Yesterday Jack Bogdanski posted a blog entry about a guy who was thrown in jail because he couldn’t (or didn’t) pay all his payroll taxes, even though he reported them. Jack commented that it seems we still have debtors prison even in America.
This got me thinking about a book I read about a year or so ago called “Same Kind of Different as Me.” It’s an autobiography of two men in Texas. One is a homeless black man (Denver Moore) who was raised by sharecroppers in Louisiana, and the other is a rich art dealer (Ron Hall) who helps at a homeless shelter just to make his wife happy. The book is amazing, and I highly recommend it! The chapters alternate between each man’s point of view, often on the same incident, and the difference in perspective is fascinating.
The reason Jack’s blog reminded me of this book is because of the things I learned about our great country (and don’t get me wrong, I do think America is a great country) that I thought had been relegated to our ancient history. The first thing I learned is that sharecropping (which might as well be slavery) continued to exist in this country well into the 1900’s. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact date that Denver left the farm where he was a sharecropper, but given that he had been homeless for over 40 years when the main story of the book took place in the 1990’s, I think it is safe to say the practice still existed in the 1960’s, and maybe still does.
The second thing I learned is that there are people living in conditions most of us would consider unliveable, with no running water, no toilets, and no way to dispose of their garbage. Towards the end of the book (somewhere around the year 2000), Denver and Ron go back to Louisiana to visit Denver’s relatives, and this is exactly how they live. Their one room shack has no bathroom or running water, and there is a pile of garbage next to the “house” because there is no place else to put it.
The third thing I learned from this book is that people are homeless for a lot of different reasons, and it’s not always (maybe not even often) because they are lazy and shiftless. Denver is a perfect example. He left the farm in Louisiana with plans to go to Texas to get a job. He had always worked hard on the farm, and wanted to work hard doing something he could make a decent living at. But while he was growing up he had never been allowed to go to school, so he couldn’t read or write. He tried to get a job, but his lack of an education made it difficult if not impossible. The result was that for the next 40 years he lived in prison and on the streets of Fort Worth, Texas.
But probably the most important thing I learned from this books is that if God wants something to happen, He just might use the most unlikely people to accomplish it. Denver and Ron, along with Ron’s wife Deborah, ended up friends, and God used them to house and feed many homeless people in Fort Worth through the building of a huge homeless shelter. They were unlikely friends, and a homeless man and an art dealer are unlikely suspects for accomplishing such a task, but that’s what happened. Don’t take my word for it – get the book “Same Kind of Different as Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore and see what you learn about other poeple, yourself, and God.