Letter: Remembering a life cut short

The elder at a Langley church remembers his friend, a homeless man killed in a recent accident.

Dear Editor,

I woke up the other day to the news that “a man was killed walking along the railway tracks in Langley last night.” Dammit… I knew that there was a 90 per cent chance that I’d lost another friend. Police/officials were unable to identify the individual as of yet – and were asking for any assistance or witnesses to come forward.

As I drove into the Vineyard I had this huge sense of dread – Our drop-in centre – The Friendship Centre was open today – it was going to be a whirlwind. “Who was it Lord?” Who was missing? How was our homeless community doing? After arriving I checked with everyone there waiting for us to open – no one knew – but there was an air of nervousness and fear in their midst.

After about a 1/2 hour we recognized someone was missing from our midst – who should have been there – who always was there every Wednesday. In fact he was there every day, as I pulled into the Vineyard to greet me or accost me depending his mood – except today. Today Dwayne never showed. My friend Dwayne Holstein – most likely was dead.

Dwayne had been homeless – probably for the last 3 years. He’d spent almost half of his 36 years serving time in prison for different offences from armed robbery, to drug related charges, and assault.

The average life expectancy of a homeless individual in BC is roughly half of the avg life expectancy in BC – so it’s approx 40 yrs of age… 40. That’s was the avg. life expectancy in Europe 200 years ago.

​Being homeless is dangerous – seemingly a death sentence – yet many people still have the erroneous opinion that most chose to be homeless, “they want to be homeless.” Violence, drugs, weather, fire or some kind of accidental death are everyday real live risks for these people. I assure you, 99% of the people who are without a home in BC don’t willfully chose it, didn’t want it, and daily wish they could change their circumstances.

This was the case for Dwayne – but he had so many notches against him from “society ” – those who he shared Langley with. He didn’t do social well. After experiencing as much as he had in prison – to just stay alive, kind of whole, he learned not to trust – to react – to fight back, protect himself at all costs… And all that from just a sideways glance – or a longer gaze towards him from another individual. That doesn’t work well with other people – especially those outside of prison. This often led to him being banned from shelter spaces – because he was too much of a risk to have around. Nobody would want to rent him a place, or even a room. Too much of a risk. Dwayne looked rough… really rough there was nothing on the surface that would draw you to him as an individual. His first two years here in Langley he was in more fights, had more beatings and was increasingly more and more isolated and alone.

He would always come by the Vineyard though. This isn’t easy for our church I assure you – but God has used Dwayne and others like him to reveal things about us to ourselves. We need them as much as the need us. God gives us opportunities in the most humbling of ways. They need the bathroom, a place to wash/bathe – get some fresh clothes, did we have anything to eat. Dwayne was not an easy one to deal with – he would often take a comment out of context or misread a look – and then he’d throw his stuff down – whipping off his hat and shirt wanting to go a round with me in the parking lot. Last time this happened he was riding his bike towards me in the parking lot and took offence to the way I watched him approach – as he then jumpes off his bike with a half jog towards me starting to call me out. I just laughed – I was used to this by now and would just encourage him to come sit down on one of the curbs outside our door and I’d get him a cup of tea and a scone and we could talk.

I learned with Dwayne, again, that grace and love slowly erode the sharp edges like water to a rock – you just need to keep going – keep pouring it out. One time after one of his outbursts – he came up to me later in the afternoon with a hand outstretched and hat in hand wanting to apologize – I took his hand and told him that was no longer acceptable – “I’m a hugger Dwayne – gotta give you a hug!” and I did. Not sure when the last time he’d been hugged was – but from then on that’s what he’d known he was going to get from me.

Monday as I arrived to the church, Dwayne was waiting of course but looking busy. He’d been reading a book he’d found on positive thinking. He loved it. Over time, Dwayne had come to I believe accept God’s love and did love God… respect God. We dialogued a long time about the book – I told him truth is truth in all situations at all times for all people. That’s always God’s truth. But if you you don’t really know God – you can only interpret the truth as best you can – but often don’t have the whole pic because you don’t know the source of the truth. As Christians we should be the most positive and hopeful people on the planet because we live with the greatest hope – Jesus – and filled with the Holy Spirit should be all the fruit that permeates who we are because of his presence in us.

Dwayne was very young in his faith – but was sincere and in so many ways was really becoming a man of peace over the last year. I’d told him often how proud I was of him as I saw how much he was really trying to deal with things and situations differently. It was life-discipleship 101 in the parking lot – but that’s where it happens.

Tuesday morning – I’d popped by St. Joe’s during their drop in – and briefly saw Dwayne. He was quite proud of his new digs – a nice used black breaker with electric blue piping and zipper, newish dark jeans and black runners with electric blue laces… I told he was quite the fashion statement. He laughed – said “No way!” I gave him a half hug around his shoulder and told him I’d see him around. That was the last time we spoke.

Yes a man died yesterday after being struck by a train. His name was Dwayne. He was a friend of mine – and of Jesus. I’ll look forward to seeing you again my friend. For now – your pain is gone, your fully alive in God’s love for you – the artist in you is free – and you have permanent housing forever with a heavenly Father that loves you. Peace bro.

Leith White,

Friends Langley Vineyard