Tag Archives: Hugh Hollowell

A Social Justice Story

This post is part of the October Synchroblog: What is social justice?  I’ll add a list of all the other contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

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“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” -Cesar Chavez

Social justice is difficult to define. I heard someone say that there have been whole books written about social justice which never offer a concise definition. And so you can easily understand why I feel inadequate to offer up a definition. However, I am compelled to share a story with you that I believe has the definition of social justice written between it’s lines.

This story is true and it was written by my friend Hugh Hollowell who leads a ministry called Love Wins. Hugh is a perfect example of what it looks like to work for and practice social justice.  He inspired me to become a person who is aware of injustices in the world and to be brave enough to fight against injustices in word and deed.

She Call Me Bobby by Hugh Hollowell  

Several folks have wanted me to talk about what I do day-to-day.

“I don’t get it,” one correspondent said, “You just talk to the homeless? About what?”

Well, I do more than just talk to folks who are experiencing homelessness, but that is a big part of what I do. I want to show you how one such conversation went down just this morning.

Note: The way we talk, the choice of words we use, all of that is part of our story and part of who we are. Life on the streets is not pretty and it is not polite. Many in my position clean up the language when reporting what is said, but I have chosen to leave it.

*****

I was on my way to use the Internet at Morning Times (a coffee shop and, most days, my office) when I saw a gang of folks I know over by Betty’s van. I stroll over. The mood is solemn.

“Hey guys,” I said, “What’s going on?”

Everyone murmurs and shuffles, looking at the ground. I notice that one older guy everyone calls Slim was sullen and weeping.

“Slim,” I said, “How’s it going?”

“Bad,” he says. “I went to give plasma this morning like I always do on Fridays. This time, they wouldn’t give me any money. Instead, they told me I’m HIV positive.”

HIV. For most Americans it no longer means what it once did. However, these folks know that, if they get it, they probably won’t have access to the life-giving drug cocktails and cutting edge treatments. They all know someone who has died as a result of being positive.

For them, HIV spells death.

Having already heard this story, the crowd begins to melt away. I’m uncertain if it’s out of a desire to give us some privacy or a desire to get out of the cold– in any event, it was welcome.

I have known Slim for about two and a half months. I have helped several of his friends with job applications and have let them use my computer to check their email for messages from family. He knows me to say hi, but he has never really opened up to me. He is much older than most of the street folks, perhaps 50 or so. He told me once in conversation he had been homeless for seven years.

“They tested me, like they always do,” he begins to explain. “They test you every time. They wanted me to sign a paper saying I had HIV, but I ain’t signing shit.”

After several minutes of conversation, I managed to extract the following details.

That morning, Slim went to sell plasma. Many who are currently homeless do this as it is the only thing many of them have to sell. You lay on a cot and stare at the wall while they insert a needle in your arm. After they take blood from your body and extract the plasma, they put the blood back in you. They sell the plasma to the various bio-med places for research and pay you $20 – $35 and you can expect it to take about two hours. If you are a regular donor, they pay bonuses and an extra $5 every third visit, they say.

The routine tests on his blood for HIV showed positive. He was told he had to sign a statement saying he knew he was HIV positive. He refused and left – he later reveals that reading is not something he does well, so he has a fear of signing anything. Understandably, he was in shock by the time I heard this story, so the finer details were a bit harder to nail down. As near as I can tell, he had no second test and no referral to any health care options.

“You need to go to the Health Department,” I said. “You need to know for sure.”

Slim is crying. “It’s Christmas, man. I don’t need this.”

It goes like this for about 10 minutes, when I realize that Slim doesn’t have the two dollars for the bus to go out to the Health Department. I assure him I can spare $2.

“Will you walk with me to the bus station?” he asks.

“Be glad to.”

We begin to walk toward Moore Square Station, the central hub for the transit system here in Raleigh. Slim is beginning to calm down. He has the two dollars that I gave him clutched in a death grip in his hand.

“You are a nice man,” Slim says. “I know you help Sam and Julia out with clothes and help them, let them use your phone. I tell everyone what a nice man you are. I would ask to borrow your phone, but I got no one to call.”

“No one?” I said.

“Well, I got a Mom, but I haven’t talked to her in four years. I want to call her, but I’m scared. I’m afraid she don’t want nothing to do with me anymore. I done bad things.”

We talk about his Mom for a bit. It turns out she lives in Maryland and the family has endured one too many broken promises, so they no longer talk. I urge him to call because four years is a long time. He promises to think about it.

“You’re a nice man. Why you so nice? I mean, you help us out, you talk to us… I ain’t nothing, man. My own Momma don’t want to talk to me, you don’t even know me and you help me. Why you doing this?”

I hesitate. I know folks who would see this as an opportunity to swoop in, tract in hand, tell them about how Jesus will solve all their problems, fix everything. I try to imagine what Jesus would say.

“I care about you guys when it makes no sense to, because Jesus loved me when it made no sense for him to,” I tell Slim.

He perks up, looks at me from the side of his eyes.

“Jesus?” he said.

“Yup. Jesus,” I said.

I think I have lost him now. He surprises me.

“I know Jesus loves me – my momma told me,” he said. “But that Jesus, he is a motherfucker.”

