Giving a hand up

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Terry Wildman has a heart for people who have fallen through the cracks of society. That's because he came precariously close to falling through himself. Having been at the precipice, he has not forgotten what it felt like to nearly fall into the abyss of homelessness.

Wildman is the new face of the homeless in Cape Girardeau. The first thing to note is he's not from out of town. He's born and bred in Cape Girardeau, lived here all of his life. Earlier this month, surrounded by municipal, civic and religious leaders, Wildman announced the opening of the Shelter of Hope in a former billiards hall on South Sprigg Street. A local bank has offered the building rent-free for a year. The idea is to house eight homeless folks a night -- a figure Wildman came up with after working in the Rev. Larry Rice's thrift store and seeing the volume of material need day after day. The new shelter needs a lot of work. Wildman -- who volunteered for Rice and has now left his organization -- received online training from Chaplain Fellowship Ministries International. He wears a CFMI uniform. The uniform is reassuring; Chaplain Terry is deadly serious about giving "a hand up, not a hand out" to the homeless.

Terry is not a salesman. He greets you politely and respectfully; he doesn't crush your hand in a "boy-do-I-have-a-deal-for-you" grip. No backslapping, no small talk. Straightforward. Courteous. Real. You can get a sense for a cause by sizing up its leader. By this measure, I was impressed. He wants to help and wants to do it today.

Where does zeal, where does passion come from? Usually the motivation is personal. Candy Lightner started Mothers Against Drunk Driving when her 13-year-old was killed by an inebriated motorist 30 years ago. The sister of Susan G. Komen started the now-famous breast cancer foundation after promising her dying sibling that other women would have better access to information and treatment options in the future.

Wildman felt a call to social justice ministry as a young man but resisted it. He became a heavy equipment operator and made a fine wage. He had a nice home with an in-ground swimming pool. Everything changed when he was working on a front-loader, slipped and had a catastrophic accident. His neck was so badly injured that one arm and one leg became useless for a long time. He could no longer work. The bank repossessed his home. He and his family were days away from homelessness -- until, at the last minute, they latched onto a low-cost rental unit large enough for his family and his Great Dane. Today, the family has financial stability. His wife works outside the home, and Terry collects a government disability check while he pursues the ministry he felt called to -- and resisted -- as a younger man.

Donations to the Shelter of Hope are, Chaplain Terry assures me, tax-deductible. They need money; they need a lot of things. They need a licensed architect immediately and someone willing to write grant proposals. Once an architect comes up with a plan, the ex-billiards hall can be transformed into a homeless shelter to give men and women a temporary oasis while they get their feet on the ground.

Terry Wildman is under no illusions. There are obstacles to overcome, but he is confident God will find a way. While the shelter is explicitly Christian in focus, there is no theological test to get help. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, no faith profession -- doesn't matter. I've met this guy. I'm going to stand with him and help. Will you pitch in and help a locally conceived and locally operated ministry to the homeless? The umber to call is 573-339-7882. Allow Terry to tell you his story and share his vision.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: