Stories from the Homeless (29)

I like showing up early to the church and getting some stuff together before everyone else shows up. It gives me time to get focused and to have a few minutes of quiet. Though what I normally end up doing is not quiet, at least the space that I have to work in is – which is good for me. This week is our mission trip to Feasterville, PA. We have decided to do something that is normally not done by most churches. We decided to do a mission trip to our neighbors. If we can’t live it with our neighbors, we have no business living it any other place. That’s my own thought though.

Tonight was a difficult night for us as a group, which I will write about later. Walking the streets of Philadelphia, I felt that I should stay away from the Free Library. I want to go and see people who do not expect anyone to come and see him or her. A couple of our friends do work right outside of the library and so I figured I would let them do their thing there. I instead went a couple of blocks from that place to an area that most people probably never go. This is the same place where people make their “homes” against the wall of a factory building. Before I reached them though, I saw Art. He was sitting in his sports chair and eating a bag of chips. He didn’t see me coming but I walked right up to him and said hi. He looked very uncomfortable with me being there so I thought that I wouldn’t stay long. Looking at his waist, it appeared that he was packing a gun in his pants and perhaps something else as well. He also seemed to be high on some form of drug. Regarding both accounts, we didn’t discuss. There was no doubt there was a gun in his waist though under his shirt. The handle was a visible bulge against his shirt. He didn’t seem to even notice or know he had it either because he never looked at it. He finally sat down and rubbed his belly. I watched him to make sure he wasn’t going to do something stupid. I instead gave him a lunch so that he would stop running his hand over his belly. After some surface conversation, I left him so that he could smoke some more. I walked away slowly and made sure he didn’t think I knew what I knew. After a safe distance, I told the guy who was with me what I had noticed. He looked back and then looked at me again. This was the beginning of our night.

As we were talking to Art, Aaron walked by wearing a pair of torn jeans that seemed to be two sizes too big for him. He held them up with a warn belt and had on a button shirt that was missing several buttons. Carrying 3 jackets in the beginning of summer, he was looking for some company. Two guys stayed behind and opened up some conversation with him.

As we walked along the wall, we all several people beginning to get ready for bed. We went to the end of the building where two guys we had not met before were hanging out. The one guy had his shirt off, exposing several battle wounds with a knife. Liam was from Louisiana and had just finished making plans to go home. He would be taking Greyhound busses the whole way, which would take close to a full day of changing busses all over the place. He said it was worth it though. He wanted so badly to be home and felt that the “City of Brotherly Love” did not show love to him. He said people were rude and lacked real hospitality. I was not sure how to answer him because I had not experienced what he had. I felt bad that he felt that way about Philadelphia but I couldn’t disagree with him. I had no idea what he was experiencing.

The other guy was Derek. He had lived in Philadelphia his whole life. Having no work and taking his time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, he sat on an old mattress and looked up occasionally to acknowledge that we were there. I asked him why he was there on the side of this building. He looked at me and said no one would give him a chance to work. He has a positive work ethic, so he says. I don’t know him at all but I don’t think he is a liar. Anyway, he said he is trying to do his best. For now, the side of a factory wall was his best option.

We talked to bother of them for a while. We talked about different cities we had been to and all of the changes that have happened since we had not been there. We laughed a bunch and talked about Barak. I asked him if he thought Obama would make a good president. He just looked at me and shook his head. “The clan would shoot his ass” he responded. I asked him if he liked him. He said no. Too political for America he responded. I guess even some African-Americans have some issues with him. After listening to his political views, we realized it was 8:45 and said goodbye.

When I got back to where the rest of our group was, I heard there were a few issues that had evolved with the “Food not Bomb” people that usually set up outside of the Free Library. I have to say that I was really surprised. We have built such a nice relationship with them but I guess something had transpired when I was not there. The one woman who was an atheist told one person in our group that she didn’t want us in their turf. I don’t know what all had happened but I know that we now have a new issue on our hands. A couple of us have taken great lengths to build relationships with that group. Now it seems as though all of that work has been thrown down the drain. I think one thing we need to do is get together with two people from that group and perhaps go out for coffee or something – as long as it isn’t Starbucks, I think we can make it work out.

One thing I have come to realize through a meeting we had after we returned to the church: We have a motive for going to the city. We have a mission. We have a purpose and an intention. We go to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We do not go in order to preach at people or throw tracts in their face. We open our hearts and our minds and accept people as made in the image of God. In a small way, I am beginning to see why we are there. I am beginning to realize that our reason and purpose for being in the city is two-fold. (1) To serve the homeless, be involved with justice things, and love the neglected and (2) Be the hands and feet of Jesus, to share the love of Christ, to give the good news, and to enjoy fellowship with others. I am learning. I know there has to be more though.

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