OFF THE WALL
by Carlo Raponi
I

am the evangelism outreach director at “The Bridge,” a youth drop-in center in downtown Peterborough, Ontario. This is the story of one of my Father’s daughters, my blindness, and an answered prayer—for both of us.

Last summer I began a new mural on
the back of the building that houses the center. I spent a lot of time trying to come up with cool and clever ideas to incorporate into the composition. My final sketch turned out to be four youths, each with a letter on their T-shirt. When viewed together, the letters form the word LOVE.

I’m not one for cheesy, feel-good bumper sticker sentimentality. I find it hollow and meaningless. However, to a group of young people who find themselves with an absence of love in their lives—and in light of a God who declares He is love—I thought it appropriate.

So, I began the process. I sketched a drawing, scanned it, and uploaded it to my computer. From the darkness of our parking lot, I projected the image onto the back wall from the hatchback of my Pontiac Vibe.

Deep into the night, I painted the projected lines. The work was exhausting— climbing up the ladder, painting, descend- ing, moving the ladder, and climbing back up again. Back and forth I went until the outlines were finished and I knew I could pack up for the evening.

I put away all the extension cords, paints, and projector. As I closed the hatchback of my car, I saw her. She was walking slowly down the opposite side of the street, looking at cars as they drove by to see if they would slow down. She was working.

A mixture of sadness and anger began to brew in me. I was sad because prostitution is a reality. I was angry because I felt powerless to change it. And I was upset because it was happening on my street— the street where I try to shelter the youth who attend The Bridge from the evils of the world.

I approached her.

“Are you waiting for someone?” I asked.

“No. Are you?”

“Look, I run this youth center and I need to take care of these kids. I’m going to ask you to move down the street.”

With a glance she replied, “Sure,” then walked slowly down the street and into the dark.

I did my job. I protected our youth . . . I protected our street . . . then I drove home and wept.

She sells herself. But that’s not why I wept. I wept because I treated her like a problem—like something dirty. I never asked her what her name was. How ironic that it happened on the very evening I was painting LOVE on the side of our building.

The next day, I spoke to a group of high-school students about my encounter the night before. I told them that Christ calls us to be different from the rest of the world, to see people as God’s children, and therefore as our brothers and sisters. I told them I had been a horrible brother and that I was sorry. Further, I promised that if God would give me the chance, I would make it right.

A week later, I began filling in the lines I had painted, this time in the afternoon sun. I climbed my ladder, painted, descended, moved the ladder, and climbed back up again. When I was finished, I packed up my paints, locked the building, and walked out to my car.

There she was, walking down the street.

My stomach turned inside out—I was nervous and scared. I told myself there would be a later, more opportune time. Maybe she would be embarrassed. I know I would be. But I remembered my promise to God, and I was intent on keeping it.

“Hi! I met you last week,” I began.

“Yeah, I remember you,” she answered.

“Hey, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.”

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.”

“I know, but I don’t think I treated you very well. I never introduced myself. I never asked your name. When I left, I felt like an idiot.”

Awkwardly I raised my paint-stained hand. “I’m Carlo. Sorry for the paint on my hands.”

“Hi! I’m Joanne,” she replied.

We shook hands and smiled.

“Joanne, if you ever need anything—to use the washroom or get a drink of water on a hot day—I’d love it if you felt free to come into the youth center for whatever you need.”

Her lip began to tremble and a tear fell from her eye. “That really means a lot to me . . . that really means a lot. . . .”

We talked some more and then left with the promise that we would say hi whenever we saw each other. She continued walking down the street. I got into my car and drove home with tears in my eyes again. This time, though, they were tears of gratitude that God let me see Joanne again to make things right. My prayer now is that she and I will become friends . . . and Joanne will come to know she is my “sister” and God is “Dad” to both of us.