Friday, September 11, 2009

A Night of Victories (Or "My Expectations = wrong!")

Sorry...this is a lengthy one. I've tried to make it a little more narrative so it's easier/more interesting to read.

So, until tonight, I've never had any experience with feeding the homeless. I suppose it's the typical mixture of lazy, selfish, scared, "waiting for the right opportunity" etc. But the paradigm shift that began in me at retreat is changing my philosophy from having good ideas and good intentions, to being a person of good actions. I've often (read: almost always) meant to do things like this, but never have. More and more now, when I feel a nudge from God about something, I try to act on it ASAP, instead of waiting till I have a plan, or think about it, or whatever. Acting in obedience instead of over-analyzing and procrastinating.

Anywho, so today at work, we had lunch catered from "On the Border" (Mexican food). After everyone had their fill, we still had only eaten half the food. Usually what ends up happening is a few people take some home, and whatever's left gets tossed. So as the afternoon wore on, I felt like it would be better if the leftovers could be given to someone who was hungry and needed it.

"Not this stuff."
"There's hardly any meat left...just rice and tortillas and chips"
"Wendy needs you at home"
"You've worked some long, hard hours this deserve to just go home and rest"
"What if you can't find anyone?"
"What if someone 'corners' you on a God/life question, and you choke!? You'll make things worse!"

Etc....plenty of thoughts, questions, and doubts entered my mind before I even left work.

"Bite me. I'm doing it." Maybe not quite those words, but that's the answer I gave to my misgivings. As this pattern of behavior of acting immediately to the Lord's promptings becomes more common and comfortable, it gives me a resolve knowing that I'm just gonna do whatever I feel like He wants me to do, even if it doesn't makes sense or feel "comfortable."

A couple people at work noticed me taking ALL the leftovers, prompting questioning glances or comments.
VICTORY #1: The door is opened for me to share about Christ - why I'm doing this.

As I left work, I thought "Well....tortillas and rice with the little bit of meat that's left is ok, but they'd be better with cheese. And what about something to drink?" So I stopped at the store to get cheese and a flat of 2 dozen water bottles. When I got within a couple blocks of the park, I pulled over for some final preparations: reading a few verses of the Word, and praying that God would give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and words to say. I'm not the kind of person who likes going into something without a plan, but I decided to just trust that God would handle the details.
VICTORY #2: I consider this a victory, because already I sense that God is molding my character and teaching me how to let go of control of my life and learn to trust Him.

I pull up to the curb at Acacia Park. A friend from church who has experience with homeless ministry (shout out to Sarah!) had suggested I go there. It's surrounded by a high school, a YMCA, and several local businesses. I had heard it was a place many homeless frequented. As I get out and start getting my load of stuff ready, I glance around the park....ummm...hello? I had built up an expectation in my mind of dozens of homeless people milling about everywhere. I saw a couple of clusters of what looked like high school kids hanging out, and one or two other people by themself.

Re-enter the doubts:
"There's no homeless people here: FAIL!"
"You're too early, there won't be any until after dark."
"What are you gonna do with all that leftover food, genius?"

I carry everything over to the little outdoor amphitheater, and notice 2 people that sort of look "homeless?" (That feels like such a judgemental thing to say, but really how do I approach someone to offer them dinner unless I assume they're homeless?) I start by asking if they'd like a bottle of water, and the woman says no thanks, she's set (showing me her large bottle of whiskey). Then I realize: they have bottles of alcohol, a pizza, cell phones, and bicycles. Maybe not homeless.
VICTORY#3: How's that a victory? The woman says that was sweet of me to offer. Somehow, I feel encouraged and ok to keep going.

I've got everything lined up: all the trays with tortillas, taco shells, rice, beans, meat/veggies, bag of chips, and bottles of water.

It's 5:42.
I wait....and wait....6:00 rolls around. I've watched as different clusters of teens walk around talking to each other. A family walks through the park to their car. An older guy with a beard and a cammo jacket - maybe he's?? he's not.

By now I've gone through my mental list of options a few times: maybe the homeless folks really don't show up until late at night?, do I take everything back to my car and try again tomorrow?, am I being impatient and need to wait longer?, do I need to walk up and down Nevada and Tejon to search for someone who "looks" homeless?

