By Steve Dresselhaus – This was written a couple of years ago but I am only just now posting it. The photo is recent
I have looked into hell – it is here now, and will only get worse. Pedro, a neighbor of mine has begun his nonstop journey to hell through a lifetime of bad decisions, by blaming others for his suffering, and by making easy, lazy choices, among which were his choices to huff glue and smoke marijuana, which led him to dive headlong and forever into the hell of crystal meth. Choosing to do wrong instead of right (yes, moral absolutes are real) created a world of unending misery for him.
We have known him since he was eleven or twelve. He is now in his mid-30s. My family has watched his relentless descent into the hell of his own making, a hell so deep and so complete I’m not sure there is a way for him to escape it. His current existence is little more than full-time prep for his circling-the-drain descent into ever deeper and more inescapable levels of hell. Sure, I can quote the verses in the Bible about someone being born again, about being transformed, about being a new creation in Christ, about being dead to sin, and about not being tempted beyond what they are able to resist; and while I certainly believe them all to be true, can they really be true for Pedro? Are they enough to undo and reverse the incalculable damage already done?
Merely quoting Scripture at him to cure his ills cheapens the Word of God, making the Bible little more than a collection of mantras spoken by Christian shamans, a magic formula, which if repeated sufficiently and with the proper intensity and sincerity will cure all. Merely quoting Scripture to cure Pedro´s ills is akin, at times, to Pilate washing his hands. Many, many quoted Scripture verses have yet to break through to Pedro’s soul, making me wonder sometimes if we have not misinterpreted the verse about the Word of God not returning void.
Pedro lives in a dehumanizing, roofless hovel, surrounded by filth and stench. He sleeps on an old car seat salvaged from a wreck. There is no floor space left, no flat surface visible as everything horizontal sprouts clutter, which, like kudzu in Georgia, covers everything. Pedro is a hoarder gone rogue, and has become an indiscriminate trashophile.
He carries with him the smell of the unwashed, the homeless, the street person with no place to bathe. Because of the crystal methamphetamine poisons coursing through his body, his eyes, like a hyperactive dragonfly, dart from right to left, left to right, up, down, super fast. He has no education beyond third grade. He has been to prison multiple times. He has been beaten by the cops and tortured by them as they force Topo Chico, an ultra-carbonated mineral water, into his sinuses, leaving no trace evidence of the stinging, bubbly waterboarding. He has been through rehab programs only to relapse immediately after release. We have tried to get him jobs, get him into the Mexican Navy, and even tried to set him up in a car washing business of his own. He always fails, always, and every failure confirms his worthlessness to himself and to the neighborhood. Last week he told me he is waiting for someone to kill him. He thinks he’ll soon be one of the desaparecidos, the “disappeared ones.” He does not think that is a bad way out.
The solution for Pedro is obvious, isn’t it? STOP USING DRUGS! But, ….. is that really the answer? What if Pedro stops doing drugs? Wouldn’t that be good? I used to think so, but I’m not so sure anymore. The simple answers of the past are no longer adequate. If he stops doing drugs, the true hopelessness of his real world will mercilessly stare him in the face without any protective shock-absorbing drugs to cushion the harshness of his reality. No education, no work experience, no sense of time or punctuality. He is alone, with no family willing to support him, to care for him, to love him or even mourn him when he becomes one of the “desaparecidos.” With no job and no prospects of ever getting one, having trashed his youth, owning a prison record and living with the irrevocable damage done to him by his drugs, there really is nothing better for him to do than to continue using drugs till he is made to disappear. Harsh words? Of course they are, but are they true? They probably are. What earthly reason is there for Pedro to stop using drugs? While his drugs are killing him, they at least shield him from the world from which he is so desperately trying to escape. Drugs ruined his life and his world and erased every prospect for any better future he may have had, but now drugs are the only good thing in his life as they shield him from the reality of the hell of his making. Medical professionals prescribe drugs to reduce pain and anxiety for terminal patients. Is Pedro’s self-medicating any different?
