Victim One of a Jesus Shelter:Fodder for the Fire: A Homeless Man Dies, A Church Grows, and We are Proud?
Skowhegan, Maine- When I first met my friend Bill Wakefield, he seemed a hardened man, and his gaze was strong and determined. He was definitely a “Rock ’n’ Roller” and had a loudness and gruffness about him that made you want to back away, if he got mad at you. This is how most people remember him.
But, if you looked past the exterior, and got to know his more vulnerable side, you would find a passionate and sensitive man. His toughness was just a façade, and you would find this man heart full of charity, compassion, and loneliness. He cared about what others thought of him. In fact, what others thought of him is what structured his belief in himself.
If Bill loved and respected you, even in a small way, the smallest compliment would lift him up toward heaven, and the slightest criticism would be as painful and the most horrific hellfire, but he would not let you know it. His default was his tough guy image, but that only hid the affect the world had on his thoughts and his life.
I first met Bill in Skowhegan, when he was a staff member of the Trinity Evangelical Church Homeless Shelter. I must admit that he was the last person I ever expected to develop a close friendship with. Bill was “Large and In Charge” and was often at odds with Pastor Richard Berry. Bill had a way of being a skeptic with his “Common Sense” perspectives on people.
As time rolled on at the Homeless Shelter, we not only developed a mutual respect, but we developed a closeness in spirit that was quite surprising. Many of our experiences were quite similar; parents in the Military, we had fond memories of the many states we lived in, we were both entrepreneurs who mixed both business with compassion.
I, also, found that here were many aspects that I admired, as well. He had a strength to see things through till they got done. He would sacrifice everything for the people he loved, and all he wanted back was the same compassion and charity. He struggled daily with the demons that haunted him, and was victorious.
Like any man, he had his backslide and mishaps….. Often, late at night, we would talk about the trouble that filled our lives, but one of the most touching memories I have of him is after his many fights that he and Pastor Berry had.
Almost on a weekly basis, the loud voice of Pastor Berry telling him: “You’re a P”*$$#.” Or “You’re a loser, that is why you are here. That is why nobody wants you!”
When Bill had finally found a woman he considered his girlfriend, Pastor Berry would use that against him, as well. Pastor Berry would say things like; “She is nothing but a hooker,” or “You going to see your prostitute friend?”
On the outside, tough ole “Rebel” would let those words slide off, but on the inside, every insult, every tease, every rejection affected his self image, affected his feeling of acceptance in the Shelter community, and even affected his faith.
"Thus says the LORD, "Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place."-Jeremiah 22:3
One evening, after a bitter row with the Pastor, he came to me to talk. He stated:
“Daniel, how to you do it? You put up with the hypocrisy that goes on in this shelter. You put up with the unreasonable rules and regulations. You allow the pastor to parade you around like a show pony, just so he can collect more money and building donations that he can spend on rebuilding his mother’s house. Don’t you feel bad? Do you feel used? How do you handle it all?”
I could see that there was more to his words that talk about me. I asked him,
“Bill, what is wrong? Is this from another argument with the Pastor?”
It was at that point that I saw Bill begin to cry. Not a loud weeping that all would hear, nor was it the quiet weeping of a child that was recently punished, it was a weeping of a man whose spirit was troubled and his faith was silently breaking.
“How is it you can put up with how the Pastor talk down to you? He treats me like crap, and I have seen how he treats you the same way. He walks around, proud as a peacock, and talks more like we are his slaves. He does not act like he preaches and a throws our homelessness in our faces every time he has the chance. He does not care about you, about me, or about anyone. The whole reason he started this shelter was because people stopped coming to his church, because he does whatever the hell he wants.”
"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the gospel will save it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?…"-Mark 8:35-37
I knew this to be true. I saw how he was spending materials donated for building the homeless shelter building, being redirected to his personal projects. I saw beds donated for the shelter, given away to people who could have afforded to buy new beds, themselves. Yes, I saw the waste and mismanagement that was Trinity Homeless Shelter, but I also saw the good.
I saw the men who had nowhere else to go, have a place to lay their head at night. I saw families not only come for the weekly supper, but also to the food pantry, when many of them had no one else to turn to for food.
I told Bill;
“There is no amount of good that can repair the harm and evil that Pastor Berry does, but understand that nothing Pastor Berry says or does can take away the good you, I, or anyone else does.
Is Pastor Berry a gruff, foul-mouthed, man whose pride is as big as his heart? Maybe, but you, I, and everyone else is just as guilty as he in that type of sin.
That is why Jesus said; “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth,” because no one feels threatened if you are truly meek.
I just tend to ignore such things and go about my business. I cannot control how other people feel, but I can control myself.”
Then Bill made one of his common-sense observations,
“But Daniel, he is the Pastor of this Church. He is the spiritual leader of this homeless shelter. If he is the example of who and what Jesus was about, then I want no part of Jesus or GOD.”
Unfortunately, it came to a point where the insults and rejection from the Pastor, the Shelter, the Church and the World was more than he could bear. On February 28th, 2015, William Henry Wakefield doused himself, in his car, with Gasoline and lit himself on fire. I shudder at the type of death that he chose for himself.
He often told me that he never felt at home at the Church… maybe he was not ready for it. I think, more likely, that the Church, that was full of judgement, prejudice and insults, was not ready for Him.
Good Bye Bill Wakefield, wherever you may be, I will always remember you.