Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving Day downtown-11/24/16

"When you harvest your grain, always leave some of it standing along the edges of your fields and don't pick up what falls on the ground.  Don't strip your grapevines clean or gather the grapes that fall off the vines.  Leave them for the poor and for those foreigners who live among you.  I am the LORD your God."  Leviticus 19:9-10

I'm not sure I've ever quoted anything out of Leviticus to start these blogs, but here's one of the ways Israel was commanded to provide for the poor, during harvest times.  This verse came to mind after witnessing at least two people yesterday going through trash cans.  Here it is Thanksgiving Day, a day of plenty here in our country.  Even though we have one meal on this day where we usually stuff ourselves till we're uncomfortable, most of us, even on this day, eat at least twice if not three times anyway. Yet here in downtown Los Angeles, poor people are going through the trash looking for food or something they can cash-in to get food. And if they find anything to cash-in they probably won't be able to get the cash for it until the next day because most of the recycling places are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It's heartbreaking to witness this first hand.  It's for these people that I wouldn't miss the opportunity to serve on this day for anything...

There were a few people on my last trip downtown that I "promised" that I'd be there on Thanksgiving.  But then when I got there yesterday I couldn't find some of them.  In fact, I had somewhat of a hard time finding some folks.  I had made up a big pot of pasta and even took a little more than I usually do, so it becomes imperative that you hit one spot where there are 4-6 people around and hopefully others will come walking by.  One place off 14th and Central a woman by the name of Kesha told me that some other missions groups had been by already.  But places like where she was have about 15 or more people living in make-shift shelters and I don't have enough to feed that many in one stop and still have enough to help the 'solo's and 'couples' that I know in other areas. I also need a way to keep a big pot of food hot for the duration of the trip, so I need to find people quickly before things get cold.  Anyway, enough of logistics...

I couldn't find Antonio and Leticia, but I did find Hope on the little street off Venice Ave and Los Angeles.  Now usually there are 4-6 folks here, but yesterday there were only two. Everyone else was mysteriously not there when I came by at 10:30 am.  Hope was there and another man whose name was David.  He was originally from Shreveport, Louisiana by way of Odessa, Texas. He's always talking to himself and I kind of wondered about him, yet when I started talking to him (and called him by name) he responded like he was present and accounted for! Hope told me someone had taken her little suitcase with the wheels on it and most all her 'good' belongings.  I had one blanket with me and gave it to her and she got to "reload" with some of the stuff I had in the back of the car.  I had a fair amount of men's shirts so Dave got in on that action.  Incidentally, Dave came up to the car as soon as I pulled up.  I gave out a bowl of pasta to each of them.  Dave started eating his immediately and didn't stop until he had finished it. That was his Thanksgiving Dinner.  For that matter it was, no doubt, Hope's too.  The pasta is good, I put a lot of good stuff in it, but compared to a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner it doesn't compare.  It's almost embarrassing to me that it becomes the 'stand in' for a special meal like Thanksgiving.  One day I pray I can do so much more for them.  Oh, one other thing happened while I was with them.  I had just finished praying with them when a car pulled up. There were three people in the car that I could see and they were handing out small blankets to the homeless.  I had draped the blanket I gave Hope around her shoulders.  They gave her one and Dave one and drove off.  Hope then gave the one she got from them to Dave.

        Hope with the blanket draped over her shoulders.

          Dave--this is what homelessness looks like.

