Betina believes she is the Statue of Liberty. She often comes into Joe’s holding a rolled up newspaper over her head and talking about her boss, President Obama. She talks of her job with the Secret Service, how important she is to our government and how much money she gets paid to be the Statue of Liberty. Other days Betina believes that she is Pamela Anderson and talks about how abusive Tommy Lee has been to her. Other times she is Michelle Pfiefer and is soon to embark upon a professional career as a singer. Needless to say, conversations with Betina are always surprising and often humorous.
Betina is a regular feature in the Joe’s Community. Her story is that many years ago a live-in boyfriend beat her head in with a hammer. The result is a broken woman who is usually disconnected from reality and has since been used and abused by many men who take advantage of her mental condition.
By late morning, the heat in Betina’s trailer has become too much to bear and she makes her way to Joe’s to enjoy our air conditioning, free meals and iced water. We take care of her. We make sure she’s eating, we listen to her mutterings and try to calm her when her delusions become loud, cussing tirades—ironically these tirades often are about the “immigrants that are destroying our country” (Lady Liberty, you’re supposed to welcome the immigrants!).
One of the more frustrating elements of ministry at Joe’s is the complexity of the roots of problems. More than your average congregants who have their family background and personal emotional woundings for baggage, we daily encounter these plus the worldview and value system that is inherent to generational poverty. Add to these the ingredients of drug addiction and mental illness, and otherwise simple needs become recipes for extreme frustration to a minister. We struggle to know whether to hope for improvement or simply to recognize one another as family and love each other IN the condition some are.
When Betina began hanging out at Joe’s, some of our regulars—some of our ministers!—were afraid of her. Frankly, she can be more than a handful and her occasional outbursts are fraught with a mixture of who knows what percentages of chemical imbalance and demonic activity. The look in her eye sometimes makes your hair stand on end. But she would not let us come near to her or pray for her directly.
Over the last year, the regulars at Joe’s have become accustomed to Betina just wandering around the shop, muttering her rants, and some of them have even become helpful at calming her when she’s overwrought. Little by little, she has warmed to our smiles. As I pass her, I ask if she’s doing okay, and she usually mutters that she’s fine. She occasionally joins our Midday Prayer and even let’s some of us hug her during the Passing of the Peace. Sometimes she stands right next to us, looking over our shoulder—wanting to be near, but not wanting to be acknowledged. A lot of the time, she is just there, kind of like the comfy armchair—she’s a feature of the shop.
A few weeks ago, I had a difficult conversation with one of our homeless men. He had come to Joe’s in a drunken stupor more than a few times, each time being more and more potentially dangerous to others in the community. I had to announce to him that we were restricting him from coming to Joe’s until he gets into a rehab treatment program. I told him we would help him, but that we can’t let him endanger the other regulars. He was angry and said some mean and hurtful things to me. I cried. I knew the things he was saying were borne out of his own pain, but I could not help but be hurt by his hateful comments—as we have been loving on him for over a year now. After he left, several of the other regulars spoke kind words to me, comforted me and assured me that I was doing the right thing. Then the afternoon continued as normal, serving coffee, making meals, cleaning up messes, etc.
About a half an hour later, I was sitting at a table working on my laptop computer, when Betina piped up from over on the couch by the front window. She said, “Jamie, are you doin’ okay?”
She knew my name!! She was looking directly at me, eyes clear and filled with concern—checking on me! She had seen the whole scenario with my alcoholic friend. She’d seen my tears—and she was concerned about me!
I told her, “Yes, Tina. I’m doing okay,” then asked if she was alright. She smiled and said, “Yep. My Liberty butt is doin’ just fine,” then turned her head and the distant look returned to her eyes. Just for a moment, she was there—and then she was gone. I live for these moments!
Yesterday, Betina came into Joe’s in the midst of one of her rants—but this time it was different. She was saying, “Take that cross down! It’s bothering me. I don’t want that cross there.” Immediately, Jim, volunteer for the morning and pastor-in-training, knew in his spirit that Tina was being tormented by a demon. He grabbed one of the other regulars, and they went into the kitchen to pray!
When they emerged, Betina was on the front sidewalk, pacing and ranting. With some fear and trepidation, Jim went out to check on her. Speaking directly at him, she said, “Satan is telling me to tell you to shut up! You must stop what you are doing here. He is angry about it. He says you have to stop! You have to shut up!”
Jim took Betina’s hand (she did not resist), and he began to pray for her. He rebuked the demon and prayed God’s peace over her. When he finished, Betina said, “You mean I don’t have to listen to him?” Jim told her, “No. You don’t have to listen to him!” She gushed—”Thank you! Thank you for praying for me!”
The complexities continue, as the roots of the conflicts are many, but for Betina—a new day has dawned. A day of standing up to the thief who, as Jesus said, has been stealing, killing and destroying her LIFE!