LONGVIEW—Bobbie Bleer arrives early and sits at the corner of a table in a Sunday school class at First Baptist Church in Longview. She’s the only one at the table—just the way she likes it.
“I don’t much mess with people,” she said with a wry smile.
It’s true. She doesn’t particularly like people getting involved in her business, and she’s not big on frivolous conversation. But it’s not as true as it once was.
Last summer, she didn’t know anyone in the class. For that matter, she hardly knew anyone in her apartment complex. Neighbors characterized her as a cantankerous woman who previously lived on the streets seven years.
Curiosity got the best of her when she heard about a Fit Life cooking class Buckner Family Hope Center held at her complex. Bleer has several health issues, including osteoporosis and cirrhosis of the liver, and knows she needs to eat better.
On the periphery
She attended 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—most of the time.
“Some of that I just won’t eat,” she said.
Jane Ann Crowson, director of the Buckner Family Hope Center in Longview and teacher of the First Baptist Church women’s Sunday school class, laughed when she heard Bleer’s comment. That’s the person she remembers first meeting.
Crowson encountered Bleer through free laundry days the Hope Center made possible. It was the first time in years Bleer had washed her clothes and sheets in anything other than her apartment bathtub. While waiting for her laundry to finish, the two women connected.
“I liked her from the get go,” Bleer said.
Her connection with Crowson led to other connections. Bleer became friends with Hope Center volunteers and staff members, many of them members of First Baptist Church. They introduced her to other members of the church, and soon she started attending a Wednesday night Bible study and then Sunday school.
Bleer 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. She is grateful for the many ways they’ve provided practical help for her.
“I’ve seen a softening in Bobbie,” Crowson said. “I’ve seen a transformation of the ladies in our class, in our Bible study, because of Bobbie.”
In December, David Ummel, executive director of Buckner East Texas, baptized Bleer at First Baptist Church. 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.
Bleer 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.
“Through the relationships with Jane Ann and … with Buckner in general, she’s come out of her shell,” Buckner Family Hope Center Case Manager Courtney Barr said. “You can see Christ working in her life.”
Her quality of life is improving. Deep joy resonates from her eyes.
With Buckner’s help, Bleer recently found a better place to live.
“I’ve been blessed,” she said, beaming. “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.”
As Sunday school class members file into the classroom, Bleer is the first person each of them visits. Most of the interactions begin with a hug. Tucked away in those embraces, she smiles. She even hugs them back.
As Crowson calls the class to order and begins teaching, Bleer opens her Bible and pulls out a notepad and pen. She enthusiastically takes notes.
“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 said. “She is the picture of what salvation is all about and transformation in God.”