I can’t tell Pedro to go out and get a job. Ask yourself, “Would I hire someone like Pedro?” Be honest. Unless you have already helped a homeless person or a drug addict by touching them, feeding them, and honoring their humanity by talking with them and not merely by throwing a few coins at them or hiring someone in a 501c3 to do it for you, or naively thinking that a moral and spiritual problem will be solved by an amoral, a-spiritual government program, you probably won’t start now. It is hard, dangerous, and smelly work with no promise of success. In fact, the only guarantee, a 100% guarantee, is that you will experience repeated, never-ending disappointments along the way with only a few sporadic victories to celebrate. You will be betrayed more times than you can count and you will have your heart ripped out and stomped on time and time again as you watch days, months or sometimes even years of loving work vanish in a cloud of stinky smoke or through a dull, dirty needle.
Yesterday I stopped by Pedros’s shack. He had done some yard work for me. I had dignified his humanity and honored his work by paying him cash. Did he use the money I had given him to buy drugs? Probably, but it was his choice and at this stage in his existence does one more escape from reality really make a difference?
I gave him a pair of new shoes and a razor. He held the new shoes to his face and smelled their newness over and over during the rest of my visit to him. It may have been the first time in his life that he smelled something new and clean. I told Pedro that life will be hard, very hard if he stops drugs, but that he still has time to make something of his life. I urged him, as step one, not to stop using drugs, but rather to bathe, to shave, to comb his hair and that if he does these things I will get him a new shirt. I urged him to respect himself and that by so doing, people will begin to notice the change in him. I did remind him of the verse in the Bible (probably for the 50th time) that says that in Christ we are new creations and that the old has passed away and the new has come. I quoted the verse as a truth, not as an incantation that would magically heal the past and eliminate any future pain but as a tool for self-discipline, self-control and self-responsibility, the only things that will lift him up and out of his hell. I assured him that with God enabling him, our standing with him, and his willingness we can get him better.
Now for the really hard part of all this. Time for transparency and honesty. What if Pedro does someday become aware of and understands that he needs Jesus in his life? What if he becomes a Christ-follower like me and is free to press the reset button and start over, or as Jesus puts it, be born again? Am I willing to invest countless hours of my life to teach him, train him, befriend him, guide him and protect him? Am I willing to take the time to teach him how to speak properly, how to shave, how to tie his shoes? Am I willing to sit with him in job interviews, to teach him how to read and to brush his teeth? Am I willing to invest the time it will take to build a new life for him? Am I willing to buy him decent clothing and then show him how to wash his shirt and pants? Am I willing to give Pedro the rest of my life in order to rebuild his? My heart tells me I want him to become a Jesus-follower, but my head trembles at the prospect of what it would mean should he become one of us.
For the past three or four years we have served Pedro (and now another drug addict as well)* a hot breakfast. Every morning, I repeat, every morning, unless we are out of town, our doorbell rings and we give Pedro a hot and healthy breakfast at a table on our front porch. Some mornings I cringe when the doorbell rings, and the last thing I want to do is serve this unrepentant man in whom the image of God seems nowhere to be seen.
I am a Jesus-following missionary who with his whole heart believes that “all things will be reconciled to God by the blood of Christ.” This gives me hope for the environment, health, justice and a world at peace. Am I casting my pearls before swine by serving Pedro? Am I throwing good money after bad by trying to help him? Am I participating in a strategic boondoggle and wasting time working with a hopeless addict when I could be investing time in a healthy and wealthy college grad who might give a lot of money to the church or become a Sunday school teacher?
Pedro was fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Sin has encapsulated him in an impenetrable barricade, a diamond-hard cocoon of filth to the point where the image of God is far away, deeply buried and seemingly no longer present. My role in Pedro´s life is to keep chipping away at that image-occluding incrustation till God is glorified by his image being revealed and once again made manifest in a Pedro made new. I believe it can happen. But…….do I really want it to happen, knowing what it will cost me if it does?
The doorbell just rang – no joke, I am not making this up. Do I say, “Oh $#%$, Pedro is here?” Or do I say, “Praise God for this new opportunity to serve in the name of Jesus?” Honestly, I am sensing both right now, but leaning more towards the “Oh $#%$.” This morning it will be scrambled eggs, tortillas, fruit and coffee. Dear God, give me love, give me patience, give me hope.
*A couple of years have passed since I wrote the above story. Nothing has changed. Pedro (and now Paco as well) still comes for breakfast every day. He is not consuming as many drugs as before but he is as lost as ever. Currently he is incapable of doing even the most menial tasks. The descent continues.