Walter was born in Babylon, NY, a city on Long Island about thirty miles east of New York City. When Walter was about 10 years old, his older brother took him into the city and "showed him the ropes." Walter was so intrigued with what he saw that he started slipping out of the house after his mom had gone to bed and going into the city to find out what life was about. He would catch the Long Island Railroad at Amityville, change in Queens, and wind up in the middle of Brooklyn. Imagine this: On the streets of New York City, associating with drug dealers, at the age of ten! Almost immediately, Walter was selling drugs–everything from pot to meth to cocain–and before he reached his teens, he had tried every substance known to that culture, from LSD to crack cocain.
For reasons he can’t understand, Walter never became addicted to the drugs, but he was addicted to big money he was making, the fun he was having, and the thrill of not getting caught. In fact, Walter was so good at not getting caught, he kept this up until he was in his twenties before ever getting arrested. He left New York and moved to Morgantown, WV. This was a whole different world, one Walter new knew existed. People didn’t lock up their houses. They left the keys in their cars. They made work easy for guys like Walter. This is when Walter’s way of life began to catch up with him. Before he knew it, he was facing a long list of misdemeanors and several felonies. After a few breaks in several courtrooms, the inevitable took place and Walter went to prison for over a decade. The joy ride was over.
Walter got out of prison in February of this year and, after a few stops here and there, he wound up on the streets of Durham. After a few days, someone told him about a street preacher who conducted Bible meetings at the park at the center of town and Walter decided he would check it out. He came to the meeting on Wednesday and heard the message on "The Holy Spirit and His Power to Change Your Life." He said he knew that was what he needed, but he wasn’t ready to "take the plunge." I announced the meeting at the Bridge on Saturday, and he knew he wasn’t going to miss that. He came to the Bridge and I talked about "Free Water," the living water Jesus offers everyone who will thirst, come, and drink. Walter said he was thirsty, but couldn’t find the courage to come forward, even though nearly thirty others stepped out.
Walter walked away from the bridge, convicted, convinced, but still unyielding to the call of the Holy Spirit. He walked about twenty blocks, made several turns, and wound up at Holloway Street at Hyde Park. I had parked my car near that very intersection and was walking down the sidewalk to meet with someone else when I found myself face-to-face with Walter. He started to cry and said, "God! What’s going on?" I said, "What’s going on, Walter, is that God has set his loving heart on you and will chase you all over town to show you that love!"
Right there on that noisy, busy street, Walter prayed to receive Christ and made a firm commitment to serve Him for the rest of his life. I left him there with tears in his eyes and broad smile on his face. Walter knew he would never be the same. Two days later, as I was sharing Christ with another man in the center of town, the bus stopped and Walter stepped off. Here we were again, face-to-face. This time, Walter announced, "I really got saved Saturday!" He told me the story I have just shared with you.
Walter began attending every meeting we had including a small group meeting on Monday afternoons. He freely joined in the Bible discussions and prayed aloud, interceding for his family and friends and asking God for grace and strength to continue his new walk of faith. I met with Walter numerous times, having coffee with him, taking him for job interviews, and praying with him concerning struggles and temptations he was having. Walter became a faithful servant, helping set up chairs and equipment for the meetings and helping deliver furniture and groceries to people in need. I was thrilled to see him grow in his walk with the Lord day after day.
A few weeks ago, Walter went to visit family members in Wheeling, WV. I expected his return in a week or so, but I neither saw nor heard from him. I tried numerous times to call him but there was no answer on his cell phone. Today, I began to search the web, hoping to find a contact number for his dad or a relative. Instead, my eyes fell on the headlines from Wheeling, WV, "Man Identified in I-70 Pedestrian Crash" and there was the name of my friend, Walter, 38 years old, struck down by a transfer truck, and killed instantly.
Throughout this day, my heart has been filled with two overlapping emotions: Sadness because I loved this young man so much, and thankfulness because through God’s mercy I was given the opportunity to share the gospel with him and see him come to faith in Christ. I knew this day would come when one of "my boys" would depart this life–I thought it would be one of the older ones–but I am reminded that death does not discriminate on the basis of age. I have loved these men and women on the street more than I ever thought possible, but from today on, I will look upon them with a stronger conviction that says, "This could be the next one to slip into eternity; I must make every moment count!"