They call him the "Godfather of Whiteclay." He chuckles when someone refers to him that way....but his eyes don't smile. He can probably think of a lot of other things he'd rather be called than the king of the streets in a place where the streets are dark even in daylight; the place where the Lakota have committed death by Budwieser for decades. I can usually smell him before I see him...and still I am happy to see him. If you look at him through eyes that don't see him as the gift he is, then he is torn and tattered and beyond saving. But look again. His spirit shines through. With human contact and the calling of his name...his spirit shines through. When he sees me he says "There she is!" and my spirit shines through. I love him like the Son loves me...fully, joyfully, even when my sin makes me stink too.
Eli is writing a book. You won't find it on Amazon, but you will see it laid bare chapter by chapter if you will just take a few minutes and speak to him.
This chapter is entitled "Hell in a Handbasket."
"Look at our young men!" he cries out in a rare moment of sobriety, pointing to the constant stream of the Seventh Generation coming and going at the liquor store across the street from the building that houses my new ministry. "They have no direction. No one to tell them go this way...don't go that way." He shakes his head and mumbles in Lakota. "I have been here for 28 years...longer than they have been alive. I would tell them don't come here...but they won't listen to me."
We talk about how the respect he has on the streets could be used to change the lives of these young men...but then we agree that the next time he gets clean and sober he needs to stay away from here. "Yeah, that's where I go wrong everytime," he admits. "I get sober and then I come here to help before I am well enough to do that." We nod our heads in unison and watch the stream across the way turn into a river. Someone needs to put a "Deadly Undertow" sign on its banks.
The last day I was on the reservation, Eli had a seizure on the front porch of our building and wrote a chapter called "All Is Grace." A woman from the tribe came in to tell me. She spoke with the same urgency that someone might have used to say they had found a pair of sunglasses in the parking lot. Someone else called 911 and I went out to Eli. By the time I got there he was coming out of it and his muscles were hurting badly from the spasms. He was shouting to God at the top of his lungs.
"Grandfather! Grandfather! You want me? Come and get me! Please come and get me! Why do you leave me here to suffer?" I held his hand and he just hung his head and whispered. "Grandfather. Grandfather. Grandfather." I found myself praying for God to save Eli from this place. He drank three bottles of water and quickly ate the sandwich we got for him. I went back inside to help someone who had stopped by and needed diapers, and came back to check on him. I heard him chuckle. "I can feel you coming. I know you are there before I see you," he said. Spirits shining through.
Once he had collected himself he began to talk to me of a Father's love. Not his earthly father...but Tunkashila...the God who created the man called Eli. The eternal Grandfather. "I sleep in that old abandoned house over there," he says. "I got nothing. But every morning when I open my eyes I say thank you my Father for another day. Thank you my Father for this gift. Today maybe I can help someone." He lowers his head and clasps his hands together. "Just like this...I say thank you my Father. And He takes me in his arms, brings me in the fold and says he has not forgotten me. And I say again...thank you my father."
And I say thank you, my friend. I think of you everyday. I pray for you everyday and I can feel you praying for me. And now I will ask you, dear reader, to dare to repeat Eli's words every morning yourself. "Thank you my Father for this gift of another day. Today maybe I can help someone."
Do that...And you will see The Spirit shining through...on the wings of Eli Bald Eagle.
To see a 2 minute video of Eli on my Facebook page...click here.