Ernie cried today. He cried tears of sadness, fear, and countless other emotions that he probably doesn’t let himself feel very often. We provided him with space—space to process and space to feel. The tears came in waves, at times replaced with laughter and stories, most of which we have heard 100 times. Today, in the midst of it all, he called us friends. The world would label Ernie as poor, filthy, lowly, despised, and less than. They would see his dirt-stained clothes, his long dirty fingernails, and notice the odor coming from not having running water for a long time and turn away from him. Most of the world has already done this. His blunt and often times emotionally charged speaking style would stop any chance of trying to engage in conversation with him. I doubt many give Ernie the time of day and most do what they can to avoid him. Today, Jesus would sit with him, hug him, and tell him he loves him.

Ernie came to us today in tears because he is moving out of town today. He worries about his friend (“dad”) Dave and what will become of him. They are losing their place and have nowhere to go but the streets if they stay in town. Moving back north for Ernie would mean having some options for living, but it would mean leaving his “hometown” here in Knoxville. There really are no other options for them, and at one point we even offered to help them leave town. Stable housing is only one of many, many issues that have been a struggle for Ernie. Today, tears flowed as he told us of his plans to leave town and leave Dave behind.

It wasn’t long after we opened in 2019 that Ernie came in with Dave seeking help with housing. Dave had a very large knife on his side and another in his pocket and Ernie was angry and not holding it back too much. Honestly, being brand new to this, we weren’t quite sure how to manage this. Over the next couple of months there were some tough and heated moments where both Dave and Ernie would storm out, more than once, yelling and swearing at us. Today he apologized for that. Today, through tears, he asked us to take care of Dave and make sure he gets a place and doesn’t go back to prison.

In contrast to then, Ernie now is intentional about not swearing, or at least apologizing after he does. Ernie lets down his guard to talk about past hurts from when he was a little kid and trusts us not to judge, not to hurt him. He lets us talk to him about God’s plans for him, share scripture, speak truth over him, to share Jesus’ love for him and how important he is. Today, as hard as it is for him to accept, he felt genuinely loved. We get the chance every day to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world. We get the chance to love the unloved, hug the unhugged, and listen to the ignored. I think about the people Jesus spent time with, the lowly people he ate meals with, the hated that he called to his side, and the lepers he embraced. I think about how easy it would have been, from day one, to push Ernie and Dave aside and define them by their choices, by their situation, and by how the world defines people like them. Today, Jesus would have hugged Ernie—he would have shown Ernie love—just as we did.