By Joshua Hearne
When we helped Bruce move into his new home near the Urban Farm, he had more things to move than the first time we helped him. After all, the first time we helped him move it was from a tool shed with a rotting floor into a bedroom on the Northside. He wasn’t yet clean and sober, but he was on his way and was beginning to believe that he was loved in the same way he saw that we loved others. As Bruce began joining us for meals, prayers and our shared life as a community, he also began to collect other things he needed first to survive, and then to flourish.
On the day he moved in, he received some of the obvious resources a person who has recently experienced homelessness might need: clothes, a few different kinds of blankets, a couple of pairs of good shoes, a dozen pairs of new socks, a mug and some basic toiletries. But, as time went on and he began to be freed from the bonds of addiction, Bruce also began to collect some personal, hand-made items, too: a piece of art (hasty, loving, crayon scribbles on construction paper) from a family that welcomed him into their lives and at their table; a white, beaded Chrismon to hang on a tiny, green tree near Christmas; a hand-knotted prayer rope for the days when temptation was almost too much; a notebook to collect the prayers that rested heavy on his heart.
As Bruce went from being someone who ate with us to being a regular, and finally became an integral part of our leadership, he collected the kinds of things he needed to live out his calling. One of the first gifts like this that he received was two bags of tools to put to use with his substantial carpentry talent. In his little room, he stored the community’s largest water jugs — the ones that provided cold water, lemonade, and sweet tea to the neighborhood from on top of an old end-table set up near the street.
His book shelves began to fill with Bibles and other books to read, discuss, and share with whoever was interested. In a mostly clean manila folder, he kept his signed copy of the covenant we make with each other when we take up Grace and Main’s work as a calling. Outside, in the repaired tool shed that became out first tool library, he kept old lawnmowers, trimmers, and other big tools that had been donated, repaired, cleaned up and made available to the neighborhoods where we’ve found our home. He also began stockpiling an odd assortment of specific pieces of cookware for him and a team of developing leaders to make breakfast for dozens of people every week.
But, when we helped Bruce move this most recent time — the third (and hopefully final) time — into a house of his own, he had everything he needed except for one item: a coffee maker.
So, of course, we looked around and found a coffee maker for his new home and he was glad to receive it. It wasn’t a fancy model, but it would certainly make fine coffee. Combined with a set of heavy, ceramic mugs and a nice sugar bowl, the coffee maker made a silent promise that this home would be a place of hospitality — especially since Bruce doesn’t drink coffee.
He wanted the coffee maker because he knows that our little community has a particular affection for coffee and he wanted to continue to find ways to show his love in tangible ways. Coffee is a common gift shared between friends at the birthday parties we host for neighbors and friends of the community. Bags of coffee were occasionally donated by neighbors during our impromptu, Northside breakfasts, often with the hopeful comment: “I want to help with these breakfasts, if you think you can use this.” Hardly a set of prayers is prayed that doesn’t have the scent of coffee wafting into the room from somewhere nearby. Evenings passed in conversation on a porch with too-rapidly-cooling cups of coffee became a pastime for we who had committed ourselves to each other.
Bruce had learned time and again that in our work, the aroma of Christ — that scent that tell us Jesus is near — smells a lot like brewing coffee.
In addition to the resources and tools that Bruce has been collecting, he’s also been collecting days — days clean from addiction. Just this past month, we celebrated Bruce’s five-year anniversary (1,827 days!) of getting clean and beginning the lifelong process of recovery from addiction. Nowadays, Bruce lives in (and runs) a hospitality house of his own next to Grace and Main’s Urban Farm. We’re busy building our third tool library in his back yard and continuing to grow food right next door. Bruce is a staff missionary with Third Chance Ministries and one of Grace and Main’s covenanted leaders — having taken up our way of life and ministry as his vocation.
Yet, all of the resources and accomplishments he has accumulated over the years pale in comparison to his greatest collection: lives changed by the Spirit through his and our shared work. The wide-ranging impact that can be seen throughout the neighborhood where Bruce once lived underneath a house and we first invited him to join us for a meal — no strings attached.
There are more than half a dozen people who are now in the process of recovering from addiction and are at least one year clean and sober because of the Holy Spirit’s work, Bruce’s and the community’s witness, a patchwork of prayers, and generous support.
Even more have begun the process that we pray will one day culminate in freedom from addiction — they’re not there yet, but they’re on the way and they’re starting to believe. Over the years, Bruce’s leadership has meant the community acting with more hope and faith to stand and live alongside folks struggling with homelessness, hunger, poverty and addiction. Dozens of people have meaningful work to do, a place to stay, and thanks to give to God because of the work that Bruce and others are doing.
Our little community is better for Bruce’s presence, and so is the world. Thanks be to God.
Joshua Hearne is a CBF field personnel serving alongside his wife, Jessica, as leaders of Grace and Main intentional community in Danville, Va.