Friday, October 21, 2016

Espire: a place of sanctuary

When I was in seminary, a friend invited me to go with her to serve a hot meal to the homeless.  We got up early one morning, shared a meal with folks downtown who had spent the night on the street and then we went to a different room to hand out hats, dry socks, and toiletry items.  

If someone asked for a beanie, I randomly gave them one.  One man said he didn't want the random one I had pulled, instead he wanted one of a different color.  In my head, I sort of balked at his request thinking "beggars can't be choosers" but I gave him the hat anyway.

As we finished distributing items, my thoughts gnawed at me.  It was just a hat and we had plenty, what did it matter to me if he chose blue over grey?  Why had I been so harsh in my mind?  After all the guests had left, the workers sat down for reflection and devotion and I confessed my hard-hearted thoughts.  It hurt me that I had been so harsh (even if I didn't say it out-loud) to someone who had spent the night on the cold wet streets of Atlanta and simply wanted a different colored hat.  

After our breakfast volunteering, my friend Jessie and I returned weekly for an evening meal and then "foot clinic" where we washed people's feet, cutting out corns, scrapping away calluses, massaging their feet, lotioning them and then giving them clean dry socks.  It was beautiful and challenging all at the same time.  And I learned a lot as I heard stories from those (mostly) men.  I learned to see them as people and not problems.  I tried to learned the nuances of their struggles and the challenges of living on the street.  

Throughout my years of ministry, I have worked with and encountered hundreds of people who have spent the night or lived on the street.  I have shared meals, opened the showers, given clothes, distributed Bibles, offered a bottle of water or a granola bar, taken people to the bus depot, or arranged for a night in a hotel.  And I've heard many many stories of trials, job losses, family disputes, and battles with addiction.  

The issues that lead to homelessness are often complex and the solutions take time.  The churches I have served have faced various challenges in offering a place of sanctuary and grace.  Which is why I am so grateful to partner with an agency like Family Promise. I worked with them for 2 years in Valencia and now again in Moscow.  I am so appreciative of the ways they recognize the need in our community and equip lay volunteers to serve our neighbors in need.  It is a gift to work with people who care and who have a functioning structure and true accountability in their program.  

This Sunday we will begin our Fall week of hosting the families that are currently in the Family Promise Program.  It is an opportunity for us to share a meal, to help with kids (for parents who don't really get a break or have a simple "play room" where they can leave their kids while they cook dinner, or read a book, or make a phone call....when you're a parent on the streets, or even in the FP program, you are always "on"), to be a safe person to talk with, or simply be a presence in a warm place for them to stay.  

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