The Black Sheep

There are lost sheep who don’t want to be found. There are lost sheep who seem hell-bent on getting to, well that place. There are sheep who lost their way, believed the deceiver’s lies, and there was no one close enough they could trust to persuade them otherwise. Some fell in with the wrong crowd. Some confused discipline with anger. Boundaries were barriers. Rules were rejection.

In some shape or form, I’ve known a lot of lost sheep. The common thread in all their stories. Every, single one, is abuse. Childhood trauma of some form or other. And as we’re beginning to understand, trauma isn’t the abuse in itself. Trauma is the mechanisms, the reactions we adopt to allow ourselves to deal with the memory and the scars of the abuse.

That’s why it can take a long time to “reach” someone who’s suffered such abuse. To find the lost sheep, to convince him to come home. The shepherd can put the sheep on his shoulders and take him home rejoicing. Can’t do that with a black sheep who’s a stone cold alcoholic by the time you find him. That takes time. Perseverance. Patience.

Some ministries can count numbers of converts, baptisms, raised hands. The growth in Sunday attendance, new church plants. All of these are signs of Kingdom growth.

I’ve learned though that distance, the distance from the pit of alcoholism or drug addiction, the distance of weeks and months and years of seeing apparently no change, until one day, the Heavens open and where so many “no’s”, “not yet’s”, “I’m not ready’s” melt into that one heart felt “yes”. Yes I want to learn about Jesus. Yes, I want to give up this life. That distance can be a huge number.

I’ve known my friend Tavares for over 15 years now. He was one of the first homeless men I struck up a friendship with. He’s attended our Sunday services in the park pretty much every week over the years. And most of my invitations to get him into a rehab program or come to church or study the Bible, he’s kindly and respectfully turned down.

Tavares on his 39th birthday in 2010

Tavares on his 39th birthday in 2010 with Bazar (L) and Edson (R)

About six months ago I began noticing a change in Tavares. He had gotten off the street, was renting a little room and was pretty much sober all the time. And he said he’d like to have a Bible study. We began back in March. When I traveled in April my friend and fellow laborer in the harvest, Bio Nascimento carried on the Bible studies with Tavares.

Tavares at our Christmas party in 2011

Tavares at our Christmas party in 2011

On my return we discovered Tavares had disappeared. His landlady said he’d been taken by ambulance but had no idea where he was. We checked two of the main downtown hospitals. Bio even checked the morgue. The hospital system here is not very helpful in finding a patient. However, after three days with Germana’s help we found our lost sheep. He’d had an ulcer in his intestine, been through an emergency surgery and when I found him was in ICU recovering.

Tavares with Fernanda, Cristina, and Graciete with grocery bags 2018

Tavares with Fernanda, Cristina, and Graciete with grocery bags 2018

I can’t tell you how happy Tavares was to see me. And to know Bio and I had searched for him. As we sat there in ICU he opened up a lot about his past. I knew at 10 he had been sent to live with an aunt when his mother died. I knew the aunt had been so mean to him he fled her house at 12 and that began his saga on the streets of Recife. On the streets since he was twelve years old. He gave me the names of two of his three sisters and asked if I could try and find them. We’re working on that.

And sitting there in the hospital we realized we’d been there before. Some ten, maybe twelve years ago Tavares had been the victim of a practical joke during Carnaval. You can read that story here. Please pray for Tavares’ complete recovery. He’s not out of the woods yet. At 53 now and not in the best of health, he needs prayers. But we had another Bible study this evening and he’s sure that, when he’s able he wants to be baptized.

Years ago my dear friend Lynn Anderson shared a poem I’ve never forgotten. I knew from personal experience how true the words were. And how vital it is that every lost, black sheep understand this truth.

The white sheep are placid,
and graze in quiet places,
their fleeces like silver that the moon has known.

But the black sheep have vigor
in their ugly faces,
and the best of all shepherds wants them for his own.

Please continue to pray for the lost sheep. The black sheep. The ones who’ve wandered so far. The ones who desperately need to know how passionately he wants them. The ones the Good Shepherd rejoices over (along with all the heavenly host) when he can finally lead them home.

Tavares with his new Bible, March 2024

Tavares with his new Bible, March 2024


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