Leonard came up to me, breathless, about halfway through our weekly pancake picnic. “You’ll never believe what just happened,” he said quietly, a small, stunned smile on his face. I stepped away from the canister of wipes I was using to clean the pancake bin of stray batter.
Leonard, a former military service member, came to the park about one year ago, miracles accompanying him across the country as he arrived in record time. He began coming over to our house, stepping into Bible Study, and helped to overhaul our bottom floor to rid it of black mold. He stores delightful secrets. Grizzled gray hair, gnarled with curls, pokes out from under his dark baseball cap. We rarely see him without a coffee; a welcome commonality between he and I, as the rest of the current staff team prefers tea. Leonard speaks with a deep timbre which quickly turns wheezy when he breaks into laughter. He carries a small messenger bag, a soothing presence, and a cache of surprises; it took six months for us to learn that he had coached multiple people to national championships in artistic roller skating.
Two months ago, InnerCHANGE challenged staff members to conduct Bible Studies more boldly in our contexts. Rather than have the team lead a study in the park, Leonard accepted the request to lead the Bible Study himself. A natural teacher, his Bible studies featured an air of calm and introspection. In his personal time, he cultivated a spirit of faith, and a deeper intimacy with Jesus the peacemaker.
The journey to peacemaking did not come without bumps. In Leonard’s hearing, another park resident maligned the military, and started accusing Leonard of lying about his veteran status. Infuriated, Leonard chased the man out of the park; this retribution aligned completely with park code. Still, Leonard walked away after ejecting the man and heard God’s voice. “That’s not how I want you to do things anymore,” God said.
Two weeks later, the breathless Leonard returned to our pancake picnic site. He had left to invite people from the front of the park to come to pancakes. As he approached the front, he saw a friend whose child had recently died. Another tall, unknown man from the park was accosting the man whose child had died. What had likely begun as a small dispute escalated. By the time Leonard saw them, the man whose child had died held a glass bottle, ready to strike. The unknown man stood inches from his face, fists balled. They screamed at each other.
Leonard rushed between them, turning to face the unknown man. Leveling his gaze, he looked at him and said, “In the name of Jesus, you will leave this park.” The unknown man continued to yell to the man whose child had died, attempting to ignore Leonard. “In the name of Jesus, leave this park,” Leonard said again, more forcefully. The unknown man paused. Leonard, yelling, repeated the command, “in the name of Jesus, leave this park! In the name of Jesus, you will leave now!”
Taken aback, the unknown man faltered, turned, and left as Leonard continued to yell and point away from the park. Once the man left, Leonard turned to check on the man whose child had died. After briefly confirming that he was unharmed and could begin to calm down, Leonard left to return to pancakes, eyes wide.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever done something like that,” he breathed as he relayed the story to me, “and I’m pretty sure everyone in the park heard me.” He stepped away, drained from the battle.
We served the rest of the pancakes uneventfully; Leonard had already battled for peace at the front.