Wolf is dead. My good friend is dead. His violent and turbulent life ended peacefully this week.
The first part of Wolf’s story is one of darkness and violence. He was a Hell’s Angel and wielded terrible power over those around him. His life was a kaleidoscope of guns, sex, drugs and the occult. He was a violent and selfish man. It was here that Steven Johnson became “Wolf.” His nickname was appropriate, for all his life he would be aggressive and never well-mannered.
His life of violence made him many enemies. One night, he knew that men were coming to kill him. He turned his home into a fortress, and armed himself for a last stand. He feared death. But he would not die that night. That night he would find True Life. He accidentally turned on the TV. The channel was TBN, and the preacher pointed to him and said he needed Jesus to forgive his sins.
Then he saw a light from heaven and he audibly heard the voice of God. He felt a warmth that started in his belly and radiated thorough his body even to the tips of his fingers. His eyes became as fountains, and he wept so that his long beard was soaked with tears. That moment, he walked out of the house, literally leaving his old life and its problems behind him.
He quickly became a powerful man of God. Upon acquiring a King James Bible, he went to a coffee shop and read through it cover to cover in a few days, barely sleeping. And from that moment on, he would live such a life of adventure as to make any hero seem a coward.
He once had a gun bag that he’d fill with many pounds of tracts and Bibles. He would fast for days on end until he had distributed them all. The police once warned him that the particular neighborhood he was in was extremely dangerous for white people; he said he didn’t care and entered anyways. His entrance attracted the local gangs to come and threaten him. But he preached the Gospel to them, and not a few were convicted of their sins and prayed for forgiveness
There were many other stories of exorcisms, poltergeists, and mighty acts of the Spirit. He took jobs in logging, construction, body-guarding and other equally manly vocations.
Later, he led a home for adolescent boys with problems. To hear of his love for those kids was heart-warming. He really cared for those who were so much like him: aggressive, angry and energetic with no positive outlet. He gave them an outlet. He taught them exercise and martial arts. He directed their anger at their own sin and Satan, and their energy to good works.
But one day, he brought a black boy into the church, and this went against the deepest, darkest racist sentiments of the church leaders. It became such an issue (tact was never one of Wolf’s talents), he was fired from his live-in position and so also evicted. He vowed then that, though his belief in Christ was firm, he would never set foot in a church again. After this, he was hit by a Cadillac Escalade, permanently injuring his back and afflicting him with great pain from which he would not have a reprieve for the rest of his life.
He became homeless. His lost job, his injury, and the depression that ensued kept him on the street. The harsh conditions of the street aggravated his difficulty breathing (COPD), the result of a lifetime of smoking. Soon, the street became his home. Abandoned by his church family, and still estranged from his natural family because of his early life, his family became the homeless of his home town: Westwood. Alienated from the rest of the world, his social circle was limited to others who had (or would have) mental problems. He struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Then something incredible happened. He began praying for a church. And then one opened literally across the street from where he slept every night. Shoreline Community Church, after a series of moves, had settled on the Broxton theater. And Shoreline had a heart to reach West LA. All of it. The poor along with the rich. And so people from the church began to befriend Wolf.
He became a part of our family. He went on our family outings (including our men’s retreat and our church picnics). He slept on our couches on particularly cold and rainy nights. We bought him food, and (embarrassingly) he bought us food. He once insisted (and believe me, it’s hard to dissuade him from a thing once he sets his mind on it) on buying food for a barbeque. I’ll never forget what he said that day, with more than a dozen of us gathered to eat steak the homeless man purchased for us with his EBT (food stamps). Someone asked him what he liked with his steak. He replied heartily, “More steak!” He encouraged us and we encouraged him.
Who was Wolf to me? He was one of my good friends the last two years of college. My first conversations with him were simply out of duty. I ought to lower myself to talk with him; I ought to condescend to the poor sinner (He was a sinner, after all; he had a bad mouth; and he drank alcohol). I did not then consider that he may be closer to God than I was.
I am clean person outwardly; a friend (slightly drunk) once addressed me as, “David Carreon! The F***ing Messiah!” And this foul-mouthed, irreverent, racist homeless man taught me, a test-acing, bright-futured, spotless goodie-two-shoes. Truly, I learned many important lessons through God’s servant Wolf.
He inspired me to courage. I may not risk my life as he had, but I certainly could risk my reputation. I may not have the spiritual strength to cast out demons, but I could contend for my faith. Before I knew Wolf, I considered myself among the bravest of spiritual men. He showed me just how far I have to go.
He challenged me to spiritual discipline. This man prayed for me every night from under a pile of cardboard. He read his Bible every day though he was driven from every table he ever limped to. And what did I do? I didn’t even read my Bible 15 minutes on an oaken table in a warm room. And I didn’t pray for him. And he was the one that was needy. Or was he?
He taught me humility. How could I complain about anything when I had a bed? I helped him construct his home of cardboard behind the CitiBank in Westwood a few times. I felt the looks of scorn and the people crossing to avoid coming within ten feet of he and I. I shared in a drop of his tribulation.
He taught me faith. Through the cold of the street, the pain of his back, and an illness which left him often gasping for breath, he struggled with depression. But never would he forget his savior; he never lost the hope of glory. His strength to continue living wavered at times, but his faith never did. He was assured of his salvation, and now stands before the One in whom he trusted.
“Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I always thought Jesus was talking about me, a spiritually humble person. I thought, “Mine is the Kingdom of Heaven.” But I think this better applies to Wolf than to me. He was poor. He was blessed. And now, his is the Kingdom of Heaven.