Saturday, July 18, 2020

One of the Best

I moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana in the summer of 2001. I had just graduated college, and was reluctantly following my boyfriend to a state and town I had no desire to live in, so we could try dating like what we thought were "real people," since we had been the long-distance thing for years. I got a job at a residential treatment facility for children. He was working in ministry doing a variety of things in the city's urban core. I volunteered for him, and for years we would grab 15 passenger vans, drive them into first one and then eventually two different low-income housing complexes. We'd pull up and kids would appear from everywhere and nowhere, climbing into the vans, pleading with us that even though this was supposed to be a program for kids 12 and over, they needed to bring their little brothers or sisters with them or they couldn't go. Routinely, there were more than 15 kids in my van, and while I tried to make sure there were seat belts for all, I am quite confident that somewhere in the back of that cavernous space, there were kids sitting on top of other kids, hiding under the seats, and generally jamming in so they could go too. We'd drive over to Anthony Blvd, and pull up to this big old Lutheran church. The kids would pile out, to be greeted by Elvis Netterville with a big smile.

Elvis ran Christian Urban Ministries and had an office in the basement of that church. I don't know how the partnership with his work and the work of Eric's ministry began, but there it was. We'd show up and Elvis would greet the kids, we'd do activities with them in the gym, and at some point, Elvis would disappear. At the end of the activities, the kids new to flood down to the basement cafeteria, where every week Elvis served these kids two slices of rectangular, elementary-school grade pizza. It tasted like cardboard and the kids loved it. They coated it with pepper and begged for more.

Elvis knew every one of those kids names. He kept up with them, knew their stories and their families. He loved on those kids like no one else. Eventually, Eric's ministry built a multi-ministry rec center, and Elvis moved his office there. We moved programming from the church to the ministry's headquarters building, and then eventually the gym in the rec center. At some point, van life ran its course and we stopped doing it - I don't remember why.

Eric and I got married, and Elvis was our biggest cheerleader. He was consistently positive, always wanted the best for us, and always told us how proud he was of the word we were doing. I never quite knew why - to me, it was obvious that our efforts were a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the oceans of love he had for people, for his tireless efforts to change lives.

In 2006, I moved from working at the residential treatment facility to a job in the courthouse. Our parking lot was several blocks away, across the from the jail and the misdemeanor court. I would see Elvis routinely, going to visit people locked up or attending court. He was consistent. People knew him and would greet him on the street. He always had a kind word and a prayer for anyone who wanted them. He believed in Jesus and he believed in people.

We moved out to to Colorado in 2012, and Elvis kept in touch with us by Facebook. He would comment on things we were doing, and we would comment on what he was up to. Offline, Eric and I would talk about Elvis - how we were always amazed that he just kept pressing forward, never gave up, was consistently kind, and how if we could be half the person he was, we'd call that a win.

Elvis passed away today at age 80. As of last month, he was still sending letters of encouragement to people experiencing incarceration.

We didn't know his family - we may have met them a couple of times at various events or fundraisers over the years, but we know how much Elvis loved them. We know how much they will miss him, because we know how much we will miss him, and that's only a fraction of what they must be feeling.

I went looking for photos, and though we spent countless days in those gyms, I can't find any photos with Elvis in them. I'm sure we have some somewhere, but I also know that of each one of the ones we do have, kids playing games, messing around, and a whole series of photos of people getting pies to the face (???), Elvis is there, just off camera. He was always there, always consistent.

Elvis, we respected you and loved you so much. We were proud for the opportunity to work beside you, and we are lucky to have learned from you. I can't help but cry at your passing, and at the same time, I have an imagine of Jesus running out to meet you. I'm sure it was a homecoming like no other, because I know that God is so excited to tell you how proud of YOU he is.

Well done, friend.

Stolen from Elvis's old website... this kids are all grown
now. We remember them, and I know Elvis never forgot a one.

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