Make a Sandwich – Change a Life

Last August or September, our Church began a trek to Philadelphia in hopes of reaching people through bagged lunches. Our idea was simple: Make bagged lunches, carpool to the city, hand out lunches, talk to those who found themselves in homeless situations, build relationships, talk, listen, pray, and go home. It isn’t rocket science. Yet, through the grace of God, we had met so many people who were willing to sit and talk with us. They would share their stories – many of which I have posted in the past. It seemed as though, throughout this past year, we were called to be there. I am glad. It challenged me and stretched me to be open, vulnerable, and transparent. I am not very successful at doing any of these three much, so the challenge was worth it.

It wasn’t until a girl from our church shared about her trip overseas, I began to wonder if what we were doing really made a significant difference in the lives of these individuals. Since the excitement and the “spiritual high” wore off quickly, I found myself wondering if we had a purpose and a reason for being there. The other day, one of the pastors said, “What is a sandwich worth to a homeless person?” These are some of my thoughts concerning this question.

First and foremost, a sandwich is a sandwich. We make them all the time and put them in plastic Baggies to pack in brown-paper bags. Two pieces of bread are put together with peanut butter and jelly in between. That is what our sandwiches looked like. Not fancy – the simpler the better.

For others, and myself it was more than that though. It was a key. It was a key that opened doors for others to come and listen and love. It allowed us to reach out our hands and touch another person. It allowed us to receive a smile and a “God bless you” every once in a while. After several weeks of sandwiches, friendships were made and grown. More people came out and experienced something unique that was happening in Love Park. There was a buzz about this group that came down on Monday nights to hang out with homeless people. So many homeless people would ask us, “Why do you come here? You have a nice home with heat and a TV.” That’s exactly why we need to be here,” I told someone. I know I don’t thank God enough for all He has given me the luxury of having. I am as selfish and capitalistic as the next guy. Give me more or give me nothing – I am an “all or nothing” kind of guy. Hanging out with homeless people changes that though. Allowed to only have one “personal” bag with clothes and other items, capitalism, even at its best, isn’t working for them at all.

That when we come in. We can’t fix anyone. I am not a doctor. I don’t have a manual that fixes homeless people. I can love and pray for those who live on the streets. I can stop feeling sorry for them and attempt to do something – even if it is something small like making sandwiches.

It isn’t about the bread or the peanut butter or the jelly.

One thing I am glad we did not do is put some “spiritual” message on the water bottles or places a tract in their brown bags. I think we need to display our actions and love for God before we attempt to throw it down someone’s mouth. If we aren’t living it well, why on earth should we expect others to follow suit? That is ridiculous. Hopefully our lives are displaying the love of Christ and giving out a sandwich or two will open the doors we need open to display the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the flesh. That is what we are called to do anyway.

It might just be a sandwich but it might be something greater than that. It might actually be an open door to a relationship and a friendship with someone you have never met before. Perhaps it will provide a small meal for someone who needs it. Perhaps they will think about you and I as they eat it. I wonder what they would say. So, while the sandwich is not the most important aspect of the ministry, it is nonetheless significant. I have seen something as simple as a sandwich invite people to share their lives with me. That is awesome. I feel so grateful. God is so good.

My motto is: Make a sandwich – change a life. That actually doesn’t sound too bad.


Dominican Reflections (2)

This is my second post regarding my mission trip to the Dominican Republic. I took a couple of days to piece this one together because it is something that is simple to understand but has been an eye opener and interesting to experience. There is a difference between being homeless and being poor.

For some of you who read this site, that might not be or sound like a big deal to you but it was to me. I have had the great joy of serving the homeless of Philadelphia for about a year now on Monday nights through my church. Going each Monday night, I have learned a lot about myself and about how we can love other despite their smell, their living status, and their ways of life. When I went to the Dominican Republic though, I was suddenly in a position of culture shock. These people were not homeless at all. They were poor – and I mean really poor.

Many people that I met would work hours upon hours in a field thrashing sugarcane until they could no longer thrash sugarcane. It was a brutal job with very little of a promised pay at the end of the day. It is not uncommon for a guy to work thirteen hours a day, six days a week and only receive a modest pay of 42.00 USD (seven dollars USD a day). I don’t know how you would feel about being paid so little but I know I would probably complain a lot. Yet, those in whom I have met seemed to be grateful that they were making money in the first place and that their families were doing okay and that they had a home to cover then when it rained, though they might have a lot of leaks in the roof.

I met a women who was blind and in a wheelchair. She was very old – perhaps around her mid to late eighties or so. She was a kind woman who allowed me to come into her home and sit with her for a time. She just sat there while the fan that they had been hotwired outside of the house to the electric cable that ran electricity through the town blew on her face. It was a hot day and the added cool air would keep her comfortable to make it through the heat. As I sat in her house, I looked around and saw what poverty looked like from a material standpoint. I was in a small living room-type area. The “chair” that I was sitting on was a worn-out piece of wood that was more like a bench than a chair. There was a kitchen table, a couple of chairs with kids sitting in them and a stolen TV that played in the background while we talked. Every so often, she would say, “I am so thankful for this fan” and she would wipe her brow and she would sit back and enjoy the breeze. Before I left her home, I gave her a kiss on the forehead and told her that I would remember her. She asked how I would always remember her and I told her that I was going to take a photo of this experience and place it on my computer. She must smile and said that sounded complicated but since I was an American I would probably figure it out somehow. I just laughed and went on from that experience with a picture of me with a blind woman in a chair who had a fan blowing on her and she was thankful for it. I think that is perhaps a good place to end.

In closing, I have to say that I learned a lot from this women who was so grateful for all she had. The people I usually work with in the city of Philadelphia are not as grateful. It is heartbreaking sometimes. I am learning though to love both those who are poor and those who are homeless. I hope that the poor will continue to thank God for their current jobs and the ability to provide for a family while those who are homeless will learn to be thankful for the money they receive every other week from the government and they would continue to strive to be dependant on God and find a place to live and work. Finally, no matter how you slice it, God loves the homeless and the poor just as much as He loves those who have homes and those who are able to provide for themselves through an occupation or a job We seriously have a ton to be thankful for. This is just another thing I am working on even now. So much to do and so little time!

Stories from the Homeless (31)

Last night was a great night. We have a couple of people who went out with us to Love Park. It was really cool. It wasn’t too hot or too cold. We had probably the greatest weather we have ever had. We had a lot of homeless people out tonight. Usually they are found sitting on the park benches, looking like “normal people” taking a break on a bench.

While I sat on the bench, Leroy came up and sat down to talk. He was supposed to have surgery but was unable to because he didn’t have a ride home from the hospital, which was a requirement for going through the surgery. He was a little upset over the whole ordeal but realized that he could do nothing about it. We sat for probably an hour or so just talking about a variety of things. I was glad to talk to him. He asked me if I would pray for him as he was hoping to get the surgery done later this month.

My final conversation was with a guy named “Pastor Will.” That is what I call him anyway. He loves to preach. He is your main-man, gospel preacher from the city. With no Bible in hand, he spent twenty minutes and prayed and shared Scripture. I am glad he showed up as well.

I know this is a short post about our homeless outreach but there really isn’t much to write about. I hope to meet some new people next time and have more to write about. God has been so faithful to me in the relationships I have begun with my friends in the city. God bless.

Stories from the Homeless (30)

Last night we had a small group of people to go to the city. I am glad every once in a while when there is a smaller group. Usually that means we can all drive in one car and enjoy one another’s fellowship. Though, I also enjoy when we are a large group, being a smaller group every once in a while is nice.

For me, last night was a night of prayer and reflection on all that we have done over the past couple of months. I have seen crack users, marijuana users, and other issues throughout the city. Many of them have given us the opportunity to talk to them about life and faith. From the smells to the places we sat and talked, I can no longer call the mission to the homeless a mission but a lifestyle; a part of life that I live. I guess that is a good thing. I think it is interesting when we have new people come and join us. I think the conversation at the end of the day is most interesting. Sometimes, I wish I could live vicariously through their experience so that what they have experienced would be what I have experienced.

When I sat down to hand out a few sandwiches, Leroy, a guy I have gotten to know throughout the weeks showed up and we talked about life. I am glad he showed up. Looking at him, I noticed he had lost a lot of weight. After talking to him, he told me that he has cancer and has lost a lot of weight due to that reason. He is going for surgery at the end of August to remove it. I hope it goes well. I know I will be praying for him.

I don’t have much to write about this week because it was not much of a night. It was good though. I am glad I went and am saddened that I will not be there this upcoming Monday night. I am going to Camp-of-the-Woods so I will not be around to do the homeless ministry as well. I will be praying for everyone though.

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.

Stories from the Homeless (28)

There’s something about helping those who are homeless that I have come to understand recently. The more you do it, the more you feel inclined to do it. Maybe that is something I have written before or something but the fact remains that up until this point of the journey, I haven’t considered myself one to actually help anyone. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I still really struggle sometimes if we are actually doing anything at all significant. There are so many different groups in the city. The “City of Brotherly Love” has plenty of food options for the homeless and one can get clothes anywhere. What makes us different? What makes us any different from the 100 + organizations or volunteers out there that essentially do the same thing we do on a Monday night? The more I go to Philadelphia, the more I am convinced that I need to figure that out. In any case, here are some highlights from Monday night.

Last night was a different night. Jathan from Wisconsin was bringing several of their youth kids to hang out in the city with us. I am glad they were here. When we met up, we began walking over to the Free Library – a place we have gone now for awhile. As we were walking up, there was a man asleep on the sidewalk in tattered clothes. I am not sure the youth with Jathan would be prepared for what they might see. The man had no shoes and smelled. I felt like the Priest in the story of the Good Samaritan or something because I ended up just walking by the man who probably could have used a lot of help but I was unprepared to help him out. Convinced I should at least see if he needed something, I returned to him, or where he was just at, only to find that he was asleep. We left a lunch and a pair of new underwear wrapped in a lunch bag for him when he awoke. As I walked away, I looked back. Still asleep I thought to myself.

The “Food not Bombs” people were set up as usual. They had a lot of people sitting there, eating the vegetarian food. I could sense that a lot of people did not like what they offered but I saw that they were eating it anyway – I guess they were really hungry. I walked up to two guys and began to talk to them about life and the street. The one guy Ray told me that he was actually in real estate. I had to laugh and then he realized why I thought it was funny. I have never met a homeless real estate agent before. I asked him what the problem was. He just looked at me and said that the market was tight and people are harder to work with. He was from Baltimore and was hoping to find something better up here in PA. With no luck, and the inability to pay rent, he found himself on the streets for the first time in his life. After talking for a while, I gave him a lunch and told him that it wasn’t much. He just smiled and said thank you. With that, I allowed him to go on his way and do his thing.

I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Free Library for a little so ventured off to a spot I had gone before – just a couple of blocks away. This is where I saw all of the makeshift homes people made against a factory building and met a guy named “Black.” Seeing all the “homes” made for the night, I saw a man on a beach chair by himself. His name was Art, and he was stoned beyond recognition. He must have asked me at least five times what my name was. To make him feel comfortable, I did the same. We talked about New Jersey for a little. He said he wanted to get his SS card but couldn’t stop taking drugs. He wanted to work but no one would probably hire him. I told him that I would pray for him and gave him a lunch. As I sat there, I realized he feel asleep on me. I guess all that he had taken today made him tired. And, judging by his face and his age, he must have been.

The coolest thing about our night was the prayer circle we had. It was such a large group. A couple of people prayed and we left. The more I realize what we are doing there, the more I realize that we need to do more. It isn’t enough to just hand out sandwiches and leave. I am convinced that we need to share more than just a PB and J with people. We need to dig deeper and invite ourselves in to their world with hopes of being accepted and wanted by them. As I said, there are a lot of groups doing what we are doing so we need to be intentionally different. How we are going to do that, right now, I am not sure. What I do know is not going and not doing anything would be the worst thing we could do. So – I am going to keep going.

Stories from the Homeless (27)

I had an individual tell me the other day that the reason they don’t help the homeless is because they have not been invited to do so. Let me write that again: I had an individual tell me the other day that the reason they don’t help the homeless is because they have not been invited to do so. I didn’t know they had to be invited to be the light of Christ. I didn’t know that one had to be invited to be the ears and eyes of Jesus. I guess I missed the invite or something because I thought it is just supposed to be a lifestyle thing. I guess I have to find that list though. God knows I don’t want to do something like helping those who are less fortunate simply because I wasn’t invited to help. That would just be horrible if I lost my invitation. I must be around here somewhere.

Seriously friends. When we have to be invited to help the homeless, I am no longer helping the homeless. I will sit on the couch and eat ding-dongs all day until I get sick. If you want to make an excuse for not loving the poor or help those who are less fortunate than yourself, please don’t tell me the reason is because you weren’t invited. If you really want to piss me off, then be my guest. What a load of crap.

Tonight we had a group of 7 of us go. They weren’t invited to go. They just showed up and decided that they weren’t going to sit on their ass. They wanted to serve God and others. Sounds like a good plan to me. I guess it sounded good to them as well. We went to the Free Library again. Seems like we have better luck there than Love Park. We can be a little more “grass roots” with our approach, which I think most of us really wanted from the beginning.

Seeing it was another busy night, I walked around for a little. I saw Danny again. He was wearing a “Hell boy” hat and shirt (both red) and a pair of blue shorts. He said that he had his first shower in almost a month, which is good because I was sitting next to him and was not prepared to smell what he might have smelled like had he not showered. We sat and talked about drugs for a bit. He was and still is a big drug user. His “claim to fame” as he calls it is crack. He says that is why he is on the streets in the first place. He doesn’t want to have a lot of money because he would just buy crack with it. As long as he has his health and his teeth, he says he is okay with living on the streets. He is about to have his 49th birthday soon. He doesn’t get angry when people look at him wrong because he blames himself for his issues and his current situation. I guess that is good that he places the blame on himself rather than others but I wonder how much would have changed if he had someone to encourage him and disciple him as it were. I am not sure if I could answer that at this point but perhaps he would be a little different about all of this. I couldn’t tell at that moment but looking back, I think he was high. He said he also liked weed and did pretty much anything to do it. Sexual favors were easy enough (guy or girl) if he could get something to keep him mellow.

The guy who was with him was no different. He said his name was Doug and has been on the streets for about 10 years. He was a scruffy looking guy with a black hat, a gray shirt, and a pair of size ten shoes he says was one size too big for him. He panhandled all the time. He figured it was better than stealing because people would always give a dollar here and a dollar there. After a good three or four hours, he would have well over 100 dollars. I thought perhaps he was lying until he showed me the day’s work. Not too bad for a homeless guy with a decent gut. He didn’t need any food tonight. He said he had a 32 oz stake and was full.

We then talked about wasting food and how horrible it was that we do it so often. I agreed with him, telling them that I work in a restaurant that wastes a lot of food. He said the rich have it too easy. Doug said he would eat whatever people wanted to throw away while he washed dishes for a fancy restaurant. The owner found out and he was fired for eating food that no one wanted. He couldn’t understand what the problem was and, I guess if I was in his position, I wouldn’t either. I left Danny and Doug and told them that I might see them next week (which is usually up to them and where they are on a Monday night).

I then meet John and “Sparkler” – two people who were not married but assumed the marriage role for one another. This included anything that “married couples do.” John was wearing a maroon shirt and pair of blue jeans while Sparkler wore a gray hoodie and a green skirt that was torn in several areas, showing its age. We began talking about the homeless situation in this area of the city. They said that it was hard because people wouldn’t accept them into their fellowship because they weren’t drug dealers or ‘investors.’ John is working on a book while Sparkler makes the money doing whatever she seems to do. She was quiet a lot of the time. John did most of the talking for her and he. I guess that is how it works. As I looked at John’s arms, I could see that he was lying about the drugs because there were needle marks all over them. When I asked about them, he looked down, then looked at me, and said that was an “issue” he had a long while ago and it was fixed. I guess I was mistaken about the earlier comment. He wasn’t lying, or so it appeared. I had no reason not to believe him.

After talking to those two for a while, we headed back to our cars and prayed. I am glad we did. Next time someone says that have to be invited to help the homeless, I hope I am not around. We all have a responsibility to those in need. We are never above anyone or any issue that comes about. We must do our part and help those who need it most. It is our responsibility. Let’s get to work!