Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Same Kind of Different as Me
By Ron Hall & Denver Moore,With Lynn Vincent.
Thomas Nelson, 2006, 246 pp
 

The two authors are most unlikely collaborators in publishing this book with its intriguing title printed  in an awkward scrawl. 

This story, uniquely and powerfully, confirms that the amazing grace of God is able to touch and renew the lives of the most desperate and downtrodden people. 

Ron Hall, a rich white man, and Denver Moore, a penniless, illiterate black man, first met in 1998 at a Christian outreach to the homeless, the Union Gospel Mission in   Fort Worth, Texas. Ron Hall was a successful international art dealer; while Denver Moore was a homeless, angry man, who shunned contact with anyone except other homeless people. 

Miss Debbie Discovers a Pearl

The person who brought the two men together was Deborah, Ron’s wife who was convinced that God called her to minister to the homeless. She gave herself unselfishly in reaching out to the poorest of the poor, always treating everyone she met with respect and love. She looked behind the surface of failure and dysfunction, and saw gifts, such as love, faith, and wisdom, hidden like pearls waiting to be discovered, as she put it. 

Deborah had a vision of making the mission a place where men and women did not just come for a meal but where they experienced the love of God in very practical ways. 

She helped the women to take pride in their appearance, organized film evenings, and once a month brought a large birthday cake to recognize everyone who had a birthday during that month; the latter would get a second helping of the cake. Hall explains:   

The cake was always a hit, so much so that people began having more and more birthdays it seemed - some every month. (During the twelve months we brought cake, some fellows at the mission aged twelve years.) 

At first, Ron was a reluctant helper at the mission, and preferred to write cheques rather than spend time helping to feed the homeless. But he could not refuse Deborah’s entreaties to reach out to the men and women at the mission. 

Their marriage hit a rough patch but then their relationship experienced the healing touch of God, which also resulted in Ron’s taking a more enthusiastic role in meeting the homeless. 

Deborah once told Ron that she had a dream about the mission and a man. She told him: ”It was like that verse in Ecclesiastes [9:15]. A wise man who changes the city. I saw him.” 

A few days later while both were helping at the mission, they heard a lot of crashing noise near the chapel door and then saw an angry black man throw a chair across the dining room floor while some twenty people scattered in all directions.  He screamed: “I’m gon’ kill whoever done it. I’m gon’ kill whoever stole my shoes.”  Some mission personnel managed to calm him down and lead him away. 

Deborah leaned over to her husband and said: “That’s him!…That’s the man I saw in my dream! The one who changes the city… That’s him!”  She repeated, eyes sparkling. “I think you should try to make friends with him.” 

‘Me!’ My eyes widened in disbelief. ‘Did you not notice that the man you want me to make friends with just threatened to kill twenty people?’  

She laid her hand on my shoulder and tilted her head with a smile. ‘I really think God’s laid on my heart  that you need to reach out to him.’ 

‘Sorry,’ I said trying hard  to ignore the head tilt, ‘but I wasn’t at that meeting where you heard from God.’ 

It was not easy of Hall to break through the wall this black man, Denver, had built around himself. But with perseverance and wisdom Ron succeeded in convincing Denver that he meant to be a real friend. Their friendship blossomed and eventually led to Denver becoming a member of the Hall family. 

A Life of Hardship

Denver Moore was born in 1937 in rural Louisiana to a young girl who had no way to raise him and a father who was mostly absent. His grandparents from  his father’s side took him in  until  at age five or six  he narrowly escaped from a burning shack in which his beloved grandma (Big Mama) perished. 

The following years he was living with a dirt poor sharecropping uncle and aunt. He never went to school and at age six or seven  started to work in the fields. Later he got his own shack, but never managed to have his own share of the crop exceed what he owed “the Man that owned the land you was workin.” 

Denver writes about his early years at the plantation in detail that reveal a level of hardship and deprivation that are hard to believe. In the early 1950s black people in that part  of Louisiana still lived as if slavery had not been abolished a century before. 

In his opening chapter he writes that when he was 15 or 16  years old  he met three white men on horseback who decided to teach this “nigger" a lesson. (That was after he had helped a white lady to change a tire on her car; she did not speak up in defence of this Good Samaritan.) 

