Methodist pastor’s actions capture meaning of the season

By: 
Charlie Denison
Reporter

United Methodist Pastor Brent Wepprecht exemplifies the holiday spirit by helping Jeff, a homeless man who came to town earlier this year. For the past 17 years. Jeff has found Wepprecht at churches throughout the state, and Wepprecht has provided him with food and shelter. 

Photo by Charlie Denison

It’s been almost two weeks now since Jeff left town.

The unkempt redheaded bearded man was often seen walking down Main Street, sleeping in random places and typing incessantly on the Lewistown Public Library computers.

Jeff doesn’t stay anywhere too long, but United Methodist Pastor Brent Wepprecht is happy to help him when he sees him. They seem to run into each other every few years.

Wepprecht first met Jeff in Belt around 2000.

“I remember it well,” Wepprecht said. “Jeff was an odd-looking fellow. He kind of resembled the Scarecrow in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ He knocked on my door in need of something to eat, so I took him to the food bank.”

In those days, Jeff held some odd jobs, but he didn’t stay in the area long, traveling from place to place, staying primarily outdoors.

“He doesn’t like being indoors very much,” Wepprecht said. “We tried to give him a place to stay. The church building in Belt had a hideabed sofa, but he’d only stay there a day or two before going on his way.”

Years later, Wepprecht ran into Jeff again in Libby, where Wepprecht preached at the United Methodist Church.

“I’ve seen him all over the state,” Wepprecht said. “I ran into him in Bozeman once, as well, but I wasn’t preaching there. I was just visiting.”

No matter the place, the situation hasn’t changed for Jeff.

“He’s always looking for help,” Wepprecht said.

Although Jeff is lucid at times, Wepprecht said the man is “tormented by a lot of demons.”

“I’m not qualified to put any labels on it, but he is paranoid,” Wepprecht said.

When he came to Lewistown earlier this year, Wepprecht treated him with the same compassion he had elsewhere.

Why wouldn’t he?

“Jeff is not a threat to anybody,” Wepprecht said. “He’s got a good spirit – he’s just very different. I know Jesus loves him, and so do I. I try to help him out the best I can, which is not always easy.”

There is only so much that can be done, Wepprecht said. Jeff comes and goes as he pleases, often getting from town to town by hitchhiking.

“He walks until he gets a ride,” Wepprecht said, “and he’ll ride as far as the driver will take him. That’s how he ended up in Lewistown.”

Wepprecht said he didn’t think Jeff knew he lived in Lewistown.

“I don’t think he’s ever been looking for me, in particular, but he knows who I am and he knows the church is a safe place.”

Through the years, Wepprecht has learned a little about Jeff, but not a lot. 

“I’ve learned that he grew up in the Seattle/Tacoma area, that his parents are deceased and he has a brother somewhere,” Wepprecht said. “He said people are trying to get him back there, but he doesn’t want to want to go back. This plays into his paranoia.”

As the weather gets colder, Wepprecht keeps Jeff on his mind, praying he finds warmth and comfort.

“When it gets to 20 below, being outside is not safe for Jeff, even if he’s properly dressed and well fed, which he’s usually neither,” Wepprecht said.

It’s a hard reality to know someone like Jeff is out there, and to know there are others – many others – with no food or shelter. Lewistown might only have a few, but there are homeless all over the state and the nation.

“There are just some things we can’t fix in this world, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to help the best we can,” Wepprecht said.

Church of Christ Pastor Russell Epperson said he’s impressed – even inspired – by Wepprecht’s commitment to compassion when it comes to his relationship with Jeff.

“It has extra meaning when you think about this time of year,” Epperson said. “Mary and Joseph were looking for a place the rest when they went to Bethlehem, just like Jeff.”

Epperson said Jeff has issues where he can’t fully grasp his position in the world, but Wepprecht looks past that and thinks, “we’ve got to take care of him.”

“[Wepprecht] cares for those who can’t do for themselves,” Epperson said. “That’s who Jesus called us to serve: the meek.”

Wepprecht can be an example for everyone this holiday season, Epperson said, encouraging the community to do their part during this “busy time of benevolence.”

“Keep your mind open to helping those who are less fortunate,” Epperson said. “Be careful not to judge too quickly. Many times there is a lot more going on than what we see or what we know.”

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