On July 8, my son, Josh, dropped me off at the little town of Lexington about 50 miles northeast of Kansas City, Mo.
Before we said our goodbyes we had lunch at the tiny Maid Rite downtown.
Then I had him drive me over to the First Baptist Church on the south edge of town.
Saying goodbye was especially poignant and wistful since we had no idea when we would see each other next.
The two weeks I spent with Josh in Kansas City turned out to be a great time of catch up and relaxation.
But, some of those two weeks were difficult as Josh confronted me with childhood issues in which I played the starring role. However, due to his ability to stay focused and not get unreasonably angry, our discussion proved to be both productive and cathartic.
I suspect that later my two other children will do the same. But this time I will be ready for them.
As I watched Josh’s Volvo recede quickly to the south on Highway 13 I began walking towards the entrance to the church rehearsing my usual pitch to the pastor about wanting to stay one night with either him or one of his parishioners.
I walked into the church and found an elderly couple on their way out.
They directed me to the office. As I walked into the outer office the matronally secretary looked quizzically at me through her bifocals and asked me my business.
I then began explaining my walk across the country and would like to spend the night with a baptist family if possible.
Right then the associate pastor came out of his office and inquired of my intentions as well.
After he impatiently waited for my introduction to end he said it would be quite impossible to stay with a church family since I have not been vetted.
I then countered that the President of the Missouri Baptist Convention, which includes his church and 2,000 others, previously vetted me when I visited Paris, Mo.
The pastor would not relent. He even told me he never heard of Rev. Wes Hammond, the President (Pope) of all Southern Baptists in Missouri.
He would, however, allow me to pitch my tent in the two acres of woodland and grass behind the church.
He told me there is a lot of wildlife back in there, including mountain lions, bobcat and the occasional black bear and to keep an eye out. That was a bit ominous.
I was then required to produce a driver’s license which they copied.
I was also required to sign a hold harmless agreement rendering the church not liable for any injury or harm which may befall me.
After all of this church red tape I was told not to pitch my tent until 6 p.m. as there may be people using the baseball diamond in the afternoon.
So I thanked the Pastor and his secretary and left my backpack and tent hidden in the woods. I then hiked the mile or so into town to go charge up my phone at the McDonalds.
It was at the McDonalds where I met Wayne, a homeless meth addict from Kansas City.
He had hiked here from Kansas City to see if his girlfriend would be released from the county jail.
She had been convicted of a DUI and had an court appearance scheduled for the following day.
So, I got talking to him about life and things and found out that Wayne is a 49-year-old man who has only seven teeth and a thick shock of white hair.
Even though he is younger than me he looks closer to 59 than 49.
He is divorced with one adult child and one grandchild. He has been homeless for seven years now and stays with his girlfriend down by the river near downtown KC.
Somewhere between not being able to pay his bills and dealing with the neurological effects of Parkinson’s and COPD he lost several jobs as a house framer/carpenter.
Then, his addiction to painkillers morphed into a slaving addiction to meth.
He had stories of tweaking farmers stealing their anhydrous ammonia and other things to make his own homegrown meth.
As you could expect, a train wreck was in the offing. He ended up spending time in prison where he fortunately found the Lord.
After spending the late afternoon talking, I invited Wayne to camp out with me at the church.
He gladly accepted.
All he had was his sleeping bag, no tent, and just a few clothes and toiletries. That was it.
Oh, and all he had for money was some loose change.
After we set up camp, we talked again as there is literally nothing else to do when you are homeless. Can’t watch TV.
Can’t drive around.
He begin telling me stories of the “shadow people” who he used to see, especially when traipsing through the woods in the dead of night to burglarize area farms.
He would see them out of his peripheral view and when he focused his full attention on them they would vanish.
As you can imagine this was fascinating stuff! Then he explained that this was merely a symptom of meth addiction.
The “shadow people” were not real. Or were they?
Wayne believes they may in fact be real but they are from another dimension and that to see them you have to be on mind-altering drugs. I had to do everything in my power to not smirk.
Anyway, knowing that Wayne is an addict or struggling to end his addiction and knowing his penchant with tweaking and burglary I spent a restless night in my tent clutching my stun gun and knife while he was laying flat on his back in his sleeping bag on top of a wooden picnic table hacking all night apparently due to his COPD.
Then morning came at an early 530 a.m. and we did as the pastor told me; we got out of there by 6 a.m. We shuffled sleepily down to the McDonalds to charge up our phones.
I knew Wayne couldn’t afford breakfast so I bought his meal.
He had some 50 miles of walking ahead of him so I couldn’t imagine him walking that distance in the heat without some food.
While we were eating our breakfast burritos I asked him if he wanted to remain homeless or what.
He seemed barely able to utter a word this early in the morning. But he relayed to me his hatred and shame in being homeless.
He can’t get a job or keep a job because of Parkinson’s. He has been waiting more than a year to see if he will qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.
To add injury to insult his prison record follows him around like a mean black dog just waiting to bite him on the butt.
We stayed at McDonalds until 8:30 a.m. when Wayne abruptly got up and announced it was time to go to the courthouse to see if his girlfriend would be mustered out of jail.
I wished him good luck and watched him walk towards the courthouse which incidentally is the oldest courthouse still in use west of the Mississippi.
An unexpected sadness welled up in me as I watched Wayne drowsily trudge up Main Street in those flimsy flip flops with his 50 pound day pack slung over his narrow shoulders wondering what would become of him.
He has no family to count on besides his daughter. He has no visible means of support.
He has an odious addiction to hard drugs along with a case of debilitating Parkinson’s and COPD.
And to top it off he has no home.
He did however mention his faith in God and showed me his bible. One bright spot in this man’s life.
I was told once long ago that life is about saying hello and saying goodbye.
So when I said goodbye to Wayne I knew full well I would not see him again on this side of the grave.
I prayed that his body and mind would be healed and that his path would intersect with those who were willing and able to help Wayne negotiate these treacherous shoals he is confronted with each day.
For in doing such to the least of my brothers and sisters you are doing it to me, a rejected, grieving and homeless rabbi once exclaimed in the long shadow of the Temple in Jerusalem almost two millenium ago.
You can follow my adventures at my blog at voiceinthewilderness59.blogspot.com as I walk across America getting to know the people and places as well as God and myself in the process.
— Bruce Rudolf Schoenbein is a Mortonite who is trekking across America. See his weekly column in the Morton Times-News and online at www.MortonTimesNews.com.