Rudy was sitting in his favorite deck chair on the patio with his head in his hands. He had just returned from the hospital with the sad news for the family that Juan had not survived the shooting. Twenty-two years of struggle for his nephew had come to the same type of tragic ending that many of his friends and family had faced. The neighborhood had, again, taken its toll.
As he struggled with the frustration and grief that was sweeping over him, Rudy began thinking of Juan's short life and where things had gone wrong. Yes, Juan had always lived under the specter of a father in and out of prison. When Pedro was home there was always alcohol, arguing, and fighting. The only hope, seemingly, was the promise that prison would open its revolving doors again within a short few months and pull Pedro back into its secure embrace.
"God, why have so many people in our neighborhood failed at life?" prayed Rudy. "I have made it. I have a successful business and my daughter is in college. I have found you. Why couldn't I get Juan to turn around and live a life filled with the same hope you have promised me? Why was he lost and never found? Is there anything I could have done, Lord?"
Rudy remembers the time when alcohol had its grasp on his own life. His marriage had failed but when Roberta, his daughter, began refusing his visits because of his drinking, a light turned on inside and realization took hold. The church at the end of the street had been the source of salvation for him. Yes, the message of Christ's love was one part of his salvation, but it didn't start there. He had wandered into its door one day looking to see if they had any programs that would help him shed the drinking problem. With that help he had stabilized his life, reestablished his food supplies business, connected to Christ, and, most importantly, re-earned the love and trust of his daughter.
But drink was not Juan's problem. In spite of all his anger and brushes with the law, he had stayed sober, for the most part. He had looked at his father's drinking problems as a personal challenge and refused to become a "borracho." He felt that being a drunk was as low as you could get. Juan simply was angry. He had always been angry. He was angry when his father came home drunk and he was angry when he was taken away to prison. His anger surfaced at the slightest provocation. School was the first victim of his anger and, as a drop-out with no place to go, his anger grew.
This last summer Rudy had tried working with the boy by giving him a job on the delivery truck. He thought if he could provide him some work experience he would begin seeing the benefits that society offers. Unfortunately, the driver of the truck called Juan 'el stupido' when he found out he could not read the delivery ticket. The trip to the hospital that day was to assure his injured employee that his job would be held for him and that Juan would not be around when he got back.
"Reading," thought Rudy. How many times had he seen Juan explode in frustration when he was faced with having to read? He remembered the Christmas when they were all together opening presents. Roberta had made the comment, "Come on Juan. Can't you even read name tags on the presents?" Juan had erupted. If it hadn't been Roberta, he would have probably become a killer on the spot. Instead, he stormed out of the house and wasn't heard from for weeks.
"I wonder if I had taken the time to teach him to read would this day have been different." Reading. Yes, reading was a key. He continued to ponder, "How can anyone find the good news that Christ has to offer if they can't read?" He picked himself up from the chair and headed back into the house to see how Juan's mother was doing. He had made up his mind and would talk to the pastor about it next week after the funeral. Plans for a church-sponsored adult literacy program began to swirl in his head.
Shepherd of our Souls: When we become lost, you weep. As we wander you seek us out and carry us back into your loving embrace so that we can fully experience your compassion and know your love. Lord, so many are lost. So many have turned from you and seek fulfillment for their empty lives everywhere else but from you. How can we help them? What can we do to find them? We know that our calling is to become fishers of people and to seek out ways of building your kingdom in the lives of those far from you. We understand that there is no pat answer or magic wand that will bring all people to you at once and for all time. No matter how difficult the task, we recognize that your lost can only be found one soul at a time. Give us the ability and the passion to find that one lost soul today. Help us to discover new ways to reach out and tell the world of your love. Work through us, Lord so we can become the fishers of people you are calling us to be. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.