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Commentary: Homeless man gave me a glimpse of God

9/17/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A UMNS Commentary By Lyle Jackson*

Sometimes the greatest gifts come from those who seem to have nothing.

I received such a gift from Richard Kimbro of Nashville, Tenn. Kimbro, who died Sept. 1, was a friend of mine.

He was also homeless.

Being homeless meant he was invisible to most of the world. He lived in harsh, uncomfortable conditions, but his life reflected the grace of God. Because of that, I cannot let him pass unnoticed.

The joy of being a television producer is getting to know someone you would otherwise never meet - someone like Richard Kimbro. The former drug dealer turned church ambassador was a spirit person; I could feel God's presence when I stood next to him. Now he stands in the presence of God.

I met Richard in 2002, while producing a series of "Igniting Ministry" video stories about welcoming. On the surface, we had little in common. I lived in the suburbs; he lived on the streets. The stain of racism was still on my heart; the anger of poverty, on his. Somehow, we managed to connect.

My first interview with Richard was after a church service. He described how he'd become a member of Seay-Hubbard United Methodist Church, literally stumbling into the church on his way to buy bootleg whiskey.

The story was both funny and sad - adjectives that would describe Richard as well. I was taken aback by his unvarnished honesty, his stories of drug dealing and prison time, and his journey from darkness to light.

One early comment set the hook: "I just didn't think God would want me back. I'd done so many bad things." I could relate.

Darkness still shadowed the man, but his faith was pure light. It gave him the courage to greet visitors at the door of his church, teach a Sunday school class, share God's love. He'd found acceptance at Seay-Hubbard and was determined to pass it on.

His greatest gift was his smile, which would light up his face whenever he spoke of family or faith.

Our last meeting took place on scorched earth, an empty lot where his home once had stood. The city considered the place such a menace that the house was razed.

More than a decade had passed since he'd stood there, but the memories were still strong. "It's not like this was a bad place; we made it a bad place," he said.

He pointed out the location of the porch, where he had smoked marijuana - gone; of the living room table once piled high with cocaine - gone; the backyard, where shots were once fired - thank goodness, gone.

As his eyes surveyed this place of personal destruction, it struck me. This man was some kind of miracle, having survived, then thrived, by the grace of God.

"That's the way God works," he said. "He works miracles."

Richard Kimbro's life had many miracles, and the greatest was his faith. What does a man who has nothing have to share? The love of God.

I have a recurring dream: I'm standing in front of an opaque window, desperately trying to see through the haze. My sense is that God is on the other side, and if I can just wipe the window clear ...

Richard Kimbro's life has given me a better view.

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*Jackson is a television producer with United Methodist Communications.

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