Tuesday, February 27, 2024

A Label of Love

For those that knew Randy Walgamuth, several thoughts probably come to mind. They're likely the kind of thoughts that end up in the comments of every Facebook post from Ink Free News that feature his name and mug shot. But for every remark and label that the general public of our community has stuck on him, there are many more that most have failed to mention. This failure is not only due to ignorance, but to the tragic reality that so many people (including believers in Christ) neglect to see an image bearer of God the way the Father sees him.

For this reason, I felt it was vitally important to give you a glimpse of the Randy that most will never know. It's the Randy that Jesus told stories about; a living example of the heart of the Father and what the Gospel is all about. He's the perfect picture of God's mercy; the one that the Lord left the 99 sheep to find (Matthew 18:12-14, Luke 15:4-7). This man taught me more about the love and mercy of God than I could ever learn from any evangelist or Bible teacher; and it has marked me for life.

I have worked at The Salvation Army since 2014. Early on, I was like most people. I couldn't understand why he made the choices that he did. Chronically homeless and addicted, he lived out on the streets and in the woods; and sometimes in the homeless shelter. I've seen so many people (and agencies in addition to ours) invest in him. I'll never get over how much personal time and resources my own boss, Ken Locke, spent on him. No matter how busy or drained he was, he still went above and beyond for Randy like he was his own brother.

Admittedly, however, I used to feel frustrated. Randy constantly made demands and expected everyone to do and give what he needed without delay or hesitation. He also seemed oblivious to the fact that even those who had to be tough with him (whether it was a police officer, judge, etc.) actually cared about him and were way more lenient than he deserved. Countless cups of coffee, food, clothing, rides, etc. were given to him by numerous people, agencies, and strangers. The time and personal sacrifices didn't seem to sink in and make him grateful; nothing about his lifestyle changed and it usually just got worse. So many times, he was in and out of jail (and the hospital as well). In all my prayers for him, I finally lost it one time as I was thinking about the fact that he got all that medical care, but I (a tax paying and law-abiding citizen) had no health insurance. God changed my heart with one phrase, "Melissa, this could be his reward in full."

His reward in full. It broke me. I couldn't get over it. If the most reward he would ever get would be all the things that he gets now, how sad and frightening would that be?! What good would it do me to be angry that he was taking so much now when I would be getting an inheritance for eternity that he may never get to be a part of? Am I really going to be mad about the fact that he got the temporary care for his earthly body that I didn't? What good is it to gain any advantage on Earth but lose your soul (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36)? Was I really going to be that jealous brother in the prodigal son story?

That's when things shifted for me; not just in how I saw Randy, but in how I saw everyone. It is so easy to be angry at others when they have something we don't, behave in terrible ways, and even get away with things that they shouldn't. Yet, God sees them the same way He sees us. He forgives their great debt and expects us to do likewise (Matthew 18:21-35). Randy had a record and reputation that everyone could see and judge; and yet God loved and wanted him. I realized just how truly merciful and loving the Father has to be in order to continually and relentlessly pursue this lost sheep of his. If He loves Randy SO MUCH to keep rescuing him and giving him countless second chances, how much more grateful should I be as a child of God? ALL OF US have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Who among us ISN'T a Randy? We have all sinned; and yet, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Every single one of us is a sheep that has strayed. I too have behaved in terrible ways; offending God and others. I can't imagine what my own rap sheet must look like, how great my debt must be, and how much I have truly been forgiven. God has been merciful to me and has spared me from lots of things that I deserved (both here and in eternity) and gave me mercy that I do NOT deserve. The Good Shepherd gave His life for every one of us lost sheep so that we would return to Him and be reconciled through Him (Isaiah 53:6, John 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2:25). I've accepted Christ and am safe. Jesus wanted Randy safe too and this is the verse He reminded me of every single time: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV).

Left Side Back Row: Friends, Randy and Larry, (both are now home with the Lord).
In what few years I have known Randy, I saw him soften. He even frequently attended church at The Salvation Army (and on more than one occasion, donated his cigarette lighter in the offering plate). I have watched prayers be answered; even when he would tell us outright NOT to “pray too hard” for him. We prayed all the more; and it obviously worked! I saw Randy experience the heart of God through each act of love, mercy, and kindness (even if he didn't recognize it). God moved on the hearts of so many people to share the Gospel, their time, money, and resources. Ken has always said, "No one has heard the Gospel more times than Randy Walgamuth." Every act of compassion sowed a seed; and God was even more patient than we were to see them grow. Year after year, Ken would say, "I don't think he's going to make it through another winter." We dreaded the day that he would be found frozen outside or something worse.

The "something worse" was cancer. Again, no one thought he would last as long as he did. Once more, God showed His amazing love and mercy. Randy didn't suffer alone outside. The last year or two, he was either at The Fellowship Mission, the hospital, or hospice. No doubt the staff was amazed at how many visitors Randy had these past few months. I think he finally understood how to give and receive love. For the first time, he said to me, "I love you, Melissa." I was amazed to hear him say it! "I love you too, Randy." I assured him that there were so many people that did and that God loved him even more. I asked him if he confessed and believed in Christ as Lord. He said, "Yes. Yes I do, Melissa." I don't think any of us saw some big emotional/radical change, but we all believe that on whatever level his mind could still understand, he believed and was making his peace. In fact, that is what Ken assured me of. He said that he had never seen Randy so at peace.

I have many more things I could share; and they're only a fraction of the many testimonies that I know others have. People that have known him a lifetime have told me about how much he has been through; even as a kid growing up. Pain and trauma take a toll. I wonder what his life would have been like if his childhood had been different. It makes me sad to think about what his life has been like and how he's the very last of what family he had (even his only child passed in recent years). Despite all the darkness, the light still won out. Jesus shone through so many people that Randy couldn't hide from it. God had His way. Randy couldn't tune out the knocking at the door. None of us may know for sure when/how he opened that door to Jesus, but we believe that he finally let Him in.....and that Christ welcomed Randy into heaven. We love you, Randy! Thank you for all that you taught us! Until we meet again!

Update: Click here to read an additional post of my thoughts after Randy's funeral.