So many of you have prayed for and mourned/rejoiced with us at hearing the news that Sketch, aka: Ricky Boekelmann, has passed from this life to the next. This is the closest thing I can do as a memorial:
I know he grew up in the state of Tasmania until he was 17. That's when Sketch hit the streets. He got involved with drugs and criminals. Along that path he managed to kill a man and serve prison time for his crime. Jimmie Lynn & I met him about the second week that churchfreo, our church plant, began to meet at 408 South Terrace, a building located at South Beach in Fremantle.
Would you help me get off the streets?
Sketch was 34 years old when we met. He came among us and after about a month of worshipping in churchfreo he asked Del and me if we wanted to see his "squat," the place he lived. We accompanied him to an abandoned industrial area where he had a lodgepole between two trees with a tarp stretched over it. This hovel was carpeted with blankets, sleeping bags, and garbage. When he asked "Would you help me get off the streets?" we were stuck with Jesus' command, "Give to the one who asks you ...." By God's grace we were compelled to say "Yes!" and we did. We agreed to give him a season of two weeks of "haven" off the streets. After that it would be up to him.
We moved him into the cheapest accommodation in Freo, a hostel across the street from the building where our church meets. By God's grace, he got a job as a dishwasher in the restaurant on the other side of our building. The first time Sketch took Communion, I asked him about it, wondering if he was indeed, saved. He gave a testimony that humbled me in its simplicity and desperation. Soon, he asked for help getting a pair of quality shoes. He was working and therefore on his feet all day. By God's grace we were able to provide. Before long he worked himself out of the sinks and into the kitchen. During this time we had an arson attempt at our church building. By God's grace, Sketch put out the fire.
A hospital scare and a birthday surprise
About this time he had his first heart attack. A streetie gave me the news that he was in Fremantle hospital. He recovered but, with a less than promising future. He did "art lessons" for the Linkston children and took them fishing and crabbing with other streeties he knew and trusted. He embarrassed our kids to death at bus stops and the train station saying "This is 'me pastor's kid(s)'!" Sketch was HUGE in Jimmie Lynn's planning and execution of my surprise 50th birthday party! It wasn't long after that party that I received a call from Kaleeya Hospital regarding Ricky Boekelmann naming me as his "next of kin". I said "Who?" I knew the "Ricky" part but "Boekelmann" was news to me! In churchfreo we don't fret over last names. After he was released from the hospital, Sketch asked Jimmie Lynn and I for help to get false teeth because he felt he couldn't get a better job because he had no front teeth. Again, by God's grace, churchfreo was able to provide.
Becoming a chef and "courting" the mayor
Sketch applied to work as a chef in a more upscale Fremantle establishment and, he got the job. This is when he began helping churchfreo more significantly in our mercy ministries. He showed up one night with about 40 lbs of chicken for us to use in our evening meals. Sketch moved very subtly out of more marginal circles into more subtly mainstream ones. He had an apartment, a girlfriend, a life. Before long he was managing the Mad Hatters Street Market in Fremantle and "massaging" the mayor for help with churchfreo's Orphans' Christmas Lunch. He secured donations from other merchants for BBQs and meals that churchfreo provided. He soon had his own market stall selling fruit and vegetables at the market that is held just outside the doors to City Hall. The last time I visited him at his stall, before I left Australia for the USA, he gave me a case of tangerines for the church and mentioned that the doctors were "on him" about his "ticker" (heart).
A messy life that blessed us all
His "ticker" and everything else are good now! I thank God for blending Sketch's messy life and our messy lives and the messy life of Christ's church. I know we are blessed and I think Sketch was blessed. I also am convinced that God was glorified in maybe less than stellar ways as He worked and moved and affected all of our lives.
Thank God with us that we hear that Sketch passed from this life to the next, in his sleep. Thank you for the roles YOU have played in our lives, Ricky's (Sketch's) life and the life of churchfreo. Thank God with us for His goodness and grace.
For more on churchfreo's ministry to the marginalized, check out the Network article, "Churchfreo: Grace in the Margins ."