Some years ago I got to know a bloke we will call Dave.
Dave was in the eyes of the world a loser and a total scumbag.
As soon as he got up in the morning he would start to down litre-sized bottles of strong, cheap cider. Usually before midday he was hitting his girlfriend.
I used to see her walking around the estate with black eyes and/or bruises and scratches on her arms and legs. She was naturally really beautiful but life was more than tough to her and here she was in her early 30’s looking 10 years older. When you managed to make eye contact with her (which was rare as she was always looking at the floor) she had a hollow look of being haunted and scared.
The blokes on the estate kept their distance from Dave. In fact they despised him and they let me know it. He was a social outcast and as far as most people were concerned should burn in hell. (Strange how people believe in hell when it suits them …)
I went to see Dave a couple of times one week. Once when his girlfriend was there. I found him surprisingly open about stuff and genuinely horrified by his behaviour, desperate that he didn’t seem to be able to stop himself. I didn’t have any answers really but said I would keep in touch.
Over the months I started to see him quite often. Mostly our chats were superficial but I helped them with stuff and if anything, just tried to be some kind of stable influence. There were lots of complications of course. After all he was assaulting her. But there was no way the police were ever getting involved. It just wasn’t like that there; it wasn’t what you did. I felt powerless.
Then the phone call came.
“Get round to Dave’s place now. He’s on a right bender…”
Two minutes later I was standing outside his flat along with about 12 other people and listening to screaming coming from inside the flat. Not a woman’s voice though. It was Dave. Looking through the letterbox I could see him smashing his head against the wall, face covered in blood, snot and tears.
Biting the bullet I pushed the door open, only to have Dave charge at me and throw himself into my arms.
A few minutes later we were sitting opposite each other in his little living room. A few minutes after sitting there in silence, he picked up a glass and smashed it into his own face and started trying to eat it in a very poor attempt at killing himself.
An hour later I was in A&E whilst Dave, under police escort, was examined and patched up by a nurse and interviewed by a psychologist.
5 hours later we were back at his flat. Dave with stitches and me with a blood stained shirt.
Later that evening I had to drop into a church leaders meeting but found myself too choked to take part, so left to go and hang out with Dave again.
After not getting a response from knocking on the door I pushed it open and went in to find Dave hiding under a coffee table in the corner of the room. I sat there with him until about 2am in silence, until he finally emerged from under the table and sat opposite me again.
What I hadn’t noticed earlier in the day was Dave’s goldfish bowl with a solitary fish in it. Miraculously it had survived the earlier living room carnage.
Then, one of the most profound conversations in all my work with people happened. It went like this:
Dave (in a slurred voice due to stitches): “I love my goldfish. I really do.”
Beechy: “Yeah it’s a great fish.”
Dave (now crying): “No one’s ever told me they love me, I’m a piece of shit.”
Beechy: “God loves you mate …”
On the way home I had a strange set of feelings and emotions. Lying in bed later thinking, it finally dawned on me.
I loved Dave as well.
I didn’t know why. He hadn’t done anything for me. He was an abuser and a black hole of desperate need. I can remember thinking that perhaps I was feeling what God was feeling for him? I think maybe I was … I’ll tell you why I think that some other time.
Perhaps also it was because behind all the rubbish and the carnage, that night I had seen he was a scared, frightened, insecure, fragile, messed up, sinful, violent person, who was also one of Gods beautiful creations who desperately needed God’s peace.
I carried on seeing him and saw him finally one day pray to Jesus. The very last time I saw him was at a bus stop carrying a book about the evangelists “tough talk”. I like to think he was on the next stage of the journey. Guess I will one day know!
I found out sometime later that Dave had all the classic horror in his background. Beaten horrifically by a Dad who eventually ran off, a mum who was disengaged and drunk most of the time. No strong male role models etc. etc.
That’s not an excuse; it just drove the point home to me.
That’s partly why I do what I do …
The question is. What can we all do to reach out to those in our society we call untouchable?
Luke 4:18 rings in my ears …