Well, one of the other stops that was memorable happened down by 25th and San Pedro Ave. This was near the corner where I had put on a dinner on a Sunday afternoon in November two years ago.  It was the Sunday after my birthday and one of my most enjoyable BBQ/dinners I had done over the years.  Well, there's nobody living on that corner anymore and for a while they relocated to an alley just up the street on San Pedro.  Then about a year ago the police/city workers ran them out of there too.  I drive down there because sometimes during the daytime some of the old crew hang out there.  I drove down there yesterday, but no one was in the alley either.  I came out the other end of the alley and started slowly driving down the street.  There are cars parked all along the street to where you can't really see anything or anyone on the sidewalks due to all the cars.  But a couple of women who sometimes hang out in the alley saw me driving by and called out to me by name.  I stopped at the curb at the end of the street (in the red zone) and they came down to me.  I gave out some food and they went through the clothes in the back of the car and we talked for a while.  I had gotten out and was standing with them at the back of the car and prayed with them.  I had my arms around both of them like they were my little girls.  I can't really describe how much I loved them in that moment.  I'm sure they felt it too.  When I was done I asked them if they had seen Becky anywhere (another homeless woman in that area).  They told me where she probably was and one of them described the location as "down there across the street from where we had your birthday party!"  I couldn't believe she remembered that.  On that day two years ago, when the meal was done and I was all packed up and ready to leave, I gathered the people who had stayed and helped me til the end and I prayed with them.  When I finished they all started singing me Happy Birthday.  I'll never forget it!  Well anyway, Happy Thanksgiving!  Until next time.  John          

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sunday downtown 11/13/16 and the story of Hope

"Be joyful in hope,patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality."  Romans 12:12-3

Last week when I left Antonio and Leticia I promised to come back this week and bring a blanket. Leticia was shivering as they were getting ready to lay down their pieces of cardboard to make a bed and sleep on the sidewalk that night.  So they were the first ones I visited this week.  If I hadn't seen them first, I probably wouldn't have had the blanket when I did see them. Blankets go fast just about any time of year, but especially now that its getting colder at night.  I told them also, that I probably wouldn't be down next Sunday, but would be down there on Thanksgiving morning.  I showed them a calender on my phone so they knew Thanksgiving was on Thursday the 24th.  I'm not sure how familiar they are with this holiday.  I'm reminded of the story of one of my nurses at the hospital who asked me if I knew what they called Thanksgiving in the Philippines....(answer)."Thursday".  Not everyone shares our holidays.

In last week's blog I opened with a brief account of some health issues I've had recently and expressed my thanks and gratefulness at having good health insurance.  I wondered out loud what it would be like for folks on the street to go through life without any health insurance.  Well, this week I now know of two people who are facing this situation.  I'll begin with the story of Hope.  Hope is a woman in her mid to late thirties (I'm guessing). She is in one of the pictures from last week's blog.  I had promised to bring Robert, who also lives on this street, a bible and stopped by this small little street after seeing Antonio and Leticia.  There are now a half dozen or so people living on this street all the time.  I got out of the car and had opened the back hatch when Hope asked me if I had any maternity clothes.  Well, Hope is as skinny as a rail and I didn't realize at first that she was asking for herself.  In talking with her further about this, she told me she has had 5 kids, a miscarriage and now is pregnant again.  The father is around, but isn't treating her well and I got the impression isn't going to help her with this at all.  I asked her if she had family that could help. Apparently, she's from the Chicago area and does have family there. Getting back there is another hurdle.  Hope receives no government assistance at this time.  She's hoping to somehow get back there before the end of the year, but these things usually take a lot of time to make happen.  I prayed with her about her pregnancy and situation. We'll get through this somehow.  Unless she can get back to Chicago, the outcome will not be a happy one.

The other situation I heard about was told to me by Red, a man who lives near San Pedro Ave and 10th street.  I hadn't been down there in a while and had told him about my foot infection. So he knows a homeless guy who hangs out around there who was doing something in a dumpster and sliced his foot on some sheet metal.  His foot got infected (lack of immediate medical attention) and he ended up losing 3 toes.  Can you imagine?  The things like medical insurance that we take for granted are so important.

