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Real Hope in Chicago
By Wayne L. Gordon Randall Frame
ZondervanCopyright © 1995 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJolo: Release the Oppressed
I have a very bad problem in my life right now. I don't know if you can help me, but I really need help right now. I know I been try to come back to church, but I have not try hard enough. I had fun when I was in FCA [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] and I'm sorry that I left. I try to write this letter a month ago but I couldn't. But I'm tired of life bein' like this. I'm very sorry Coach that I had to tell you this. My problem is cocaine. It has really mess up my life and I don't know what to do. Sometime I be want to kill myself and maybe I will one day, but Coach, I don't want to do that. But don't want to keep living my life like this. Coach, you have done a lot for me in my life. And I'm very sorry I let you down. Joe Atkins
It is unusual to take on a nickname later in life, but for as long as I have been in Lawndale, people have called me "Coach." To high school youth, senior citizens, neighbors, policemen, and people on the church staff, I am still "Coach," even fourteen years after leaving a coaching position at nearby Farragut High School.
I started at Farragut in 1975. I taught history and coached football and wrestling until 1981. About six years later Joe's letter was pushed under the door to my office at Lawndale Community Church, where I was pastor. In the upper left-hand corner of the envelope, where the return address is usually written, a single word was scrawled: Scared.
I can't remember a time when I did not know "JoJo" Atkins. I coached him at Farragut, where he wrestled in the lighter weight divisions. After my marriage in 1977 to Anne Starkey, JoJo would stop by our apartment almost every day. He had helped us move into it, paint it, and fix it up. He would hang out with us for ten or more hours a day. He and a friend declared themselves Anne's "bodyguards." JoJo had been nine years old when his father died. He became like a son to me.
Our place was a center of attraction for many Lawndale youth. We had installed a first-class weight machine and a Ping-Pong table in the storefront just below our apartment. When young men from the community came to exercise and play Ping-Pong, some of them would stay for Bible study or other ministry activities. JoJo attended the Bible studies faithfully. In 1978 he was even part of the founding of Lawndale Community Church: fifteen people attended our first worship service; JoJo was among them.
A year or so after graduating from high school, JoJo joined the Army, and I lost touch with him for a while. In the military, he experimented with drugs, and by the time he left, he was a veteran abuser, having tried them all: marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, to which he became addicted.
When JoJo returned to Lawndale, things weren't the same. He attended church sporadically. He would hang out on the streets, doing odd jobs to scrape a meager living. He did not look like his old self. I knew he was struggling, but I would never have guessed he was so heavily into cocaine.
Then came the letter, an uninhibited cry for help. I met with JoJo and offered to do what I could for him. We talked about getting him into a drug rehabilitation program, but it soon became clear how strong a grip cocaine had on his life. I prayed for JoJo, but I felt helpless. He wanted to get straightened out, but-as I have learned many times during my time here-when drugs are involved, sometimes wanting something is not enough.
On April 21, 1987, six months or so after he wrote that letter, JoJo crawled into the bathtub in his apartment, cut his wrists open, and fell asleep. He awoke at 7:00 A.M. and was surprised to be alive. After wrapping something around his wrists, he walked to the church and entered my office to tell me what he had done. Immediately I called Art Jones, the doctor who founded our medical center, and he came over to sew up JoJo's wrists.
After seeing the blood in the bathroom at the apartment, where I had gone to collect his things, I quietly thanked God that JoJo was still with us. But God and I both knew it was just a matter of time before drugs would win this battle for JoJo's life-unless something changed. That same morning, JoJo agreed to enter the Teen Challenge drug rehabilitation program.
JoJo stayed in the program for three months before he left-too soon. Our church reached out to him, and he began to come around a little more often. But every time he seemed to be making progress, the lure of drugs would recapture him.
After several months of this tug-of-war, JoJo came to me again, pleading for help. I invited him to move into the church to sleep at night. I told him I would counsel him, meet with him, and pray with him every day, but he felt he needed more than that. And I am sure he was right. Having
Excerpted from Real Hope in Chicago by Wayne L. Gordon Randall Frame Copyright © 1995 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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