ON THE EMMAUS ROAD: TIM’S STORY

I remember Tim Bankes. He came to us a young man about 28 years of age. Tim was unlike any other of our residents. He had done some prison time, he had fallen in love and had a child. He had worked with his family in trimming the trees of the “Forest City” for which Rockford, IL is known. I remember him as a pleasant, caring, and joyful friend. We spent a lot of time together. I will never forget the pictures my heart & soul recorded of Tim sitting in our living room at the Jericho House with a plethora of toys scattered about and his young one year-old son playing with all that was before him. In the midst of it all this young father sat patiently feeding his child with a bottle filled with formula.  Tim was a wonderful father, a gifted craftsman. He enjoyed ships. So his room was festooned with model ships he had built – some five in number. Each ship had taken him well over a year to complete. From his first week till his last, Tim taught us something about the reality that life is in the details. For time, his interest in building sailing vessels was a way to express the inner qualities and being of his life.

Tim, after four months with us, decided that it was his time to move one. We had worked together, prayed together, and spent many nights talking well into the late hours. Tim had had an addiction to heroin. During our time with us he was able to put that aside and rebuild his life. His family was in the tree-trimming business. Tim spent most of his days suspended from a harness, high above the ground, separating the dead from the living. It seemed to feed him. He was with his family. He was participating in those sustaining efforts that helped the family function. When Tim decided to leave us, he had found a permanent job. He had found that Jesus was deep within the soul of his being. He had continued to grow the relationship between himself and his one year-old son. He had engaged in a marvelous hobby of building model ships. When he moved in to the Jericho House, he gladly shared his efforts with us, such that those models occupied every room of the house.

Time flew by. Two years later, life changed.  As it would later become reality, Tim was a passenger in a car that had entered an intersection in one of Rockford’s worst neighborhoods. At 2:00a.m., the vehicle in which he was riding was struck as it entered an intersection, and Tim was killed. At the same time I received a notice. The Rockford Police Department informed me that I had a death notification to make. When those calls come, little information is provided to the Chaplains. We are fortunate to receive the name of the next of kin and limited information on the cause and reason of death. I was on duty at the time. So I went to the home of Tim’s mother –not knowing at all that Tim had passed nor that I was notifying his mother. As I tried to console Tim’s mother, as she disclosed the interests and particulars of Tim’s life – in particular his fascination with building model ships, it suddenly dawned on me that this was my friend, my companion, my sojourner. I found it extremely difficult. Yet at the same time, I was able to share with Tim’s mother that I had indeed known him, that he was a brother in Christ. It was my honor to lift up to the Lord the life of Tim. Today, his ‘ship models’ that he had pains-takingly crafted are a part of the Jericho House.

When one is privileged to work among “the least of these”, these stories of Tim and countless others happen every day.   Everyone has a story. Everyone can bear witness to tragedy, loss, hunger, illness, and death. I find it sad that the Church has over the past four decades lost its way in seeing “the least of these”. Tim is just one of them. It would seem that we are frozen by the brick and mortar that binds up the Church from listening to and hearing from Tim – his life, his passion – his death. It’s very, very sad. Tim was the first Jericho House resident to die. I was asked and honored to preach at his funeral service. I remember the loss. I still remember the grief. I keep asking myself, “Was there anything else I could have said?” Is there something still remaining that was left un-said? Life and its brevity is the companion of the “least of these”. In the meantime, a mother weeps, a child does not understand, and a mother is alone.

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