Last fall, while in my office, I received a knock at the door.
Kris was standing outside and he asked me if I knew Mike Foley. I said I did, he was a member of our church. I say "was" because Mike died 10 months earlier.
Kris works for a property management firm and because none of Mikey's next of kin wanted to deal with his small house after he died, the bank had hired this company to clean up his house ten months later.
But that's not why Kris was standing at my church door. He was my door because he was distraught. As he was going through Mikey's belongings, he came across a file box that was neatly organized and had all the information about his past; including his crime, his prison sentence, his mortgage and a few other documents like that, including a church bulletin which brought him to my door. Kris was bothered because as he was going through Mike's life in these boxes, he was pained at thought that Mike lived, and died alone and unloved in his little house. Yes, he committed a horrendous crime as a youth, many years ago. But he was still a human being and the thought that this human lived and died alone and unloved, without friendship and companionship, disturbed Kris enough to find out more. So, as he stood before me, I said, "come on inside, and let me tell you a story."
Mike was a lifer. After his mother died, he spent his youth living under bridges and on the streets of Vancouver.
In fact, a few years ago, Dale Schiele, along with a few others, took Mike to Vancouver to see his remaining family and when they crossed over a bridge Mikey recognized, he asked them to stop. They got out of the car and he climbed to the place where he used to sleep over 30 years ago and after digging around, he found some coins that he had hid there as a youth.
Living on the streets, he got into drugs, alcohol, criminal activity, and finally murder, eventually landing him in Saskatchewan Penitentiary. Broken, lonely, socially awkward, and recluse, Mike signed up for Person-to-Person, a prisoner visitation program where visitors came once a month to spend two hours, listening, talking and becoming friends him.
In Mike's first visit, he entered the room with his hat over eyes, mumbled for a bit, and that was it.
A month later, the same thing. But this couple from Meath Park kept coming, month after month, and over time the hat slowly began to rise and the mumbles turned into discussion, even sharing his dream to one day own a house, grow a large garden and have a pet cat.
After Mike was released on parole, he joined our circle of support and accountability program where, after several years of working on the outside, he earned enough to buy a small house, he immediately tilled the entire back yard and adopted Misty from the local SPCA.
After three years of living his dream, Mike died suddenly from a heart attack as he was preparing for worship at Grace Mennonite Church, the congregation where he was baptized and a member. This happened just over a year ago.
As the church filled up for his funeral with ex-inmates, prison guards, parole officers, co-workers, other CoSA members, volunteers, friends and the congregation, I made a remark to one of our congregants, "If the world works as people say they world works, than a funeral like this should have never have happened." To which she replied, "It's a good thing the world doesn't work that way."
Mikey did not die alone and unloved. Because some folks believed he was worth visiting and took the time in their lives to remember him, reconnect him to humanity, Mikey was not without companionship and friendship.
But many in SaskPen and in the prisons across Canada are, and programs like Person-to-Person here in Saskatchewan, seek to address this concern of loneliness and isolation by providing friendship through a ministry of presence.
At the beginning of Jesus' ministry, in his very first public sermon according to Luke, Jesus stood up, unrolled the scroll to a section from the
prophet Isaiah, and read,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the prisoner and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
After every one was stunned with these words, he sat back down and said, "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
In his first sermon, Jesus declares his mission and mandate to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind and freedom from oppression. Jesus sets before the people of Nazareth what he has come to do and at the heart of this mission he has come to remind the lonely, the captive, the poor, those who are kept out of site and out of mind, that God has not forgotten them, even though much of the world has.
This concern for the least of these finds expression again at the end of Jesus' ministry when he is teaching his disciples about the end; and I don't just mean end times, but the ends to which we live for as his disciples.
At the end of Matthew 25, Jesus says, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will say to the blessed, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous answered him, 'when did we do these things?' and Jesus replies, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
A Restorative Justice Anniversary Celebration - was held in Prince Albert, May 4 @ 3:00 - 6:00 pm, at Grace Mennonite Church, Prince Albert. SK.
The above Profile shows an example, a fruit of Restorative Justice in Saskatchewan: One of the Least of These - Mike.