Bob sits peacefully under a canopy of trees, without a home, yet full of hope; provided for and protected by God.
The following story was written firsthand by local photographer, Andrea Salamanca and can also be viewed on her blog, Coco Bleu Photography.
Horry County has the highest rate of homelessness in the entire State of South Carolina. According to some estimates, there are nearly 900 people living without a roof over their heads in the Myrtle Beach area.
So what can we do…as individuals? as a community? as a church? a family? I can’t answer that question for you. I believe that answer is between you and God. I DO BELIEVE He would have you do SOMETHING! I just don’t know what that something is. I am just learning what it is for me and my family.
Before we purchased my camera, I dreamed about and prayed for God to reveal to me ways He could use me to bless others with it. Would he have me do a family shoot for a struggling, single mom? Would he have me do maternity shoots for young mothers who are at risk for abusing their children, in order to help them bond with their unborn babies? Would He have me highlight ministries in our area that are doing great works, but need more support? I believe He will have me do all of the above…eventually.
While on a shoot, about a month ago at a park here in Myrtle Beach, I became burdened by what I saw. Here we are less than five miles from the beautiful beaches with children laughing, playing and swinging on the playground…but there in the shadows of the park was so much pain, hurt, loneliness, addiction, isolation, fear, anxiety and depression.
I’m not going to lie. I was a bit leary. My kids were playing on the playground, and there was a lot of shady behavior all around us. The girl I was shooting is a musician. We were doing shots of her playing her drums in the park, and as soon as we arrived, all of the men with backpacks started to disappear into the dark corners of the park. I was surprised, but also saddened, when a few of them slowly made their way back over to us, asking if there was going to be a concert. I wish there had been a concert for them. When they heard we were just doing a photoshoot, they made their way back to the perimeters of the park.
While I was happy to pack my kids into the car and leave an area I would never take them after dark, my heart left there very heavy. I couldn’t stop thinking how the thousands of people who visit this area every year, laying on the beaches, eating in the restaurants, maybe even taking their kids to the parks, have no idea that in the midst of their joy vacationing in the South Carolina sunshine, there are so many people they are passing who wish they had a home to lock up and leave for a week or two…take a break, eat a lot of great food, enjoy the sights, and then return to their warm bed, a TV with 100 channels, cabinets stocked with the food of their choice, a warm shower or bath, and a toilet that allows privacy.
My heart is heavy still, even a month later. My heart is heavier, now that I have taken the steps God had laid out for me, leading me to a sweet soul named Bob. You see, I prayed and prayed that God would lead me to the person He would have you read about on this blog…whoever you are. I had other plans. God gave me rain. I came up with another plan. God allowed me to be confused by directions, so I didn’t make it to the destination I had chosen.
With the daylight fading, my husband and I decided to make our way back to the park where God first opened my eyes to the stories He would have me tell. When we pulled onto the street where the park is, I felt a little nervous for a few reasons, (1) I didn’t want to deal with any kind of aggressive behavior, though I felt confident I could and (2) I didn’t want to make anyone feel ashamed of their situation.
Deep breath. Okay, I see a man on the bench. He has a backpack. But is he…homeless? Deep breath. (Lord, give me the words…here goes…) Oh, great…he’s wiping his nose (there goes the handshake idea) :/
“Hi! How are you?”
“We’re good. I was wondering if I could talk to you and ask you a few questions.”
“I’m a photographer in the area, and I…”
Two hours later, my heart was broken. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was in love with the soul of a broken man. I was connected to his story because, well, his story is all of our stories in some sense. He was created by God, knit together in his mother’s womb. Loved by his parents. Cared for by them. He found joy in the small things, as we all do as children. He desired to be loved and cared for, protected, nurtured…wanted people to believe in him, help him achieve his goals, cheer him on, lift him up, but…there is usually a but.
When Bob was just 14 years young, his parents were both killed in a car accident. He was with them at the time. Both sets of his grandparents had passed away in the few years preceeding his parents’ accident. He had no aunts or uncles to care for him. He was an only child. He was placed into foster care.
Imagine being 14, losing everything you had ever known, and being placed in a home with complete strangers. This was not in the day of Dr. Phil either, people. This was 1970. Counseling services were not available for Bob. He was likely labeled a “troubled kid whose parents had died.” He was bounced from foster home to foster home, until four years later, he became an adult, and left Upstate New York for the Sunshine State.