When I pulled up to talk to Red I had three sandwiches left. There were three guys there and I gave out all three to them.  So while I'm talking to Red a woman in a wheelchair came around the corner from San Pedro Ave and towards us.  She was moving the wheel chair with one leg and her hands. The other leg, apparently, wasn't working.  As she got closer to us, she called out asking if I had any "spaghetti".  She said the last time I had spaghetti and "it was so good".  Like I said, I had just given out the last of the sandwiches.  I told her I would be back on Thanksgiving with some pasta and to make sure she was there. Well Red still had his sandwich in his hand and it was still in the baggie unopened.  He offered his to her!  So that was how the trip ended...on a high note.  A high note of hope!  Until next time. --John  

Monday, November 7, 2016

Downtown 11/6/2016


"But a Samaritan who was traveling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity.  He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.  Luke 10:33-34  Part of the story of the Good Samaritan  

A week from today I will have another birthday.  As one experiences these 'later' birthdays in life you can't help but appreciate the special gift each day is, particularly the good ones. Health issues rob some days of their full potential and enjoy-ability and that has been the case with me this last month.  A nasty foot infection landed me in the hospital for a couple of days and prevented me from making trips downtown. Although there are policies in place to help people on the street with their health issues, I couldn't help but think how fortunate I am to have good health insurance that can take care of situations like this.  I'm not over this problem yet, but it is significantly better than it was three weeks ago and I felt good enough to make a trip.

Sunday was the first day of no daylight savings time.  So night time would start very soon after 5 pm. I got down there at probably 4:50 pm, so there wasn't going to be much daylight left, not that darkness prevents me from helping people, but it does make things a little more difficult (people are usually bundled up/covered up and trying to sleep shortly after the sun goes down).  My first stop was a small street just east of the Los Angeles St off-ramp off the I-10 freeway.  There are usually about 3-5 folks living there that I can help.  When I accessed this street from a small one-way alley the first thing I saw was the shelter that a couple of people lived in had been vacated.  As I got closer to the street I noticed that they had relocated to another spot a few yards further down.  The street ends at the I-10 freeway off-ramp and this section is less than a 100-yards long from 16th St to the street's end by the freeway.  So there were 4-5 people living there Sunday evening, and by the time I left about 5 other folks came by.  Robert and Hope were two of the most familiar people that I knew and a couple others who came by I've helped before.  Apparently, Robert had been in the hospital with a stroke for about two weeks since I saw them last time.  Hope told me that there had been problems with people giving them a hard time where they had been staying by the off-ramp and the stress of it had caused Robert's stroke and precipitated their move to the current spot.  Anyway, I opened up the back of the car and everyone got to go through the clothes. Mostly, everyone is looking for warm heavy shirts and jackets.  I had two pairs of jeans that went quickly and I handed out a pair of socks to everyone there.  The corner of this street is where Philip and a couple other men used to sleep at night, but I haven't seen them there recently.  I asked a couple of the Spanish speaking guys that were there if they had seen them.  They told me they stay off of Spring St now.  A year ago I made a special and second trip down there to give Philip and his friends blankets when they told me how cold they were at night.  That was the middle of November last year.  It's now that time of year when it gets very cold at night for these folks living on the street.  I prayed with most everyone there on that street last night and when I left I thought maybe this is the place for the next BBQ.



 That's Hope sitting on the sidewalk and Robert in the brown sweater.



This picture was taking standing in the same place but looking the other direction.  You can see the street dead ending up against the freeway off-ramp.  Hope and Robert used to have their shelter just to the right of the guard rail there at the end of the street.


I drove over to where Leticia and Antonio live on Trinity St.  It was now almost completely dark. Leticia was shivering when I drove up in spite of the sweater she had on.  They were about to put down the cardboard pieces they had on the sidewalk to sleep on for the night.  I think they had a blanket or two, but I told them I'd bring them one next week when I came back.

With all the food now gone and it being officially night time, I drove over to 27th and Petaluna to the burned out church.  I hadn't seen any progress in the rebuilding of this church, so I decided to call Pastor McGhee and ask if there was anything new on the horizon.  The last time I had talked with him was back in February of this year.  I was glad I called.  He told me they were in the final stages of selecting a contractor to do the rebuilding and hoped to start shortly after the first of the year. Obviously, there are a lot of hoops to go through to get approval through city hall.  In fact, we laughed about the reality of the old saying, "You can't fight city hall."  He promised to call and let me know how things were going.  We talked for probably twenty minutes or so about a wide range of things connected to serving God through helping people.  I look forward to partnering with him and his church in the future. ---Until next time.  John

    

Monday, October 3, 2016

Downtown 10/2/2016

"In front of the doorway to the most holy place was something that looked like a wooden altar.  It was five feet high and four feet square, and its corners, its base, and its sides were made of wood. The man said, 'This is a reminder that the LORD is constantly watching over his temple.' " Ezekiel 41:21b-22

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what your are." 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 

The last two trips downtown have both been late in the evening on Sundays.  Yesterday I got there just as the sun had gone down, so it was light for about thirty minutes or so.  I had loaded up the car with some bags of clothes I had recently been given.  As I sorted through them at home I saw that, for the most part, they were women's clothes. Not only were they women's clothes but they looked to be very young women's clothes, like maybe teenager sizes.  I wondered how these clothes were going to work.   Although I see homeless women, the percentage is low and I wondered how long it would take for these clothes to be given out.  I didn't have a lot more time to load the car up as it was getting late, so I decided to just go with them and threw a few blankets and sweaters in the car and took off. I had already made up a dozen lunches, so I left and got there about 6:30 pm.  I got off the freeway on Los Angeles St and drove through a very narrow one-way alley just east of Los Angeles St (where Rocky the pit bull dog used to hang-out) and as I came out of that driveway it ends up next to the freeway off-ramp, separated by a fence.  You can get through a break in the fence and there was a guy I knew standing there who saw me coming.  He came over to the car and we talked for a few minutes and then I saw a woman over where he was.  I asked him if she was hungry too and she ended up coming over.  Well, wouldn't you know it, but she was very slender, regular height, but slender and she had a friend on down the driveway who was thin too.  I knew that woman, her name is Hope and yes she is very skinny.  So a lot of those clothes I wondered about who could use them, they both could.  Here it was the very first stop of the trip.  Now who could plan a coincidence like that?  By now I had driven on down to where the driveway ended in the first street east of Los Angeles St and a few other homeless folks from there came over to the car.  I gave out food, blankets and a lot of clothes.  I ended up praying with a group of these people, our arms around each other in a circle.  It's my favorite thing to do on these trips!

A couple of weeks ago I went down an alley off 25th and San Pedro.  It use to be a big hang-out for a lot of homeless folks in the area.  That day there were only four people there and we all knew each other.  I had prayed before hand that wherever I went that day I wanted to bring the Kingdom of Heaven.  I wanted it to be a calming and joyful time.  That day it was the first place I went to and it was still light out.  It's hard to accurately describe the pleasant looks and smiles on the people's faces. One could say they were just happy to receive stuff from me, and that would certainly be true, But its somehow different when they're asking you to pray for them before you leave.  Yesterday, as I was getting close to that alley, (I had prayed in front of the burned-out church before I got there) I remembered I hadn't seen Becky there in a long time.  As I drove down the alley, wouldn't you know it, but there she was.  The first person I saw.  There were two other men there who I hadn't seen in a long time either.  We talked for a while, I showed them some pictures of my dog on my phone. Becky always has some cats and dogs with her.  I even showed them a picture of my daughter's graduation day. They all loved seeing the pictures.  Both trips down that alley were a blessing to me.  I finished out yesterday's trip looking for 'singles' I call them.  People who are by themselves.  I think yesterday I only had about 3 or 4 lunches left after I went down the two alleys.  I finished up finding Alan, who is usually found up and down Olympic Blvd somewhere and sometimes on Alameda near Olympic. That's where I found him yesterday on Alameda.  It's always a blessing to me to help this man.  --Until next time.  John

PS:  Ok, about the bible verses at the top.  As I read through Ezekiel this year, that verse caught my eye and I immediately thought of the New Testament implications with the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer.  If we are the new temple.....God dwells in us.....and He will constantly watch over us. Remember, the very last thing Jesus said to His disciples before he ascended into heaven?  "I will be with you always, even to the end of the world."