One of the men on horseback put a rope around his neck, “like he was ropin a calf,” and dragged him at full speed. He would have died if the driver of an oncoming car had not interfered by pointing a shotgun and ordering the men to cut Denver loose. 

In the early 1960s, Denver left his sharecropper’s life behind and rode the rails  into an entirely different world where he drifted from place to place, learning to survive on the mean streets of America.  In 1966, he got into trouble with the law and spent 10 years in the Angola Prison, which he describes as “one of the worst hellholes ever invented by a white man.”  

He writes that he went into the prison a man and left a man. For the next 22 years he lived  on the streets, mostly in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1998, he went to the Union Gospel Mission, where he met “Miss Debbie.” 

A Dream Come True

His life then took a turn that no one in his wildest dreams could have imagined. But one person, Miss Debbie had just such a dream, and she urged her husband Ron to  persevere in breaking down the wall Denver had erected as a survival mechanism in the cruel streets and dangerous prisons of America.. 

 With a lot of coaching and patience, Denver began to trust Ron, who  then discovered that the down-to-earth  wisdom that Denver possessed would become a rich source of blessing to him, especially in times of loss and heartbreak. 

And such a time arrived  when Deborah contracted colon cancer and after a 19-month painful treatment  died in November 2000 at the age of 55. It was especially during Deborah’s struggle with cancer, her death,  and burial that Denver became a rich source of comfort and  spiritual stamina to Ron and his family, and  to all who had come to love Deborah. 

At the memorial service the day after the funeral, many  paid tribute to this godly woman. But the most remarkable  speaker was this black man who for years had not spoken to anyone except his fellow homeless. 

In simple language Denver Moore delivered a moving  speech explaining how God had blessed him through Miss Debbie who had reached out to him in love  when no one  had cared about him.  He told his audience that he had promised  God to pick up her torch in caring for the homeless. Many were in tears and gave him a standing ovation. 

Shortly before her death, Deborah urged her husband:  “Don’t give up on Denver. God is going to bless your friendship in a way you can never imagine.”  Subsequent developments proved her to be right - again. 

One day Denver told Ron: “Ain’t nobody ever gonna believe our story. We need to write us a book.” 

And so they did, but could not find a publisher willing to take on this project. So they self-published  50 copies for a small audience. But in 2006 the publishing firm Thomas Nelson decided to publish it, and they arranged for Lynn Vincent  to help with the final editing. 

Demand  for the book quickly skyrocketed. By October 2009, 590,000 copies had been printed, and it had been on the NYT best-sellers list for 80 consecutive weeks – the first time this happened in the company’s entire history. 

The result was overwhelming. Request for speaking engagements became an avalanche. Late last year the two authors have told their story more than 500 times and visited more than 200 shelters in America. They helped raise $32 million  for the homeless through their speeches and other fundraising engagements. 

Just Workin Our Way Home

From a life touched by tragedy and begun as a modern-day plantation slave, nameless, and homeless, Denver’s life changed radically by the healing power of God channeled  through the faith and kindness of  Debora and Ron Hall. 

Today, Denver is an artist (painting), public speaker, and advocate of the homeless. In 2006, the citizens of Fort Worth honoured him as “Philanthropist of the Year” for his work at the Union Gospel Mission. He has had to slow down after suffering a stroke and undergoing brain surgery. 

Denver concludes his final chapter explaining that he used to worry quite a bit about being different from everyone else. Even after first meeting Ron and Deborah Hall, he worried that they might never overcome their differences. He continues: 

But I found out everybody’s different—the same kind of different as me. We’re all just regular folks walkin down the road God done set in front of us.  

The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin in between, this earth ain’t no final restin place, So in a way we is all homeless –just workin our way toward home. 

In a world where more and more cracks are appearing in the fabric of our society, this book is a refreshing story of hope and reconciliation. After you read it, you will never again look the same way at the homeless.* 

* For a fascinating interview with Ron Hall and Denver Moore, see  Wittenburg Door, May/June 2007, posted at:  http://archives.wittenburgdoor.com/archives/hall-moore.html