of the church?
You know the feeling you get when you are driving and you see those blue lights flashing in your rear view mirror? Well that’s what I felt when on Sunday I was asked if I had left a note on a door in Edgewater, because a woman had called about it. But relief flooded over me just like when the police car passes and pulls over the car in front of you.
The woman called to tell us she was sorry, and to tell us that we could come back. Melanie, the pastor who answered the call, could have taken the message as it was given, but instead she asked, “Are you OK?” The woman broke down crying and told Melanie that two days before she slammed the door on us, her 7 year old grandson died a tragic death.
Melanie went on to talk with her about God, about death, and about a world that is cruel: one that doesn’t make sense. At the end of that conversation Melanie could have said goodbye, but instead she asked if she could pray for her. The woman broke down crying again, and said yes please pray for me.
The next Saturday, we went back to that same door that had been slammed in our faces, and as we knocked. It swung opened, only this time two arms were thrust out of the door and the woman grabbed me in a tight hug. Then all of the sudden she pushed me back and said, “My name is Linda. My name is Linda.” I replied, “That was my mom’s name, she passed away a few months ago.”
Linda slammed the door, but God opened a heart.
As time passed Linda and I became very good friends and we are great friends to this day. On Saturdays Linda and I always talk about what I read in my devotionals, about what she has read in the Bible, and about her family and mine.
A little more than a year later after Linda opened her door and welcomed me with a hug, she received Christ. A short time later her daughter and son-in-law received Christ. I was amazed at how God worked in her life, and then through her life to reach her children. I never took a Bible, or even tried to get her to accept Christ, I just listened, talked and told stories, and God did the rest.
Linda and I talked a lot and I honestly thought I knew everything about Linda. She had told me about her daughter who led a life of regret, about her son-in-law who was drug addict. We talked about some very deep and painful stuff. Then one day she asked me, “Did you know I have a son?” I said, “nope.” She replied, “That’s because I’m embarrassed of him.”
She continued, “My son is in prison for murder. He’s in there for life without parole.”
She went on to tell me about his life and how terrible he was to her. She said all he ever did was take, and never cared about anyone, never said he was sorry for the pain he caused.
Then she told me that her son had received Christ. My first thought was jail house conversion. She must have read my mind because she said, “Yes that is what I thought, but then he told me something that made me know it was true. He told me, ‘Mom, I did it. I killed that man, I deserve to be here. I know God didn’t have me kill that man, but I think God wants me here so I can help people come to know Him.’”
Linda looked me in the eye and said, “He always said he didn’t do it, he said he was framed. Now he said he did it, that’s how I know he really has turned his life over to Christ.”
Then she told me, “You know my boy always took from everyone, now he wants to give back. He wants to be a pastor.”
She went on to tell me that he called her every Sunday and for the past year and a half she shared our talks, shared our devotionals and what she heard in church or on TBN. She said God just took those words and made them grow in him. He told her that over the phone he could hear the difference in her, and his sister. He wanted what they had, they were happy, they had moved beyond their past and were alive. He wanted that.
One Saturday a few months ago Linda told me she knows she will never see her boy on the streets of this world, but she knows she will see him walking down streets of gold, and he will be holding the hand of Mike’ her grandson.
More than a year has passed since that day her son accepted Christ and her son is still studying to be a pastor. He is also helping in the chapel. He has moved beyond his past and he is alive. He said the change in his life is so dramatic, that other inmates will come up to him and ask him, “What happened to you?” It’s then that he tells his story and offers them what his mom offered to him: life with a Father who loves them exactly as they are and forgives all their sins.
Miracles still happen. Some are simple, some are amazing, but they happen in far off distant and remote places, and yes they happen right down the hill from the church I call home.
I walked into Edgewater in 2003 knowing that I had nothing to give, you know what? I was right I didn’t and I don’t, but God does. All I have to do is step to the edge every Saturday and push back at the darkness of a cold and harsh world with His love. Then He shines with a light that goes beyond the blocks I walk, and shines into a prison thousands of miles away.
You know I was terrified that first day I stepped into Edgewater, It wasn’t easy but all I had to do was step out of the boat just like Peter did. All I had to do was exactly what the Bible says I should, go out into the world and use the gifts God has given me, and use the passion that He put in my heart. That’s when I get to see miracles right there at the edge.
Craig Oviatt is the Director of the Salem Dream Center and is on the pastoral staff at West Salem Foursquare Church. Craig is married to Renee`, the love of his life, and has four wonderful children, a son-in-law, and one beautiful granddaughter. He loves to write, read, cook, and be at the Salem Dream Center.