Monday, August 29, 2016

Downtown Sunday 8/28/16

"Lord, when doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer."  --Psalm 94:19

OK, it's been awhile since I've written.  For the better part of two months I was only able to make one trip, and that was to Compton (more about that later).  During those two months I had to work an extra day each week and with trips to the hospital every other week I just ran out of 'weekend'.  I made the one trip in July to Compton and now the last two Sunday's I've gone downtown again. Hopefully, I can stay on track.  My work schedule is back to nights, so Sunday's are spent sleeping during the day now and then hurrying to get a trip in before the sun goes down.

Alright, so what's this about Compton.  With all the civil unrest in recent months I've felt drawn to go there and make some new friends.  I am not real familiar with the city even though I've lived near it and driven through it all my life.  I was given a tip as to where to start looking for homeless folks, but the day I went was a weekday (a Monday I think) and it was brutally hot that day, like over a 100 degrees.  I am reluctant to even go downtown Los Angeles on a weekday due to the pace of life during the week is far different than on a Sunday and I know the downtown turf very well. You just can't stop and talk with people much because of the traffic and parking problems, so going to an unfamiliar area was going to be asking a lot and the trip turned out less than optimal.  However, I'll try again on a Sunday in the near future.  I know eventually, if I continue to go there, I'll be asked, "What are you doing here?"  I'm prepared for people being cautious and wary of someone who is as old as I am and looks like I do being kind of out of place there.  Yet someone needs to go and show people what Christ's love looks like on the streets where often there is no light and no love. Remember in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, he was speaking to Jews in Judea.  The Samaritans were hated by the Jews, yet this Samaritan in his parable showed compassion.  I'll try and walk in his shoes in Compton.  Oh, and how will I answer the question of why am I there?  I'm here to help connect peoples hearts to God's.  It's that simple.

So the last two Sunday's I've made trips downtown.  They have been wonderful.  I saw some people I hadn't seen in years.  One was a woman named Rico.  It has been at least two or three years since I last saw her.  She was with Natalie down on 10th with some of the other gang that hangs out there.  I had made a big pot of pasta last week and taken it down there.  This was one street up from where the BBQ was in May.  Rico said she had been in and out of jail a couple of times.  I didn't ask why, I was just happy to see her.  I gave her a hug and told her that I thought of her often and wondered how she was doing. Then Natalie started telling her about some of our times together.  She surprised me with one of her stories.  You know on my way downtown I often pray that I will meet someone who is in desperate need of help.  I guess when you take food down for a dozen or so people there will be a few who are desperate, but it isn't always evident when I meet them.  You may remember the trip I made on Thanksgiving a couple of years ago.  It was the one where the pot of pasta slipped off the hood of my car, yet popped back upright miraculously and only about a serving spoon full of pasta spilled on the ground.  Well, Natalie said that she and Charlie (her boyfriend at the time) had no food or money that day and then I showed up!  It makes me wonder how many others have received help when they were in the same position and I didn't realize it.  There are a lot of times when I feel too tired after working all week to get up and get everything together and go.  Yet I always know there are people who will go to sleep that night hungry or cold or maybe just needing a friendly person to show interest in them and pray with them. Desperation comes in many forms. Ending human suffering is one of our primary goals as Christ followers, no matter how that suffering may be manifested in someone's life.



Here's a picture from yesterday's trip.  I feel particularly drawn to people I see like this on the street. All they have is right there in plain sight.  This man wasted no time in getting up and coming over to the car when I asked him if he was hungry.  I felt badly that I didn't have more blankets with me.  I took one with me and I had given it out already.  I'll look for this guy next time.  --Until then, John

 




