When I was working as President of Union Rescue Mission of Los Angeles, I often went out on the streets of skid row to talk with the homeless. I found it enjoyable and relaxing.
However, occasionally a disgruntled client from among the street population served by the mission, would make a threat against me of some kind. I have been threatened with violence, hell, arson, getting me fired, lawsuits, going to the press, stealing donors, undercover FBI investigations and many other creative negative thoughts.
Generally, nothing came of them. Many people who had become angry with me, apologized with deep sincerity after they cooled down or got sober.
One day, when I was standing on the sidewalk in the front of the chapel, a middle aged homeless man came up to me wanting some service from the mission. I turned down his request. I cannot remember any more of the circumstances or details of our conversation. I do remember wondering if he were mentally ill.
He became ragingly angry and screamed the accusation I most often heard in those days, “And you call yourself a Christian?”
It was definitely a very unpleasant experience for me, but I did respond in a quiet voice. I was thinking about the Proverb that said, A soft answer turneth away wrath.
He became more and more frustrated. In retrospect, I think he became much angrier because he could not get an emotional response from me. Finally, with his face beet red, he shouted, I am going to buy a gun and come back and shoot you.? Then he stormed off up the street.
I did not spend much time thinking about the threat. I wrote if off as meaningless.
The next morning several people were waiting in front of the mission for me to come to work. I saw them before they saw me. I felt somewhat frightened by the anxious way they were looking for me. I braced myself for a disaster.
As soon as they saw me they rushed up to tell me what had happened. One of them said, “Do you remember the guy who said he was going to buy a gun and shoot you? Well, he came back last night after you left. He couldn’t find you, so he went out into the parking lot and shot and killed a homeless guy he found there. The police arrested him a few hours later.”
I was stunned. I really did not feel the total emotional impact of the news until I got home that night. I don’t think I ever told my family or anyone else what had happened.
I also did not find a professional to help me process. In those days, I had a powerful drive to bury negative emotions and just keep going. From the time I was a toddler, I have always felt I needed to be the strong one.
I am very glad I am writing this. I am realizing at this moment, as I write these words, that I have never processed that horrible experience.
I can suddenly feel, but not quite contact, many other horribly negative experiences on skid row that remain buried deep in my gut. The next thing I am going to do, is e-mail my friend Beth. She is the closest remaining contact I have in the rescue mission world. I should also call a program friend or two. I may not make the calls tonight, but I will make them tomorrow. I have no idea why I am hesitating to call my friends. I will definitely share my memory at the powerful meeting I will be attending in the morning.