UPDATE:  Happy Thanksgiving! We have heard from one of Mr. Parker’s two grown daughters. (Between the two girls, Mr. Parker has four grandchildren.) We are working on getting them all together before Christmas. Watch for more updates–and please pass this on to your own readers/followers, will you? Blessings!!!

This is the cover for my 2012 Christmas novel, Unexpected Christmas Hero, releasing from New Hope Publishers in mid-October. It is a story about a family (mother and two small children) who become homeless when their husband/father dies unexpectedly and leaves them in terrible financial straits. The family is befriended by a homeless Vietnam vet who becomes their “unexpected Christmas hero,” despite his own precarious position. I just learned from my publisher that the man on the cover (Willard Parker) truly is homeless but graciously agreed to pose for this photo. He told the photographer that he is separated from his family and would like very much to be reunited with them (particularly his grown daughter). So I thought about all you wonderful blog followers and social networking friends and decided, Why not band together and try to make this happen for Mr. Parker? I am posting the story from the photographer below so you can see how Mr. Parker ended up on the cover. If you recognize/know Mr. Parker and/or have any information about his family, please leave a comment here with your contact information or email me at ezyrtr@ca.rr.com. Meanwhile, please pass this information along to anyone you can–via your own blogs, social networks, email loops, whatever way possible to help get the word out. Let’s make this go viral and bring this family back together!

Story from photographer/designer:

We (designer and photographer Michel Lê and spouse Christine) were Christmas vacationing in Asheville, NC.

I had Kathi’s book cover to design and needed photos of homeless people. Christine remembered seeing homeless people under some bridge in town. I grabbed my camera and off we went.

After unsuccessfully circling around for an hour, I decided to call it off and head back.

That’s when God told Christine to persevere, and to go in a different part of town. And there he was, Willard Parker, the perfect physical representation (in my opinion) of Kathi’s Unexpected Christmas Hero‘s main character. We stopped the car and asked him if he was homeless and willing to pose for a few photos, after explaining to him the book story.

Willard said yes and was very accommodating. While driving to a suitable place for the photos, Willard offered us a glimpse of his life. He lost his house a few years back. He has a daughter somewhere north (maybe Detroit?) whom he lost touch. Willard also believes in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We had a sense of great sadness in his life, that it didn’t turned out the way he hoped for. WIllard had a very humble and kind spirit. But we sensed a quiet yet powerful sparkle and desire for life. He longed to see his daughter, and we felt how hard that would be for him in his present situation. He is basically illiterate as I found out (when I asked him to read and sign the Model Release).

I wanted to buy him lunch in a restaurant but he politely declined (maybe for fear of not being “part of the crowd”). We gave him some money and left, with a heavy heart and deeply moved.

While designing the cover, I prayed that the one with him would be chosen (there were others being considered), so I could send him a few copies, that in turn he could send one to his daughter (assuming we locate her). I prayed that God would make this happen, that He would flood his daughter with new love for her dad after seeing him on a book cover, that she would be proud of him, that she would have a great desire to reunite with him, just like we long to reunite in love with our Father. I hoped and prayed for it to happen. It would be the greatest Christmas gift of all for Willard.

Then the cover with Willard was chosen and the author decided to launch a campaign to find Willard’s family and reunite them. Thank You, God! We hope/pray that many of you will join us to spread the word. Sooner or later, someone out there will recognize Williard’s picture and/or name and know how to contact his family. Thank you all for being part of this! Now let’s get to work and see what God can do!!!