I met Steve a couple of years ago at a drop-in. In his late 50's, he often wore a beanie hat and walked with a stick. He wasn't a well man and had lived a life marked by struggle. Having burnt his bridges with any family years ago, he now lived alone and had few friends. But Steve was my friend and I cared deeply for him.
Last year Steve moved into what he thought was sheltered accommodation. Due to his health, he knew he needed better support around him. When we helped Steve move, we discovered he didn't have a bed, an oven, a washing machine, a microwave – a kettle even, things we might describe as essential. It turns out you can live for years and years without these things.
We were able to gather together a few of those essentials. We put up curtains, made up a bed and set up a home for Steve. It was when I presented Steve with a cheap Lowry print in an Ikea frame that I saw tears in his eyes. Although he had never been to a Lowry exhibition, I knew Steve loved the artist's work. Every now and then Steve would show me a small magazine cutting he'd kept and treasured – a picture of a Lowry painting. In different circumstances Steve might have become an artist himself. His sketches were pretty good.
It turns out that home is much more than furniture and stuff and new pictures in a frame though. He was proud of his new place but still very lonely and still very unwell.
Steve was hard to get hold of. It got a little easier once he got a mobile phone, but it was often turned off and he rarely had any credit. Trying to get a doctor's appointment when you do not have a phone is pretty tricky. I would find out weeks later that Steve had been admitted to hospital again – he had not been able to let me know. I heard recently that Steve quite liked hospita,l though; he had described it aslike going on holiday, with meals guaranteed and plenty of people around to talk to, even if it was their job to come and take your blood pressure.
On occasion, my family would drive and pick up Steve for church and he would come for lunch. Steve always fell asleep during the service. I would spend the service propping him up and giggling when I had to prod him and wake him up for the songs.
Sometimes though we would have made an arrangement in the week but Sunday would come and we'd all pile into the car half an hour earlier than normal to pick Steve up and there would be no answer at the door. I would be worried that something had happened but there was no way of finding out until I bumped into him again.
If I'm honest, it was hard work caring for Steve. Occasionally I would receive calls that he was having a panic attack and could I go and see him, I would text round my friends to see if anyone was around to come with me. More often than not, most people were just super busy with their own families and ministries. But Steve had no family and I often wondered how we, the church could be better at loving folk like Steve.
Some people think we should just concentrate on sharing the gospel but how can we do that without loving and caring for those who have no one else to do so as well?
I heard a couple of weeks ago that my friend Steve had passed away. Nobody quite knows exactly what happened. The last I heard his death is under investigation.
I've wondered if it's OK to write a little about Steve's life. I've asked myself if it is ethical to share someone else's story. But I know that there are so many Steves out there and this is the saddest truth of all.
They say that loneliness is a huge, growing problem in our world. I've been praying for more people with the capacity to love people like Steve; people who will love enough to share the beautiful gospel and open their lives and homes to the lonely all around us. There is no doubt that to love God and to love people, there is a great cost. But then I'm reminded that Jesus paid a far greater price, left heaven, laid down his life for me so that I might never be truly lonely.
Lizzie Bassford is a wife, mum and missionary living in inner-city Manchester. Follow her on Twitter @captivated01.