As he walked out of the darkened drug house next door and approached the place at the gate where I was standing two things, his vitality and the intense energy in his eyes, struck me. My heart seemed suddenly to match the pounding base and rhythms of our BEATS open mic taking place inside. This is what I had been praying for, one of the main reasons we were holding this event right next door to a known drug den. Soon the young man and I were engaged in friendly banter as he quickly pushed to the point. “Can I come in and get up there?” he asked. “Of course” was my reply, “that’s why we call it an open mic.” He flashed me an amazing smile and strutted confidently to the sign up sheet next to the small stage we had built at the front of the small living room space inside.
Freedom, our professional hip hop guest for the night, moved over and Keith stepped up to the mic and proceeded to let loose one of the best freestyle performances I had heard yet. Not only were the lyrics thoughtful and provoking they were delivered with such passion and authentic grit that one could not help but be drawn into the person from which they flowed. My mind raced with the ways that God was at work in that moment and I knew that we had found a rare treasure, that God had placed Keith in our lives not just so that we could lead him toward Christ but so that he could teach us and challenge us to so much more.
We have not been disappointed. Over the last three years of journeying with Keith we have come to love him deeply. We have seen him struggle and fight to reclaim his life from the streets and we have seen him have victory and defeat again and again. But through it all I knew that he was a special person with a gift for understanding deep things and for caring openly for others. Last year Keith gave his life to Christ. He decided that he wanted to change, that we wanted to overcome the challenges that seemed so stacked against him. We celebrated that choice and were elated to see him grow as he struggled through and overcame some of the challenges in his path toward wholeness.
There were many great memories made in the last year with Keith. As he reclaimed his understanding of whom Jesus is and went for some good solid stretches of growth and stability. But these often seemed short circuited by past addictions or the street life that has such a strong pull on our young friends. This year was a year of hope for Keith a time when he struggled against despair but then was encouraged by the future he was now guaranteed with Christ. Sadly we knew he was on borrowed time and that some of the consequences of his past life were catching up to him.
In October we received word that Keith was in the hospital and that he was in pretty serious condition. Our team began to visit him and to encourage him and help in whatever way we could but the toll on his body was already taken. He was released into our care and stayed in one of our houses for about a week but then his health seemed to go down again and he returned to a better hospital. It was there that they discovered some more severe issues with his liver that kept him in the hospital for another 3 weeks again. Once this issue was under control they again released him to our care and he stayed with our team for about 10 days. In this time he became strong enough to move out on his own and did so. But a couple of weeks later he suffered a seizure that put him back into the hospital for his final fight against the diseases that would eventually cause his body to die.
These last few months have been very hard for all of us as we have journeyed together. It is always so hard to watch someone you love degenerate so quickly and so completely. Yet in the midst of all of the suffering one thing was clear, that at Keith’s core he believed and that belief is what gave him hope not only for healing but for eternity.
* Names have been changed for privacy.