This day in the 40 day journey will go down in history. Now, this post is hard one to reflect on!
This is the night I met William Schooman or “Chily Willie” in San Antonio. I met William during youth group on a Wednesday night at Trinity Baptist’s TriPoint campus. Willie had wandered into the lobby and was seeking some assistance, food, or support. I don’t remember what he said at first, and I was about to ask him to leave. You see, only youth and volunteers were allowed in the building during that time and the standard protocol would have been to kindly give him a handout that gave directions to Haven for Hope or some other homeless provider at the time. However, that night I was staying at Haven, so I spent some time talking with him because I felt guilty. I learned a lot about him, his fear of shelters, and why he was homeless. At the end of the conversation, I happened to say, “Well…I’m staying at Haven tonight, so after youth group, I can meet you by the bus stop…and you can come with me.”
Little did I know — but the suggestion to “come with me” would alter my entire journey and eventually form a deep friendship that would change my life and direction of ministry. What gets me, is this: Now, if I would have just said, “Here are the directions to Haven…I hope you choose to go there and get there safe.” He most likely would have said something like, “thanks” walked out, thrown away the directions outside, and continued down St. Mary’s Street. However, to my surprise, I didn’t give him the sheet but made the suggestion to come to Haven with me. He somehow believed me and he waited for me to finish work at the bus stop.
At the bus stop, I asked him if we wanted to go to Haven again and why he waited. He said this and I remember it like it was yesterday: “Well, I have nothing to do and all day to do it…so why not?!”
We decided to eat cheap hot dogs first, walk a bit, and then catch the bus to Haven. What a crazy encounter that would change so much! Not all encounters have that ending, but this one did. I have no doubt I will write more about Willie a lot more times in this reflection. I can’t wait to share more and remember that man who “showed me the ropes.”
One thing is for sure, Willie helped me more than I ever helped him. Willie taught me a about our common humanity, what true friendship looks like, how to fight through the challenges life throws at us, and how to hope for a better day. He is my hero.
Know one thing, at the end of the original 2012 blog for this day, I ended with “I hope he stays longer.” Looking back, I am glad God placed the two of us to collide on the same path and that God answered my prayer. Read original below:
I am beginning to make some really good friends along my journey. It’s definitely the best part of the experience.
A few nights ago I was leading Pulse at the Point and Skate Church on Wednesday night and ran into a man named William in our community center. He has been homeless for 20 years and said he camps out in and around San Antonio. He asked me for some assistance and I said I would walk with him to the outdoor shelter when church was over. I told him I was staying there and he stared right back at me with such a confused look on his face. “You sleep there?” he asked. “For now” I told him. After some more small talk, he said he has heard about the place…but had never been there. I really did not know if he would wait until I was done working.
After Wed. night church was over I found William once again and we went to grab some hot dogs at a local stand near our community center before making our way to the shelter. William makes some money sweeping driveways at local businesses in town and barley makes ends meet. His struggle with homelessness has not been easy.
After we ate we had to walk some distance to the bus stop that takes us to the outdoor shelter. This is when I learned something interesting….some people in the homeless community do not enjoy walking long distances but stay in their local community most (if not all) of the time. William said he was not a fan of walking that much but said that he was okay with it because I was “showing him the ropes.” I thought that was funny…because he really was showing me the ropes.
Half way to the bus stop we stopped to take a break and William had to use the restroom and eat another hot dog. He told me, “I love you homeboy…but we need to slow down and I need to eat this dang hot dog…I’m still hungry and need to fill my stomach” He was nice and frustrated all at the same time. This is when I became worried that we would miss the bus and not make curfew. So I had the choice to leave him or stay. (This is when I realized I was not fully connecting with some of the homeless lifestyle…I had to pray for patience.)
I chose to stay and wait. It was hard to do. After our break William began singing old country and western songs like “On the Road Again” and “Hey Good Looking.” You might think this sounds cliche and so did I…but he was really into the songs. So I sang along. Then he got to “Whiskey River.” I became really excited… because that’s one of my favorite songs. After he sang the song I told him that Johnny Bush (the person who wrote the song) attends our church and helped lead worship in our Sanctuary Service a few weeks ago. (See my facebook page.) He thought I was pulling his leg…there was nothing I could say to prove it…so we just kept on waking and singing the song.
After some time we made to our bus stop. William sat on the bench and smoked a used cigarillo he scored from another friend. He was glad to sit down. William had doubts about going to the outdoor shelter but he chose to continue on when the bus finally arrived.
We made it back just before curfew and William had to get screened before he could enter the area. When he was finally made it in the gates he told me that I needed to stay close because this experience was like “being lost in a jungle” because the place was so crowded with people. He was not used to sleeping outside with that many people in one area. We grabbed our mats and fell quickly to sleep after we talked for a few more minutes. William was tired…and so was I.
The next morning William had to go get fully checked in so I waited until he completed this step. After he was done we parted ways and he told me he was going to stay in the area to eat lunch and dinner. I hoped that was going to be true. I then went off to work on the VIA bus.
When I returned around 5:45pm I thought William would be gone after he had enough meals and rest. But just when I got to my spot I saw him with dinner in hand, new clothes, and blankets sitting outside. (A friend of his was staying at the shelter too and hooked him up with some swag.) It made my day to see him still there, with new clothes, a full stomach, and rested.
We slept side to side again the next night. It’s good to have a friend like him around. I hope he stays longer.
10 Years ago, I decided to live on the streets of San Antonio during the Lenten season to learn about homelessness in San Antonio and how I could better understand the community through acts of solidarity. I was a youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, and at the time, the congregation was grappling how to serve the unhoused population at their newly opened TriPoint Community Center. I had very little understanding of the realities of homelessness and wanted to better understand the community before I formed any opinion of services. Little did I know how formative the 40+ days would end up being for me!
The journey was not perfect but It was a life changing event that unexpectedly changed the direction of my life, ministry, and calling. I have the privilege of now looking back on those days, the relationships formed, and lessons learned from a much different perspective. I am going to post each daily “40 Days of Haven” blog post during lent unedited with only some slight name changes for clarity and then post a current reflection. (In 2012, I was still protecting some identities to respect their own story.)
I hope you enjoy, read with lots of grace and forgiveness, and reflect with me during this Lenten Season of 2022. -gavin