By Sarah Partee, OTN Intern
Stories shared with permission.
I met Montana the first week I started my internship with Open Table this June. I see him regularly now, at least a couple times a month. Montana is 67 years old, over 6 feet tall, and talks a lot. I take him grocery shopping, pick up his prescriptions and mail, help him pay his bills, and accompany him to doctor’s appointments. Recently he started asking me about setting up a direct deposit donation to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Every time I visit him in his apartment he is always quick to offer me coffee and snacks. And every time I leave he tells me, “Be safe out there, I’ll be praying for you.”
Lindsey has known and worked with Montana for years. I was fortunate enough to be able to see the culmination of their work at the beginning of this summer: Montana moved into housing! He had lived on the streets for decades. I met up with Lindsey and Montana on move-in day. We went over paperwork, shopped for necessary household items, and settled in to his new home. It was a beautiful day and such a humbling experience. When I was leaving at the end of the day, I asked if there was anything he wanted or needed that he didn’t already have. He asked if I had any extra bibles—large print, because his eye sight is getting bad. When I got home, I told my parents about this and they offered to pay for it.
There is a lot I don’t know about Montana. He has opened up and voluntarily shared some personal information with me, but I don’t pry. In the beginning of our relationship I was really curious about his life. How did he get here? What was his childhood like? Why did he end up on the streets? But over time, I realized his past doesn’t matter. We have grown a friendship based on who we both are now. I do not doubt that we have lived very different lives in most ways. But now? Well, we both love pepper jack cheese, coffee, and Jesus. Yes, our past shapes us significantly. But it does not define us.
We are both human, both still breathing, and both looking for love and belonging.
At one point, Montana’s feet and legs were in pretty bad shape. His circulation is poor and there was significant swelling. Open wounds were on the toes of each of his feet. He told me they were from wearing steal toed boots in the winter. He was never able to take them off and air out his toes for fear of the boots being stolen. The bandages on his feet needed to be changed daily for at least a couple of weeks, the doctor said. Montana couldn’t bend over and touch his feet so we set up a team of people to help him with this arduous task.
Over the course of several weekly appointments to see the foot specialist, Montana’s toes, feet, and legs started looking better! Sometimes it can be hard to see progress in the day-to-day when you are up close to a problem. But when we went to the doctor, he told us that progress was being made in spite of it being slow and difficult to quantify. Hard work paid off, and teamwork proved itself to be a beautiful thing.
Montana’s feet look a lot better now. But more importantly, as a Christian, I see Jesus in Montana every time I’m with him. He has a special place in my heart and has taught me so much. While Open Table is an interfaith group, sometimes the people we meet with bring up their own theology, their own traditions. One day Montana told me, “I’ve lived with the devil for most of my life. I want to go to heaven… I love Jesus now, I really do. I’ve had enough of hell.” There are many times in my work with Open Table where I am speechless. This is one of them. I try to find something encouraging to say and I rest my hand on his shoulder. I silently pray that God would see his heart… but I know deep down that God already does, and God always has.