A couple minutes later a teen walks up.
"Hey, what's goin' on? You givin' out food or something?"
"Ya," I say, nodding; wondering if he's a local high school kid looking for a free meal, or what.
"Cool. I'm just waiting for somebody," he says walking towards a group of other teens.

Then a guy rides up on a bike at about the same time a crusty-looking guy with huge backpack complete with bedroll walks up. While they're talking to each other and rolling cigs, I tell myself what the heck, give it a shot, and walk up to them and ask if they'd like anything to eat or a bottle of water.

They do.
VICTORY #4: Finally...what feels like affirmation that the trip wasn't a waste.

I meet John, the guy on the bike. He's friendly and genuinely appreciative. The other guy is listening intently to his hand radio and doesn't seem like he wants to talk. As they start getting their food, the teen I spoke with before comes up, flanked by three or four others. A couple of them ask if they can have a water.

"Sure," I say. If they are high school kids who don't really need a free meal, it feels like a waste, but then again, I've only had two takers so far anyways, so why not?
Then a girl asks me if I work for a church. I tell her no, but I go to church.

"Awesome!" she exults giving me a high-five. "You're the first person who doesn't work for a church that's ever come down here!"
In my head: "Whaaaa?? That doesn't seem likely."
Out loud: "My pleasure."

She tells me her name is Skye. Then I meet Vaughn. Then Matt. Then DJ. Then Mike who goes by "Twisted M".

Then another girl asks if anyone has told the rest of the group that there's food. I see her indicate a group of people at the other end of the park that I had assumed were more high school students. Within minutes I'm surrounded by about 20 people queuing up for food.
VICTORY #5: Woah! I just had to wait a few minutes longer than I expected for things to "happen"!

10 minutes ago I was worried about what to do with all the leftover food I was going to have on my hands, now it doesn't look like it's nearly enough!

Skye has taken it upon herself to tell everyone, "Hey guys - Josh was nice enough to come down here and feed you all, so be sure to say 'thank you'!" And everyone is very polite and appreciative. A couple guys make it a point to thank me 2 or 3 times. Very appreciative.

I exchange comments with several of them, but most get a few bites to eat then walk off. A few stick around watching and waiting to see if they can get seconds. Pretty soon, it's all gone except for the huge bag of chips. Everything has happened so fast I almost forget to watch for the opportunity to talk to them, look for that open door to share Christ. (Side note: aside from feeding homeless, evangelism is the next thing I've never really done, or felt comfortable trying)

But then I strike up a conversation with Mark. He tells me a lot about what's going on with him, and also fills me in on the others. Most of the teens here either "camp out" "couch-hop" (staying at different friends' houses) or stay at shelters. He says that this kind of thing helps a lot. He tells me how most churches and other organizations have stopped coming to help out, seeming pretty disappointed/miffed about it. I'm trying to take everything with a grain of salt, not wanting to dismiss everything he's saying, but not everything he's saying quite jives.

At any rate, I find out he lives in an "efficiancy apartment" (which I've never heard of), and he and his wife are barely living on food stamps. He said he had spent all day today scrounging for change on the street corners nearby. He gives me his address and asks if I can find any household items or food for him that I can bring it by.
VICTORY #6: I connect with someone. I feel like it's the beginning of building relationship - which is the cornerstone of how Jesus did ministry (same for Vanguard)

I tell Mark I'll be thinking about and praying for him, and that I hope to see him next time I stop by.
I head back to my car.
That hour went by pretty quick, actually.
Wait.....I had fun!
Something I didn't expect: I want to hang out with these people more! As I drove home, I couldn't help but think "This could be my new hobby!"
VICTORY #7: I get a sense of the compassion Christ has for people. I feel fulfilled and changed - and I want more.

Such a long post, I know. Sorry...but my heart's pretty full right now, and I want to get my thoughts/feeling out while the fresh and undiluted. I'm excited about doing more of this, and I'm hoping I can find some ziploc bags, food containers, milk, other foodstuff to take to Mark soon.

Added to my prayer list: Mark, Skye, John, Twisted M, Vaughn, DJ, Matt, Adrian

Matthew 25: 34-40
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'