Sunday, January 11, 2009

JESUSAVESOULS - behind the sign

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Three weeks ago I was on assignment at an event called "Pray Lubbock" where pastors from the area gathered in a window-filled room on one of the highest floors in the highest buildings in town to pray for the city of Lubbock. After the hour of prayers I chatted with some of the participants to learn of any interesting people about whom I could possibly do a story for the Christmas/Holiday season. One name that came up was Johnny Landrum - "the man who gave away all his possessions and stands on the corner of 66th and University praising the Lord."

What interested me about this story right away was that, here were these credible pastors who knew not only his name but a bit of his life's story. And they didn't call him crazy, but they seemed to be admiring him.

That same afternoon I stopped by Johnny's corner and chatted w/ him for a few minutes. I'm pretty sure he thought I was the crazy one - wanting to learn more about what his days are like and what drives him to stand on the corner six days a week - but he was very welcoming and when I asked to visit his home the next morning he agreed.

That next morning I rolled out of bed at 4:45 AM, said goodbye to my wife, and was at Johnny's house by about 5:30 AM. To my surprise, the front door was open - only a glass door kept out the cold morning air. The father of the home greeted my knocks and welcomed me into his home as he went off to work - Johnny had told him I was coming. Johnny met me with a big smile - I imagine half surprised I actually showed up. That day I didn't do any photographing - I was purely along to observe the kind of life Johnny led.

He was very cheery for 5:30 in the morning. He bundled in many layers and covered his face to confront the frigid cold that awaited him. If you remember, the days before Christmas were VERY cold - another reason why I was so intrigued why he would still stand out on the corner in such extreme weather. He asked me several times if I wanted to borrow any of his clothes so I wouldn't get cold.

By 5:50 AM we were out the door and by 6:00 AM Johnny was on the corner, holding his sign and praising the Lord.

I hung out with him for nearly an hour in the morning, and then I returned in the afternoon for another hour, and again at 5:45 PM. I had repeatedly seen people stop to talk with Johnny, or share food or coffee or water. Some even donated money. I asked Johnny what he did with everything he was given. He explained how he felt the Lord gave him things so he could then share it with others who were in need. As we walked to his home at the end of the day he even asked me, "If I ask you a sincere question, will you tell me the truth?" I replied I would. He then responded, "How are you and your wife financially, could you use any help?" As he asked me I could see him reaching for the money he had been donated earlier in the day. I smiled and replied we were doing just fine.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect after my first day of observing, but I was impressed. To me, he seemed very sincere. He was open about his history and how, in his words, he had previously sought worldly things over Godly things - how he was a marine - how he was married, etc.

I was also surprised at how many people stopped to talk with him on the corner - even as he wore a ski mask and was bundled up in so many layers. I soon realized the angle I wanted to work my story - the lives that Johnny touched while holding his sign.

The next day was similar to the first, only this time I was documenting him with audio and photographs. There was one moment that I will never forget.

It was in the afternoon; a woman walked up to Johnny and it was clear she was depressed. The conversation between them was short, but very powerful (it can be heard in the video below):
- Johnny: "God bless you, sister. You doin' alright?"
- Woman: "Not really."
- Johnny: "Need some help? Need some help? Here you go." Johnny then reached in his pocket, and without saying anything else he hands her his money. She then begins to cry and together they sing "Jesus Loves Me." As the woman walks away I asked her a few questions (also can be heard in the below video). I asked her what brought her to visit Johnny. She explained how she has been going through some rough times, how she doesn't have any income and how someone/something had told her to visit the man on the corner. She said she was afraid because she didn't know what to say, but that she heard the Lord tell her - don't worry, he won't ask you anything.

This was a powerful moment to experience firsthand. I went back to Johnny to share what she had told me and he simply replied that he felt in his heart she was deserving and that the Lord wanted her to receive the money he had.

I typically don't share my photography experiences in so much depth, but this one wasn't exactly an everyday experience. I wanted to share it with those who cared to read more.
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View the audio slideshow of Johnny's story below:

Johnny messenger from geoffrey mcallister on Vimeo.
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Also - read Jeremy Henderson's story: Johnny Landrum takes God's word to the street