Well, today was our much anticipated, long awaited, and eagerly planned for BBQ for the Homeless. Guess what? We never even unloaded the grill from the back of the truck. Now, you might think that would have me in all kinds of fits of despair but that could not be further from the truth. When our plans were once again dashed upon the rocks of frustration, I had to literally stand back for a minute and ask, “God, what are you doing and why am I getting it so wrong?” That’s when plan B which actually turned into plan C which was probably suppose to be plan A all along, well it finally came together.
When we first arrived, security from the Rescue Mission said we were not going to be allowed to grill on their property. When I nicely asked if they would have a problem with us grilling on public property next to theirs, I was told yes, the police would probably be called to make sure we had a permit. A permit? To give away FREE food to homeless people. Seriously? I could feel my smart mouth tude rising up into my throat so before I lost my Christianity in front of these fine people, I thanked them and strolled across the street to plan B, The Refuge.
The Refuge was a major hub of prostitution and crack dealing until two years ago. A crazy man named Tim bought the building, packed up his little family and moved from California into the pit of hell…literally. Other crazies have since joined him and are living there also. From the outside it looks like an old warehouse. On the inside, it is simply apartments where families and singles live. These people all have jobs and support themselves. There is nothing strange … until. Until you realize every single person living in that building feels called there for one and the same purpose: to build a relationship with a homeless person and take back what has been destroyed. I’m not just talking about the neighboring buildings and streets. These people want to take back the lives that have been destroyed. They are radical and yet normal everyday blokes. I like them.
So, when I threw myself on Tim’s mercy to let us BBQ in their parking lot, he gave me an incredible gift instead. He gave me plan A disguised as plan C. He took me out front, right on the street and said, “Marla, I want you to see something. I think it will answer a lot of your questions and tell you why you are really coming down here all the time.” So we stood out front and watched as car after car pulled up and homeless people ran over, grabbed what was offered and ran back to their original spots on the street. I watched as beautiful cars filled with smiling beautiful people drove away, happy that they had reached out to someone in need. Then I watched their offerings being thrown on the ground. That’s right. Right there where we stood, food and clothing were literally thrown in the street.
Tim explained that people like us had trained the homeless to behave like animals in many ways. We drive up in our cars; they run to the window, grab the bag and run off. No harm, no foul. Forget that they already get three meals a day from the local shelter and churches. Forget that they have more jackets and gloves and hats than they know what to do with because of well meaning people like us. I would not have believed Tim if I had not gone walking the streets with him and seen the discarded clothes and food with my own eyes. My stomach hurt and I felt sick.
“So, what do we do? Is there nothing we can do to make a difference?”
“There is definitely something you can do to make a difference. It’s what you have been talking about doing but just going about it the wrong way. Come down here and hang out with them. Talk to them. Plant flowers around The Refuge. Mow lawns. Pick up the trash left behind. Show them you value them by bringing life into this darkness. They want relationship as much if not more than you do.”
So that’s what we did today. We stood on the corners for hours and talked to people. When a young man approached me and held his hand out to me, I took it. I asked his name, spoke comfort to him as I would hope a mother would do for one of my sons and I prayed for strength for this journey I am on. I sat with women at a table and listened to their stories of frustration at not being heard. I handed out bags of toiletries to each woman that crossed my path. I hugged Diane, laughed with Brenda and admired Tana’s tattoos.
Finally, it was time to go. As we drove away I still felt like something was missing. I knew we were finally on the right track but there was one question still unanswered for me. “Who is it, Lord? Point her out. If you’ll do that Lord, I’ll open my heart and my home to get her out of here. Please God, give me one.” I asked Bob to go back and make one last pass down the main street so I could look one more time.
Her name is Nikki.