 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Downtown 5/29/16

" Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall."  Psalm 55:23

I felt it was important to make a trip this weekend and go right back to where we had the BBQ last weekend.  For one thing I wanted any people I saw that were there a week ago to know that the BBQ wasn't just a one time thing for me.  I may have a BBQ only a couple of times a year, but them seeing me week after week makes an important point, that I'm dependable and always have their best interests at heart.  When they see me, and when they know why I continue to come down there, then it will re-enforce an understanding of the faithful God I serve.  You will be amazed at just how that played out Sunday.  But in addition to that, I wanted an opportunity to see and hopefully talk to the owner who refused to let me do the BBQ on his property last week.  I have been struggling with my initial emotions of being rejected by him.  Although I never expressed anger or resentment towards him outwardly, I did feel the sting of rejection.  So what does a Christian do with these feelings? Jesus taught us (in the Sermon on the Mount) to "...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  Each day we have an opportunity to do something to advance the kingdom of God. He had an opportunity that day and declined.  There have been times I have declined too!  Perhaps sometime in the future he will change his mind about allowing his property to be used this way. I kept thinking about the story in the book of Acts (chp 16) about the Philippian jailer.  Here was a rough, tough Roman soldier.  He saw the example of Paul and Silas in prison after they had been beaten and chained up.  Then after a catastrophic event took place that shook the jailer to his core beliefs, he asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved.  This occurred all in one night.  Talk about a turn- around!  If it happened once it could happen again.  However, I didn't see the man Sunday.  I've never seen him before and I may never again, but I hold out hope that I will not only see him again, but be about to talk to him about this too.  Luckily, I didn't leave our encounter with harsh words so the door should still be open to talk with him.

Anyway, Sunday I took another big pot of pasta with me and started down there at 9th and San Pedro again.  I saw Red and George from last week and a new guy by the name of "Honor", yeah, kind of an off-beat name.  I hung-out with them for a while and then went over to an alley under the I-10 freeway just west of San Pedro.  An old-timer by the name of James lives there and two or three others live there too.  They were all very happy to see me and loved the pasta (especially since it was still hot). James is very hard of hearing and under that freeway it's hard to hear much of what anyone says.  I had asked him how old he was and I thought he said 70, but I think maybe it was only 57.  He has a ZZ Top; kind of beard which makes him look older for sure. So they had all gotten a bowl of pasta and had looked through the back of the car for clothes.  James came back up to the car window and we were talking for a bit.  He asked me straight-up, "Why do you do this?"  It's opportunities like this that don't come around often enough and yet you live for them.  You try to keep the answer somewhat brief, but when he found out I do this because I have the love and spirit of Christ in my heart and a passion so serve he was overjoyed!!  That was pretty amazing. Now I have seen and helped this guy for at least 2 or 3 years. He lives right near where Antonio and Leticia live who I usually see pretty close to every week.  He has always been happy to see me and has said he loves what I do in coming down there.  Being regular and dependable counts for a lot.

I went around to a couple of other folks, Antonio and Leticia being two and Phllip a few blocks west on 16th near Los Angeles St. There were a few others near them that got the rest of the pasta. The pasta actually went pretty quickly, probably only the last bowl wasn't hot which is kind of rare.  I ended up by praying in front of the burned-out church.  Yes, I went there last week after the BBQ and prayed too.  That neighborhood and that church are always in my prayers. --Until next time.  John  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Downtown 5/22/16--BBQ Sunday

"In that day they will say, 'Surely this is our God: we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."  Isaiah 25:9

It's been a while since I last wrote about any of my trips.  I've gone every week, but just haven't had the time to write about them.  Last Sunday I had to work unexpectedly, and went down Monday evening instead.  I had been telling the folks living around the parking lot at San Pedro and 9th that I'd do a BBQ with them in the next couple of weeks.  When I got there Monday evening, they all were asking me if I was going to do it this weekend.  So I decided it was probably the best weekend to do it and I told them to go ahead and count on it.  I also have a family friend who was wanting to come with me, so today was the day. Interestingly enough, I had a co-worker who 'owed' me a day at work.  I had forgotten about it and when he asked what Saturday I wanted off, I decided to go with this Saturday, so I had an extra day to get ready.  As far as planning these things go, I was as ready for this day as I'd ever been, but something had me on edge and a little nervous about how it would all go down.

When you're on the front lines of war or ministry you never quite know what to expect, but you know one thing for sure, there will be conflict.  Today's BBQ was a battle on a couple of different fronts. We kept persevering and by the end of the day we were rewarded big time.

