The motel room is loud, but the time seems right, time for the question burning in my heart. Diane reads Scripture before prayer. As she reads—“For God so loved…”—Donny,** to my left, says, “John 3:16,” the words clearly familiar. We pray for him, battling cancer, and for roommate Vinny.** Both face endless challenges. Prayer done, the room gets loud, five of us, two of them and the dog, Colton,** who barks ceaselessly. Most visits happen amidst the racket. We met Vinny and Donny two years ago and visit regularly. Vinny—a former drug addict and dealer, now clean and a believer—is unbelievably gregarious. Get him started on his drug dealing days and he could go for hours. Tales of flying into LAX with cocaine, moving millions and other craziness spill out. I’m glad he’s a believer, but chuckle at his delight in still telling those stories. Not Donny. Very quiet, he stayed in the back room, avoiding us, hanging with his dog. We talked outside with Vinny, away from the barking. Both have jobs, making barely enough to stay afloat.Things changed with Donny. Diane was at the hospital with a friend when she saw him and Vinny. Donny had just been diagnosed with cancer and they were awaiting an update. She sat with them, shy Donny, rattled by the diagnosis, now clinging to Diane’s hand. When the doctor came, she offered to leave; Donny insisted she stay, holding her hand throughout, a lifeline in raging seas.
These days, Donny is eager to connect, open to talk, glad for our prayers. On Tuesdays, they clean their room and eagerly await our visit. Often our last stop, a bunch of us jammed in their room.Donny’s story is hard. On the streets at seven, forced to do unspeakable things to survive. Gifted, he had at times worked as a chef and mechanic. But mostly, like many motel friends, a long, slow survival slog. With cancer, we wondered where he was with Jesus, aware he might not live long. We had been praying and looking for a chance to ask, but in a room loud with Colton’s barking and Vinny’s stories, no time had been right……until tonight.Prayer done, volume up, I lean toward Donny, commenting on him recognizing John 3:16. He nods proudly and when I ask how, simply says, “Sunday School.” A picture flashes through my mind, five year old Donny, before descending to the street, at some church, somewhere, with some matronly lady teaching a handful of kids, filling hearts and minds with John 3:16. Probably wondered if anyone was listening. But here and now, decades down the road, years of suffering, those words are still alive in that little boy.I ask my real question: “Do you believe what John 3:16 says?” Now, a shy smile, a nod and this: “Oh yes, I have great faith in my God.” Like he had just let me in on the location of his secret hiding place. I feel the quiet calmness of his heart, settled in Jesus, facing cancer after countless other battles. A light went on. I realize I’d been seeing the same calm these past months as he opened up, received our prayer, quietly faced treatment. Faith undergirded that.
Other pictures flash through my mind, a little boy, on the street, alone, assaulted. I see him, hiding inside of himself, hiding in Jesus, John 3:16 burned on his heart. Through hard years, a secret hiding place in the storms, “I have great faith in my God.”Here, the needs are deep, crippling, overwhelming. But beyond addiction, abuse, mental illness and deep loneliness, the ultimate need is for Jesus. Not just the Jesus who loves people in this world, showing the great heart of the Father, but the Jesus who saves from sin and guarantees eternal healing. The Jesus we embrace by faith. We give the hours of our days to showing people the love of Jesus, but at the end of those days we must point towards Him and call people to believe. Showing the Gospel leads to sharing the Gospel.Here, that balance is hard, harder than I thought. Some show Jesus but never share Him; others share Jesus, but don’t much show Him. That—what we call evangelism—is a big, complex topic, bigger than this post, something I will return to. For now, I simply let myself feel the warmth of Donny’s quiet faith, alongside the crackling energy of Vinny’s, and am grateful, eternally grateful for my eternal friends.All because of this: “For God so loved the world that he sent his One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”As Donny would say, “John 3:16.”