For years, Bob did landscaping work, until he could no longer take the heat and headed north to Myrtle Beach in 2005. Since arriving here, he has struggled through nights most of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. He’s slept in woods, in a tent, you name it.
After hearing many of the stories he told us, I doubt many of those nights were filled with much sleep, no matter where he laid his head. He told us about a guy who had his “head smashed with a cinderblock, while he was sleeping in the woods.” He told us of a girl who was found wrapped in a blanket by a dumpster. He had countless stories of people addicted to drugs and alcohol who are placed in jail, only to return to the streets and repeat the cycle.
The more we talked to Bob, the more our hearts ached for the loss he had suffered with the death of his parents. Everytime he would talk about it, he would stare off, speak more softly, eyes welling up with tears. Forty years later, the pain is as fresh as it ever was.
You must understand, this ONE life event changed this young boy’s life forever, leaving him with no one. No one to care what he became. No one to call, when he couldn’t pay a deposit for an apartment. No one to share a meal with to celebrate a new job. My heart breaks, even as I type this. Can you imagine? No one. A boy with no one at 14 became a man with no one at 54.
While many would think a guy like Bob would be bitter, maybe expecting the world owes him something…maybe a guy who curses the God who took the mother and father of a 14-year-old boy…maybe a guy who uses alcohol or drugs to numb the pain. While there are skeptics (maybe even a miniscule part of myself included) who would doubt the truth of Bob’s story, I assure you, the pain in his eyes, the gentleness of a scared teenage boy in his voice, the sadness of the life that could have been, tells me that he is an honest man.
With everything he called his own in a bag sitting next to him on a park bench, Bob told us about the Lord’s provision and protection over his life all of these years he’s spent alone. He praised God for the times he’s been threatened by much larger men who were under the influence, but was never harmed. He praised God for the meals he has to eat everyday, thanks to the kind people who serve through the local churches (though he did say, he might gently tell them to not add so much salt and pepper…but they are doing a great job, otherwise). He praised God for a covered porch of a man who allows him to sleep there, in exchange for taking out the trash and helping with odd jobs every once in a while.
When I asked Bob what his happiest memory in life was, he stared off for a second, looked back at me and softly said, “Anytime with my mom and dad.” Break. My. Heart. :/ I asked him what he wanted most in life, and he said, “At one point, I thought maybe I’d have a family…but it just didn’t work out that way.” He has never been married, never had any kids of his own. He said, if he won the lottery, “I’d give all I could to the homeless, an apartment, and enough money to get on their feet.”
The same man who talked about the cost of batteries (because the cheap ones only last a day or so in his flashlight), declined our offer to buy him dinner. So humble. The same man who wishes he had a warm shower, declined our offer to give him a ride 10 blocks away to the soup kitchen where he has his daily dinner. He said, “No offense, because you have a car, I mean, but walking is what keeps me healthy. I don’t mind it.” So, so humble.
I asked Bob if he knew Jesus as his Savior. Without hesitation, and an absolute joy in his eyes, he said, “Oh, yes! He’s taken care of me all of these years! He always takes good care of me.” Then he paused and his eyes welled up with tears. He said, “It gets tough sometimes, but I know He’s always with me.”
The world would say Bob has little reason to find hope in life. The world would say he has nothing, but a backpack filled with junk. I reminded Bob that he has everything that will ever matter in life, more than the richest man in the biggest beach mansion. Bob has a personal relationship with the God who created him. I assured him, that if I don’t see him again this side of Heaven, I’ll certainly see him there. We hugged (I didn’t think twice about any snot this time), and he was on his way to his nightly dinner at the soup kitchen.
While I had the intention to do headshots for these stories, Bob said he, “doesn’t much care for having my picture taken.” He did agree to allow me to photograph him without showing his face. The eyes truly are the window the the soul. How I wish you could see his kind, gentle spirtit, the pain and hurt, the hope in the light green eyes of the sweetly broken Bob. His hope lives on through you and me. It is now up to you what you will do to be the hands and feet of Jesus to help serve the least among us.
Please say a prayer for Bob. Please pray what you can do to help the homeless situation in your community. Pray for me, as God uses the lens of my camera to share stories of hope.
“Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” – Corrie ten Boom