Conflict #1

We arrived at the location (which the homeless folks had told me would be 'no problem' on a Sunday afternoon.  I noticed there were more cars in the parking lots than I normally see at that time (2 pm), but as I pulled into the alley Edgar was there and greeted me.  He had a flag and was probably being the parking attendant there.  He told me that although no one was there now, they (our mutual friends) were all planning on coming.  Another guy I know was there and when I told him I was doing the BBQ, he said he would go get his friends and be back.  So Connor, my friend who went with me, and I drove around the block once just to see if there were any folks in the immediate area to let know we were about to get started and then drove back to the spot where we were going to set up.  We had just gotten everything set up and the BBQ started when the owner showed up and wanted to know what we were doing.  When I told him what we were doing he asked us to leave.  He tried to justify his position by telling me all the problems that the homeless folks cause around there and he didn't want them encouraged to continue to congregate there.  So we had no choice but to leave.  Red, one of the regular homeless folks there, said that a church group sets up across the street once a month and has people lined up around the block every time.  I'm not sure what they serve or how they do it, but I am a little uncomfortable having a BBQ on a public sidewalk because the police could shut you down for having an open flame on the sidewalk.  And....speaking of church groups, when I was there Monday evening there was a church group that had set up with 50 or so chairs there in that parking lot and they served food to the homeless too.  But I didn't argue with the guy, we just packed everything back in the car and went across the street and unpacked everything and set up on the sidewalk. Incidentally, this was the exact spot where I had a most memorable encounter two or three years ago with a man who had just gotten out of prison after being locked up for decades.  He kept asking me why I was being so nice to him.  I'll never forget that encounter.  But back to today's trip.

So it didn't take too long to get everything set up again and there were a couple of Latino men who where hanging around there when we got there.  They asked if we had food and we told them yes, but it would take thirty minutes or so for things to get ready.  I had rented some tables and chairs and offered them chairs to sit in while we got the food ready.  It turned out that these guys were friends of the original guy that went to get his friends when we first showed up across the street.  So very quickly we had four men waiting and 3 or 4 others who inquired what was going on and a little group had gathered and was waiting before anything was ready.  Well, the BBQ was already started and I started getting all the other stuff out.  I had bought 8 lbs of potato salad and four bags of chips and salsa.  I started dishing out the potato salad and when everyone there at that time got a bowlful I went looking for the chips and salsa.  That's when I realized I had left the four large bags of chips in the garage at home!! I had put them at the end of the garage right by the car while I loaded the last couple of chairs and an extra card table in the car.  I didn't want the chips to get crushed while I put those items in, so I was going to pack them in after these heavy items got loaded......and then I forgot them. This proved to be crucial to the next obstacle.



So the first guy sitting down is Edgar and the guy in the green shirt is the guy who was going to get his buddies.  The guy in the white T-shirt is the guy who translated my short talk/prayer for everyone who only understood Spanish.  More on that later.

Conflict #2

So you can see from the picture above, things started off calmly enough.  But soon there were a dozen more men there and I could only cook about 5 burgers at a time.  The potato salad helped initially, in fact, the guy in the white t-shirt was handing out the bowels as fast as I could fill them. Eight pounds of potato salad was gone in twenty minutes.  I've never run out of potato salad before. And now I was faced with no chips.  So I gave Conner some cash and he went with another man, not pictured, around the corner to a 7-11 type store and bought some chips and seasoning since I forgot that too.  I had brought some lettuce and cherry tomatoes (but forgot the salad dressing even though I was going to pick some up during the last trip to the store for ice).  I also had three large cans of baked beans, but they didn't get used until the hamburgers started coming off the grill.  So the problem was only being able to cook about five or six at a time.  I couldn't get them ready fast enough and two of the men, in particular, started getting unruly.  One of them slapped another man around a couple of times and I knew this guy and was totally surprised at his behavior.  The other man I didn't know, but he thought he was being passed over because of his race.  It was getting so ugly that one of the men came up with a number system since, "Some people aren't acting like gentlemen." It prove to be somewhat effective, but the real problem was just not being able to cook things fast enough.  Then some of the folks said they liked theirs medium rare so they could get theirs sooner.  I knew a few of the burgers simply weren't ready and with one guy I actually had to put his back on the grill after he tasted it!  Another guy said his wasn't ready either, but I guess he ate it anyway.  We had torn up a plate or something and wrote numbers from 1 to 10 on them and started giving them out.  It got pretty intense for a short time.  Eventually, everyone got theirs and the two men left (although one of them came back demanding he get the next one because he had a "situation").  When he didn't get the next one off the grill he left and didn't come back.  I didn't shed any tears over that.  So as things started to wind down and all the hamburgers (32 patties) were cooked, people still were drifting by.  I had twelve sausages left to cook and gave those out too.  The last three or so went to some of the guys who hung around until the end, I wanted to finish cooking everything and give it out, so they got a burger and a sausage or two.


