We had an interesting church service last Sunday. First off, there must have been thirty people in attendance, which is a good size for this church. Secondly, some of the dogs which usually attend the service (we meet in an open air structure with a roof and no walls in a rural community) decided to fight during the middle of the sermon. Some of you may have done this as kids with your siblings, though hopefully with less growling and biting. Lastly, The Drunk arrived and provided his own running commentary on the sermon, which was on the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32).
I’ll start with the dogs. In Honduras, dogs know they’re dogs and don’t think they’re people in furry bodies. Hondurans do keep them as pets and to guard their houses, but they don’t treat them as family members, buy them birthday presents, or knit them fuzzy sweaters (I’m not judging you if you happen to do these things). So when dogs get underfoot or start fighting here, it’s not uncommon for people to shoo them off with a broom or to nudge them in the hindquarters with a foot. Last Sunday, some of our regular churchgoing dogs decided they didn’t like a newcomer dog and started to challenge it during the sermon. Some of the ladies sitting on the periphery of the congregation broke up the fighting with the usual methods of swinging sticks in the combatants’ direction and even lobbing stones towards them (not to hit the dogs but to run them off).
Now on to The Drunk. I refer to him this way for a reason, which I’ll get to later. He started responding loudly to the sermon, and was asked several times to keep it down. He eventually started staggering around in the midst of the congregation. I hate to admit it, but my thoughts were more like “How will I respond if he gets violent?” rather than “How can I help him?”. Eventually The Drunk approached the pulpit (our church is out in the country but we do have some creature comforts). The pastor was in mid sermon and asked for some assistance, so I walked The Drunk back to his seat and tried to politely explain that the message in the parable of the prodigal son is for me and for him, but that it would only do him good if he listened to it. Again, I regret that a light scolding was the best response I could muster at the time. When The Drunk wandered around again and eventually sat down next to an elderly gentlemen whom he may or may not have known, the gentleman’s response was what I’d been fumbling for earlier. It was what Jesus himself might have done. He put his hand on The Drunk’s shoulder. Many of us might have scuttled off for hand sanitizer at this point, but this elder saint unflinchingly kept his hand there and The Drunk settled down for a bit.
After the service I talked to The Drunk for a while. I didn’t really expect him to remember anything I said, but I prayed that something would carry through to when he’d sobered up and that he’d feel the Lord’s call somehow. In speaking with him I found out that most people would scornfully remark “Here comes The Drunk” whenever he showed up anywhere. It turns out his name is Victor, but most people didn’t know or even care to know this. They may not have chased him with a broom, but they were effectively trying to run him off as if he were a misbehaving dog. The prodigal son must have been in the same situation after spending all of his money (Luke 15:16). The only one who knew his name was his father, whom he had scorned. I told Victor that while the world may not know or care that he has a name, his Father in heaven knows, and that He loves him enough to die on a cross in order to cancel out a sin debt that He didn’t incur.
I wish I had a happy ending to share at this point. Victor said he’d come to the Thursday service, and I asked him to just come sober. He did allow me to pray with him before he left, and I ask you to pray for him as well. As in the story of the prodigal son, I know that our Heavenly Father is just waiting for Victor to take the first few steps towards Him before running joyfully out to receive him back from the dead.