Local 'Can Man' —Giant in the Lord
Everybody in his neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona, knew him as “The Can Man, Charley.” Every day he had a route of about 6 miles where he walked to collect recyclables. But you didn’t meet Charley for very long without realizing that money from the cans didn’t just go into his pocket, supplementing his retirement income. He was really about something else. And everyone that he met on his route was offered one of those other somethings: a no-nonsense gospel tract. You soon would learn that the sale of the cans kept the tract supply going.
And if you followed him a little while, you found a complex system of ministry in this tiny little man. And it started early. Charley remembers the Holy Spirit prompting him to praise God while playing toy cars with his friends. Later, in World War II, the Lord erected a sudden wall of protection against an enemy attack that should have killed him.
Back home, working in the steel industry, Charley began buying tracts and sharing the gospel. He organized outreaches for his church covering specific neighborhoods with repeated visitations leaving a different tract each time. Over the years, his consistent passion for God’s word deepened his ability to follow up the tracts with strong personal ministry.
Retirement freed him to expand his vision. To him the tracts were just an opening where personal ministry began. His consistency in reaching out to others built confidence in his contact with the Lord and strangers began approaching him with additional questions about their relationship with God and their concern about eternity. With hours of personal Bible study each day, he seldom was at a loss for an appropriate biblical answer to their concerns.
His can collecting not only provided funds for more tracts, he became well known to the businesses on his route. They began saving cans for him and he would leave stacks of tracts on their counters, replenishing them on the next visit.
His wife, Dot, says he would frequently come in from his route with a little bigger smile and more spring in his step, to announce: “One more led to the Lord, today.” Maybe it would be the homeless man who was begging by the supermarket or someone he had met on the street. Occasionally, someone driving by would recognize him and pull over for a chat.
His obituary reports that, after he was saved in 1961, he logged over 285 cover-to-cover trips through his Bible. “Seldom was he at a loss for a scripture to share with anyone who might have a question,” says Dot.
Only the Lord knows how many tracts he actually handed out in his lifetime, but in the last 10 years of his retirement, Chick Publication’s records show well over 125,000 tracts bought, mostly with money from sale of his cans. As friends on his route learned how he financed his ministry, they offered money to help. At first he refused until Dot convinced him that it was not for him, but so that more tracts would reach more people for Christ. At 87, his eyesight and hearing was fading and his gait slowing. One morning in October the Lord welcomed him home from doing what he loved, crossing the street while walking his route. The driver of the SUV saw him too late, but some of his tracts will still be pointing people to the Lord for years, perhaps until Christ returns for us all.
The Greenleaf family can be reached via email.