By Lizbeth Johnson, Synod Gift Planner
“When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did for me.”
As Christians, we hear scripture, read scripture, and believe scripture, but the opportunity to live out the promises of Christ in the role and blessing proclaimed in God’s word is the reality we long to know in the depths of our heart.
Such a relationship and deep understanding was forged with Living Word Lutheran Church, Katy, Texas, congregation member Steve Galus and Rick Johnson, the “Courthouse Candyman” of Houston, Texas. Rick was one of many homeless individuals in the city of Houston where 3,412 homeless are currently residents. Mr. Johnson’s life however, was different for many reasons. He was far from the invisible needy that often find themselves victims of circumstances in a big city. Why? Because he was a “reacher” for Christ.
Rick sold candy and other small items on the street near the courthouse and downtown. He had relationships with
the individuals who worked in the area buildings. He sought relationships and considered the regulars in the courthouse area—the lawyers, judges, and other county and city officials—his friends. He had a wonderful attitude that helped him to reach out to build friendships, not just reach out for financial support. His positive attitude and love for his customers resulted in equally positive responses from others. Rick truly cared about those who bought his candy and interacted with him. Most enjoyed him, appreciated him, and looked forward to seeing him, but few cared for him in the way Christians are called to care for those less fortunate. One reason Rick as a homeless man drew people to him like a magnet is because the spirit of Christ lived big in him. He never saw his problems, but saw the opportunity to speak peace, love, and witness to the saving grace of Christ through his warm interactions.
One of those who truly cared in return and wanted to help in a transformation way was Steve Galus. Steve saw in Rick what Christ sees in each one of us, an individual who reached out for opportunity that makes a difference in the world. And even better, Steve saw an opportunity to reach out in Christ’s name as well. Through God’s providence, Mr. Galus was actually able to secure an apartment for Rick and from that beginning, their relationship grew based on faith in Christ. An unlikely pair, Steve and Rick became good friends like so many individuals who encountered Rick. However, for Steve it was a relationship built on Christ love for mankind—hence the Matthew 25: 38-40 scripture fulfilled in his life. Of course, Rick Johnson was not considered by many to be the “least of these,” because of his positive attitude and welcoming manner, nonetheless, the Lord is no respecter of persons and the blessings of God continued to fall. Rick was easy to love because he had been transformed by Christ. He served time in prison, but became a Christian after studying the Bible during incarceration. Throughout numerous hardships, he managed to live on the streets by selling wares in the downtown area. Friendly and open to conversation, caring and compassionate, Rick Johnson was loved in return. Christ living big in him was a draw like a magnet, homeless or not. The challenge is in loving others who do not encourage our interaction and who do not necessarily love us in return. The scripture still holds true.
Rick died of colon cancer a year ago, but was able to die in dignity among friends and family in his own apartment thanks to the efforts of Christian outreach—in this case, Steve Galus’ resources. As with so many scripture promises, our gain in their initiation as directed by the Bible far outreach our risk in stepping out in faith. The Lord blesses in every step we take toward his ways—in pursuit of His lifestyle. The funeral was attended by hundreds of individuals who were blessed by Rick’s life. Steve Galus spoke at Rick Johnson’s funeral. He spoke not of what he had done for Rick, but of what Rick had done for him in responding in good faith. He spoke of his character and the essence of his life. Rick died “well with his soul” and Steve was able to describe it with great love and passion.
Rick and Steve are a good example of Christ love extended to the benefit of both. The relationship was built on Christ as their common bond. The scripture in the Bible according to Matthew 25:40 reminds us that love shown to any person “down on their luck,” struggling in life for basic necessity, is a gesture to Christ himself. Steve Galus knows more than most of us the joy of giving and living out a scripture directive—receiving the treasure we can experience in return—a true friendship built on faith in Christ. The relationship that began in faith ended with the hope of Jesus and His promises for everlasting life. Rick Johnson is already enjoying those promises. Steve’s life is richer by far because of the bond they shared.