Saturday, September 26, 2009

Acacia Park Saga: Week 3

Well, Saturday turned out to be pretty full/ I'm just now getting to this after 9:00pm....

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this point that God showed up again, right? It's also interesting that after doing this for 3 weeks now, each week God has provided and "shown up" in very different ways. Since last week there weren't any leftovers at work, Wendy offered to make taco fixings to take. And she also made about a dozen scarves. Do I know how to pick a good wife or what? =) (Ok, actually she picked me. Ok, actually God set us up.) It just so happened that there actually were some leftovers from work also. It was our last Friday lunch ever (KPSG - my company - officially ends next Wednesday), and it was a Southern spread: fried chicken, fried catfish, fried okra, collard greens, corn on the cob, cornbread, etc....

So between the leftovers from work, and the 60-ish tacos we had, I figured we would have more than enough food. Vanguard has started a new ministry called "Beyond Ourselves" focusing on homeless ministry and missions last week. Through it, I sent out an invite for people to join me; and 4 people did! So shoutout to Sarah, Josh, Dave, & Chad for coming out. (And luckily they brought drinks because I forgot those this week) Sarah & Josh said they were also going to pick up a couple pizzas, so I'm now worried that we have way too much food.


Word is starting to spread. A couple people I spoke with said that someone told them that there was food, and I saw many new faces that I hadn't seen the last couple of weeks. So it was a pretty decent crowd. (Read: 25-30) I was kind of surprised that the catfish and okra were big hits, not being a fan myself.

Aside from the logistics of the food, new people, etc....there were two main highlights for me.

1. Matt
There's a guy named Matt who I've seen all 3 times at Acacia Park, who is in a wheelchair. Last week he mentioned having 12 seizures and his heart stopping, so I was looking forward to talking to him again and finding out more about his story. Sarah, Josh and I got to hear some of it. He's 25. His first 12 years he was raised in France. He speaks 9 languages. His mother was raped and decided to keep him. She was murdered when he was 15, forcing him to take care of his little sister and brother. He was an assistant manager at KFC during high school and graduated at 16. His sister (who had cerebral palsy) was raped. After high school he played soccer semi-professionally in Sacramento and Boston. He did kick-boxing for 13 years, and was an MMA fighter for 3. The disease came on kind of fast and progressed through stages 1, 2, 3 and is now in stage 4 hodgkins-lymphoma. In 53 days (if he is still alive) he will officially be the person to have lived the longest with stage 4. He kind of seems to be a pillar at Acacia Park. Everyone looks out for him, and he tries to help everybody else. He's homeless. He's in high spirits and an incredibly nice guy.

He continued speaking with Sarah and Josh, but I didn't hear the rest of what he said, because....

2. Lee
As Matt was talking, one of the more "scroungy" homeless people I've seen at the park walked up, listened for a while, then asked if he could sit down next to me. I can't possibly describe with accuracy what transpired over the next 30 minutes - and I really wish I could have audio or video recording of stuff like this. But I'll try....

First - what we notice first: his appearance. Older (at least 50's or 60's). Skinny. Big, bushy, scraggly grey beard. Yellowish substance seeping from the corner of an eye. Both eyes pretty red and moist. Snot running into his moustache. Reeking of alcohol.

Let me pause and share what I reflected on later. My point in coming to Acacia Park isn't just about meeting the physical need of providing food. My hope has always been to build relationships. To find out what's going on in their lives, show them that I'm interested and care, and be genuine with them. Up until the last few months, I think I've always avoided social interactions with strangers in general, let alone homeless strangers, let alone a homeless stranger who looked and smelled like this. So what was surprising to me, was that I didn't have a reaction of revulsion. I didn't pull away or look around for an escape. I leaned in and thought, "This guy is why I'm here!"

That being said.....the first thing he says is how Mother Nature done him ugly. I chuckle a bit, and he continues saying that when he dies, that's the first thing he's going to do is ask Mother Nature why she done him ugly. I tell him, "You know, it won't be Mother Nature you're talking to after you die." He nods, and looks up "Him."

I can't recall word-for-word the whole conversation, but several times he says things like "Most people don't know this, but do you know what Jesus did, while He was on the cross?" "What?" I ask. "He smiled," Lee said. "He died for us. He loves us. I am the most worthless piece of s**t there ever was, but He loves me. I don't understand that." Woah. He tells me he was in prison for 37 years - not for nothin'. He says he lives in a box in an alley, and isn't worried about getting food or being too cold. He says when he goes to sleep tonight, Jesus will fill him up and keep him warm.

There was more than that, but alas: no recording + bad memory = that's all I got. Of course he also said he's a mean, ornery SOB who is 3-0 in fights in this park. And he said Jesus will help him find his next obviously I'm taking everything he said with a grain of salt. I'm not sure if he was plastered at the time, or dry and looking for his next fix. But for that half hour, his face was within inches of mine, he whispered "He loves us" many times, and teared up a few times (as did I). He put his arm around me, and I put mine around him. He called me "brother".

I still don't fully know what to make of my experience with Lee, but I feel like each time I go down to Acacia Park, God gives me deeper insight into how he sees people, and I hear that refrain from the song "Hosanna": "Break my heart for what breaks yours..."