A journey began in a cardboard box.
It ended at heaven's gate.
For Cleveland, it was just the humblest of beginnings.
And it started with cardboard. What we usually throw away, Cleveland saved.
He valued that cardboard because it helped stop the cold wind. He would place cardboard over steam grates, seeking a little warmth, privacy, and perhaps even some security.
I thought I knew all about cardboard. At Gifted Hands, we use it in many of our arts and craft sessions. But that was before I met Cleveland nearly 25 years ago. You see, Cleveland lived in a cardboard box. He called it his ‘cardboard condo’. “Don’t get too big a box,” he told me. “Get one that’s real snug; it’ll hold your body heat just right.”
But it was still cardboard. Stuff we usually throw away. An item prized by people who find themselves at the bottom of today’s inner city residents – today’s “throwaway people.”
Cleveland found his way into one of our classes many years ago. We opened our arms wide to him, without question or judgement. You could see the desperation in his eyes and the enormous need for a caring touch. Sitting at our table, drawing a picture or assembling a simple trinket, Cleveland allowed the warmth of our friendship and the love of Jesus Christ to gradually penetrate his lonely shell.
Over a period of just a few weeks that casual friendship evolved into a nurturing relationship. Much of the foundation of faith in Cleveland’s upbringing began to manifest itself as well and we learned that Cleveland had a unique gift of singing which had long been forgotten during his time in homelessness.
It wasn’t long before we found him a place to live as he found a place of ministry in our church choir. It was during this time that I was asked if we might have someone who had an ability to sing and share a testimony at a large church conference in Orlando, Florida.
That was easy. Cleveland not only had an amazing voice but he also had a comparable testimony. And what an experience it was! For me, it was a memory of a lifetime – watching my special friend, a former resident of a “cardboard box”, singing “I’m Clean” to a conference of 2,500 people with a full orchestra and a 200-choir member backup!
But that was just a part of a 25-year journey with my friend. Cleveland married a lovely lady in his church, became a mentor to other men, and was lovingly known as “the singing Deacon.”
But God had other plans. Recently, a sudden illness was the initial impetus for Cleveland’s heavenly calling. His funeral was a celebration of a life changed and anointed for ministry. My husband spoke at his funeral and cited a segment from “I’m Clean”, the song that embodied Cleveland’s testimony:
I may not be where I need to be,
But praise God, I’m not where I used to be.
Now we thank God that Cleveland is where He wants to be!
Sociologists would have called him one of “the disenfranchised.” Society would have called him “homeless” or even “lost.” At best, he would have been termed “marginalized.” However, at Gifted Hands we called Cleveland “our own.” Sometimes people like Cleveland live on the streets. Often they’re in shelters or HIV/AIDS hospices or senior citizen centers.
But wherever they are, at Gifted Hands we find that gestures of love can be the catalysts for helping people find new self-esteem, hope for the future and yes, a new life in Christ. It often begins with a simple craft, maybe a drawing or a small pendant. However, that initial encounter of creativity leads to new friendships and renewed self-esteem. A “throwaway life” becomes something meaningful with a purpose.
You can help us bring a loving relationship to many more men and women like Cleveland:
•A gift of $100 could provide art materials for a full week of the Gifted Hand's after-school program. •A gift of $250 could provide mentoring, jewelry design supplies, and business start-up expenses for a woman graduating from our job-training program. •A gift of $1,000 could sponsor the expense of providing classes to one group of HIV/AIDS patients for three months.
Cleveland is a beautiful example of the miracle of a life changed through the power of the love and healing that only Jesus Christ provides. And it occurs when caring friends like you reach out in compassion. That journey with Cleveland started 25 years ago. But new encounters, new friendships, new beginnings on life’s journey are starting every day at Gifted Hands. Your support makes it happen.
We can make a difference – one life at a time.
For online donations, starting at 8:00 AM (EST) on “Giving Tuesday,” Nov. 27, until 11:59 PM, (EST) Nov. 30, your donation will be matched up to $1,000. Checks mailed and postmarked through Nov. 30 will also be matched. This is your opportunity to double your gift, one that makes an eternal difference! Thank you helping make “New Beginnings.”
Or mail your gift to: GIFTED HANDS, 430 East 66th Street, #B, New York, NY 10065
Dustee Hullinger, Director