I have no idea what to say to that.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Oh yeah. The thing about Jesus is, he don’t cut you no slack. Jesus is hard.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

We’re at the blue section of the transit station, waiting on the bus. The air is cold on my ears, the turbulence from the exhaust fumes pressing my jeans against my ankles. The two dollars has managed to disappear. After a lengthy search they turn up in a coat pocket.

“Thank you for doing this,” he said. “I don’t want to die from HIV.”

“Well,” I said, “we are not even sure you have HIV. The first step is to find out for sure.”

We agree to meet up this afternoon in Moore Square about dark so he can let me know what the verdict is. While we are working out the details, the bus pulls up and the doors open, a line of patient commuters waiting to board.

It’s one of those moments – they happen sometimes – when I think God tells me just the right thing to say.

“Slim,” I said. “What does your momma call you?”

He smiled, remembering. “Bobby. She call me Bobby.”

“OK, Bobby,” I said. “I will see you tonight.”

He laughs that I use his name. “Do you think Jesus cares I have HIV?” he asked.

“If you have HIV, then Jesus would be heartbroken,” I said.

“You gonna pray for me, aren’t you?” he asked.

I assure him I will. The breath is almost knocked out of me as he tackles me in a spontaneous bear hug, tears running down his face.

“If it is OK, I gonna pray for you too,” he said into my coat.

Then he turns, embarrassed at the sudden emotion and steps onto the bus.

As he waves to me from his seat two thirds of the way back, the bus pulls away, the exhaust kicking up leaves that swirl around my feet as both our tears dry on my coat.

If you want to know more about Hugh and Love Wins and how to get involved and help go here.

Check out the rest of these posts about Social Justice:

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The Answer Is In The Story

On any given day there is plenty of negative buzz around the internet about the emerging/emergent conversation.  It is accused of being heretical, a fad, a perversion of the gospel, New Age, a disappointment, false teaching and dead.  Some participants have even decided to drop the label completely – and that’s okay as the label seems to have a lot more meaning to those outside of the conversation than to the participants.

I still identify with the label and so I find myself being asked a lot of questions.  “What is it?”  “Why am I attracted to it?”  “Is it distorting the truth?”  “What difference is it making?”  “What do the participants believe?”  “Does it line up with scripture?”  and many other questions that are difficult (if not impossible) to answer in relation to the conversation.

Sometimes I try to answer by explaining that embracing doubt and uncertainty doesn’t mean that I don’t have beliefs or don’t live out my beliefs with conviction, sometimes I make the point that what scripture says is pretty clear but, on the other hand, what it means isn’t so black and white, sometimes I state that unity shouldn’t be dependent upon conformity and that making relationships and community the main thing IS right doctrine.

Sometimes I share how the conversation has helped me sustain my faith, learn how to believe in a way that builds bridges instead of barriers and become teachable once again.  How it’s given me a safe place to express myself, ponder my doubts and beliefs; permission to change my mind and to be wrong without shame or guilt; and beautiful, diverse, authentic friendships that are able to survive our differences with grace and love.

Today I am here to answer questions about the emerging/emergent conversation in a different way.  Today I want to share someone’s story as the answer to the questions.  I don’t know if the person in the story identifies with the label – just that we connected through the conversation.  I don’t know what this person believes about the trinity, the virgin birth, heaven or hell – just that he believes in loving others in the way of Jesus and he believes it enough to do something about it.

Today I am here to answer questions about the emerging/emergent conversation with a story  because

“the answer is in the story and the story is unfolding”

Pádraig Ó Tuama

Dear Friends,

After the recent article about us in the local paper, I have been asked dozens of times just what we do, exactly.

We feed people. But we aren’t a feeding ministry. And while we do help people get jobs, we aren’t a job training program. Almost 50 times since Christmas we have gotten work shoes for folks. But we aren’t a clothing ministry. And in a few weeks, we will be celebrating the 4thof July in the park with our friends who live outside – but that isn’t what we do.

At any given moment, we may be doing any or all of those things. But we are primarily a ministry of presence.

Being homeless means having no one to listen to you when you hurt, no one to share your dreams with, and no one to celebrate with when good things happen. And no one to stand beside you when you are scared.

Which is why, several weeks ago, I was in the doctor’s office, sitting next to my friend Sarah, holding her hand as we wait to hear the bad news. She had recently had her first annual exam in 16 years. (When you are struggling to survive, sometimes you let things like that slide.) And when she had called for the results, they refused to give them to her over the phone. This is never good.

Her sponsor in NA died of cervical cancer, so she was scared to death of going to that doctor’s office by herself to hear the news. So there I was, looking very out of place as she and the doctor talk about cervixes and ovaries and so on. And when he told her it looked like cancer, I was the guy who held her as she cried. And prayed with her in the parking lot.

Today she got the results back from the specialist. It is cancer of the cervix, and in a few weeks she is going in for an operation. So it was only natural that she called me and some of our volunteers to let us know. And when they wheel her back in the hospital room after cutting on her, it will be our faces she will see when she wakes up.

What do we do? We are present. Often our being present doesn’t change things – she is going to have surgery if we are there or not. But now, she won’t be alone. And that is not a small thing at all.

Love Wins. Always.

Hugh Hollowell



The only reason Hugh was able to be in that doctor’s office next to Sarah was because of financial contributions that pay his salary. And, it is financial contributions that will buy the flowers in her room when she comes out of recovery. If you don’t currently support Love Wins but want to be part of this story, you can find out more about that here. They really need people who are willing to commit to ongoing monthly contributions, so they can budget.