Inner City Diary
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Willi's life: balancing passion with grace...
October 26, 2003
Interviews can be tough.

I know because of Iíve interviewed lots of folks looking for jobs or housing. Unfortunately, in many cases my shortage of opportunities exceeded their needs or qualifications. But the whole process reminds me of the interview for my job.

It was with a guy named Willi, a pastor here in the West End. Along with a few individuals from other churches, he believed that more could be done for this community than was being accomplished by their congregations.

They lobbied groups, committees, and churches. They personally solicited donations and created the will to start some form of community outreach. Now all they needed was someone to deliver their vision.

He had already read my resume. But I remember feeling somewhat guilty as I reviewed it with him. Itís not that I lied. I really did spend seven years in school. I earned a Masterís degree and was already an ordained minister. But, when writing a resume, one tends to accentuate the positive and suppress the negative.

Our conversations and interview followed the same pattern. He and I both tried to put our best foot forward. I ended up getting the job. I had presented the best possible picture of my personal experience and professional qualifications for this job.

Still, not everyone agreed that I was the right person for the job. And, after one year of seemingly unfruitful labour, they felt justified in their assessment. Naysayers suggested that perhaps it was time to pull the plug on the project. Some of them talked quite directly. ďI knew you were too young for this job.Ē ďIt sure is tough working with you on committees.Ē ďDo you really know what youíre doing?Ē

I was scared how they might react if I answered honestly. But Willi encouraged me to be up front about how I was feeling. I told them I was scared they would fire me if they knew how unconfident and disorganized I felt. I apologized for not being more open with them. Once the words were out, I felt relieved. But I also expected that my time in Winnipeg was up and Iíd be told to move on.

I was particularly worried about Willi. He interviewed me at the beginning of the process. He pushed for me to be given a chance. Now, one year later, I was worried he may have changed his mind.

His particular passion and daunting drive amplified my sense that I had personally disappointed him and many others. It wasnít that he tried to be intimidating or demanding. He just wanted to make sure that if someone agreed to a principle or took a job that they would give it their best.

After that moment of confession, Willi looked at me and did the last thing I expected. He encouraged me to stay and try harder to develop what had been entrusted to me.

That was almost twenty years ago. Lots has changed. Weíve actually begun to see some of the fruit of our labour. Iím grateful they didnít fire me and Iím glad I didnít quit.

Willi moved on, serving in several churches here in Winnipeg. Then he settled in to work for almost ten years with Indian Life Ministries, coming to a deep appreciation for native culture and faith.

We lost contact with each other somewhere after that. He eventually moved to Toronto, working in a church which loved him and appreciated his passion for the people around him. Last weekend, his church hosted a celebration of his thirty years in ministry.

Then, at noon this past Wednesday, Willi passed away quietly at his home, 63 years of age. For the last two years he struggled with terminal cancer. In the midst of his illness he exhibited the quiet strength and confidence of a person who understands that he had nothing more to prove.

He will be missed by many who looked at him not as a dying man, but as someone who had increasingly more to offer those around him.

A friend and coworker commented, ďWilli lived his life well and enjoyed many good years of ministry, but he was only 63 years old. I think all of us would have enjoyed many more years together.Ē

Williís passion and drive had a significant impact on my life. In the end, however, I remember his grace. It grew stronger and deeper with age. But, even 20 years ago, it gave me a chance to keep trying.
Copyright 2003
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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514 Maryland Street
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(204) 775-4929

lehotsky@escape.ca