The number system that proved to be somewhat effective.  There were two men who actually were quite helpful in keeping some of the other guys in line.  I think they knew them all well enough that they could get in their face a little and get away with it!!

So before we started giving out the burgers I paused everything for a few minutes and asked someone to interpret for me so everyone could understand.  The guy in the white t-shirt above volunteered. If you go to church services in December they generally follow a familiar pattern in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  There's the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth and their giving birth to John the Baptist.  Then there is the story of the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she's going to be pregnant and give birth to the Messiah, Jesus.  Then you have Mary going to visit Elizabeth and then the story of Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and giving birth to Jesus and the Shepard's story.  Now I didn't go into that much detail, but stuck with Gabriel telling Mary she was going to give birth to the Messiah.  Her first response was, "How can this be for I have not known a man?"  And the angel's response was, "With God all things are possible."  So this was the point I wanted to make to these men, that whatever their "impossible" situation was, (like getting off the street) with God's help, "all things are possible".  I encouraged them to pray and talk to God about their "impossible situation".  I also reminded them that praying was not like putting something in a microwave oven and it being ready in a couple of minutes.. Things take time....the journey to the destination is as important as the destination sometimes.  I had hoped to get this on the video, but we didn't get it started in time and only got the end and the prayer.  I made a comment about wanting this to be a 'family time'. Sometimes what went on today was, unfortunately, just like some families.  Well, I tried multiple times to get the video loaded up here, but to no avail.  I'll keep trying, but for now you'll have to just imagine my short sermonette and prayer!!!

Well, I don't want you to think that the obstacles were greater than the triumph.  The end of the trip made everything worth it.  Almost everyone had left after the last of the food was gone except for the guys in the first picture (although I think Edgar was gone and the guy in the white T-shirt).  But the guy in the green shirt and the other two guys and another guy who was a friend of theirs stayed plus another guy who was helpful in keeping the others in line.  Well they helped us clean up and load up.  And these guys actually scrubbed the tables clean with us.  So when everything was loaded up I turned to them and thanked them for helping us load up and asked them to gather around so I could pray for them one more time.  I thanked the Lord for these men who stayed and helped us and asked that He provide specifically for these guys.  Here we were about seven or so of us gathered around with our arms around each others shoulders.  Then when I finished praying, the guy in the green shirt wanted to pray and he thanked the Lord for the food and us coming down there to serve them and then another guy prayed thanking the Lord (El Senor) for the food and the family atmosphere.  Now the guy in the green shirt actually got teary-eyed and got kind of choked-up when he prayed.  I was so proud of these men.  These were the few, the 'remnant' that God always keeps safe and protected.  It was a privilege to serve them and pray with them.  It made the trip worth far more that I could have imagined.  --Until next time.  John

The menu:
32 burgers and buns
12 sausages and buns
48 slices of cheese--we ran out after about 25 burgers
8 pounds of potato salad
3 pounds of lettuce and two small tubs of cherry tomatoes
3 twenty ounce cans of baked beans
1 jug of salsa
2 bags of chips (plus the 4 I forgot at home)
6 two liter bottles of soda
24 bottles of water

Sounds like a regular family backyard BBQ huh?