“Have you heard the good news lately?”
Johnny Greene – clad in his brightly colored suits – is back at the Tacoma Mall, spreading the word of God.
His return is thanks largely to a local family that is asking for the community’s help to get Greene back on his feet after he fell on hard times.
His refrain, the “good news” of Jesus’ love, is something the McCoys of University Place have missed since Greene, 60, disappeared from the mall around Thanksgiving.
Marc and Laurel McCoy have known Greene from his makeshift mall ministry for about 10 years. Most Tacomans would recognize Greene for his attention-grabbing suits, which he has used as a talking point to discuss Jesus with mall-goers – when approached – almost every day since 1989. A Facebook page in his honor: “The pimp guy that walks around Tacoma Mall,” has 10,116 likes. It refers to his style of dress, not his line of work.
“We love him and we want the best for him,” Marc McCoy said Thursday. “He says Jesus loves you, and you can’t turn away from that. We’re Christian.”
The couple was concerned when they stopped seeing Greene. So were their daughters, Popie, 4; and Nica, 3, who have gotten lollipops from the unofficial pastor for as long as they can remember.
Their brother Marc, born Monday, will likely grow up knowing Greene too, thanks to the generosity of locals who have donated more than $1,400 since Wednesday to help him get settled.
The McCoys are partly responsible for that.
They saw Greene again for the first time just after New Year’s Day. He told them his car had broken down on Interstate 5 near Seattle on Thanksgiving Day, and that he had moved in with a friend in Bothell.
Greene had been living in his car since November 2010, a few months after a dishwashing job didn’t work out.
“He said: ‘When the Lord sees fit to give me a car, you’ll see me more,’ ” Marc McCoy recalled of the reunion.
Then, on Jan. 30, the McCoy family ran into Greene at the mall around closing time.
They put him up for the night in a hotel on South Tacoma Way, after Greene’s friend from Bothell never came to pick him up.
Greene has relied on other friends since then to get by. There’s only so much the McCoys can do on their own, they said. The car stereo stores Marc McCoy owned went out of business in 2008, and “it’s been tough since then,” he said.
No one would know that from the smiling faces of their daughters, who seemed excited about their newborn brother and were quick to say: “I like Greene,” during a visit to see their friend at the mall Thursday.
Not knowing what else to do, Marc McCoy posted the mall icon’s story on Craigslist, asking for help to find Greene a job and place to live.
The creator of Tacoma Memes, a Facebook page that makes fun of Tacoma/Lakewood life, saw the post and publicized it further, and created a page on the crowdfunding site gofundme.com Wednesday.
It had raised $1,451 by Thursday night, from 65 donors.
Beyond the money, Marc McCoy hopes to find long-term solutions for Greene. He’d like an accountant to donate services to help his friend make a plan for the money, and asks anyone with job leads to send them Greene’s way.
Greene has gotten several offers from the publicity, including at warehouses in Kent and Fife, but that’s too far from his true calling, he said: telling people at the Tacoma Mall of Jesus’ love.
He’s holding out for an offer closer to home, but is appreciative of the campaign to help him.
“I want to thank everyone in the name of the Lord, with a very grateful heart,” said Greene, who Thursday was dressed in a bright pink suit and orange fedora.
Being away for several months was difficult, he said. He made appearances at shopping centers up north, including at the Alderwood and Everett malls.
But he believes he’s most effective where God has blessed him the most, through people such as the McCoys, he said.
And that’s Tacoma.