By John Hall
Bobbie Bleer arrives early and sits at the corner of a table in a woman’s Sunday school class at First Baptist Church in Longview, Texas. She’s the only one at the table – just the way she likes it.
“I don’t much mess with people,” she says with a wry smile. It’s true. She doesn’t particularly like people in her business. She’s not big on frivolous conversation. But it’s not as true as it once was.
Last summer, “Miss Bobbie” didn’t know anyone in this class. For that matter, she hardly knew anyone in her apartment complex. Known as a cantankerous woman who previously lived on the streets for seven years, the feeling was mutual.
Curiosity got the best of her though when she heard about a Fit Life cooking class held at her complex by the Buckner Family Hope Center. Bobbie has several health issues, including osteoporosis and cirrhosis of the liver, and knows she needs to eat better.
She went to the first class and stayed on the periphery. That continued for a while. She participated, but didn’t interact with anyone. She made the food, took it home and ate it alone. Well, most of the time. “Some of that I just won’t eat,” she says, looking back.
Jane Ann Crowson, director of the Buckner Family Hope Center in Longview and teacher of the First Baptist Church women’s Sunday school class, laughs when she hears the words come out Bobbie’s mouth. That’s the person she remembers first meeting.
[caption id="attachment_9401" align="alignright" width="350"] Bobbie joined a Wednesday night Bible study and a Sunday School class taught by Jane Ann Crowson, director of the Buckner Family Hope Center in Longview, Texas.[/caption]
Jane Ann encountered Bobbie through free laundry days made possible by the Hope Center. It was the first time in years that Bobbie had washed her clothes and sheets in anything other than her apartment bathtub. While waiting for her laundry to finish, Jane Ann and Bobbie connected.
“I liked her from the get go,” Bobbie says.
Bobbie’s connection with Jane Ann led to other connections. She became friends with Hope Center volunteers and staff members, many of whom are members of First Baptist Church. They introduced her to other members of the church, and soon Bobbie started going to a Wednesday night Bible study. Then Sunday school.
Bobbie remained gruff, but not as solitary as she once was. She let people in her life. They have helped her. And she has helped them. The women are inspired by how she’s overcome a difficult life that included years of drug and alcohol addiction. Bobbie’s grateful for the many ways they’ve provided practical help for her.
“I’ve seen a softening in Bobbie,” Jane Ann says. “I’ve seen a transformation of the ladies in our class, in our Bible study because of Bobbie.”
In December, Bobbie was baptized at First Baptist Church by David Ummel, executive director of Buckner East Texas. She believes God still has plans for her life. That transformation is taking place in part because of the ministry of Buckner and First Baptist Church.
Bobbie gives back when she can, recently donating six boxes of food for those who may need it more than she does. She is going to volunteer during a backyard Bible club, sharing Bible stories with children.
[caption id="attachment_9402" align="alignright" width="300"] Courtney Barr, Bobbie's case coordinator with the Buckner Family Hope Center, gives her a hug before Sunday School starts.[/caption]
“Through the relationships with Jane Ann and Julie and with Buckner in general, she’s come out of her shell,” says Buckner Family Hope Center Case Manager Courtney Barr. “You can see Christ working in her life.” Her quality of life is improving. Deep joy resonates from her eyes.
With Buckner’s help, Bobbie’s recently found a better place to live. “I’ve been blessed,” she beams. “My blessings are starting to come in more now since I gave up everything. Except one thing – I still smoke cigarettes. But I’m working on that.”
Sunday school class members are starting to file in now. Bobbie is the first person each of them visits. Most of the interactions begin with a hug. Tucked away in those embraces, Bobbie smiles. She even hugs them back.
Jane Ann calls the class to order and begins teaching. Bobbie opens her Bible and pulls out a notepad and pen. She enthusiastically takes notes. About 10 minutes into the class, someone arrives late. They sit two chairs down from Bobbie. And that’s all right by her.
“To see where she has been and where she is now is just the biggest blessing to anyone who meets her, to anyone who comes in contact with her or hears her story,” Barr says. “She is the picture of what salvation is all about and transformation in God.”
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