I Know it Doesn't Seem Like Much
The youth group from Pittsburgh was doing its second day of ministry with homeless people in Washington, DC. There were 13 of them including adults. They were already at the second of four parks handing out hot dogs, chips and water when I met them. Here is a brief summary of what I saw and experienced. I would love to hear what they had to say about their day.
We gave food and water to a man on a bench at McPherson Square. His wheelchair was parked beside him. His legs were stretched out in front of him on the bench so we could see the bandages under his sock on one leg. But he wasn't interested in talking about his problems. He much preferred talking about the Steelers, Hershey Park and other things he had in common with the group. It was a delightful exchange. The other conversations at the square were relatively brief.
We headed down K Street toward Farragut Square. A man was standing next to the entrance of a drug store with a cup in his hand, asking for change. The group gave him a bottle of water, a hot dog and some plain potato chips. The spicy ones didn't set well with him. He told us he still lived in a shelter but things were looking up. He also said that the Holy Spirit was in him. One of the youth asked if they could pray with him. We bowed and joined our hearts in prayer that God would open doors for this dear brother.
There weren't many people at Farragut Square. It wasn't until the end of our time there that we got hooked up in a conversation with a couple of homeless men who gave the group the lowdown on sights to see while they were in DC. I think these men enjoyed their role as concierges.
We left Farragut and settled on the grass at Lafayette Square in front of the White House. Everybody ate lunch, took pictures, talked and just enjoyed the day. As we were leaving we passed by Elijah, a self-proclaimed poet and prophet. He was a tall man with a long wooden staff. For clothes, he wore a pair of cut-off jeans slit up the sides so the pockets were hanging out. I'm glad that's all that was hanging out. His gray hair was in dreadlocks, and his long, dirty-gray, matted beard hung down his bare chest. As he reclined on the bench he shared a couple of poems and his theology. The part about using "as a man sows, so shall he reap" to connect reincarnation with Christianity was especially interesting. He didn't ask us to agree or disagree. I think he just enjoyed the attention.
Up on H Street we saw Willy, cup in hand, trying to panhandle a few dollars. I've known Willy a long time. He had a bad drinking problem but gave it up when he started having some serious health issues. We gave him a hot dog and some water, said a few words back and forth and moved on. He thanked us as we walked away.
When we got to the park at 18th St and Pennsylvania Avenue, things really clicked. Katt Stone, a homeless woman with delusions and some paranoia (but a very talented artist) welcomed a group of the girls and engaged them in conversation. She was in great form. You could tell she cherished the encounter. Katt doesn't get much female company.
As she was talking with the girls, Singh, a small man from India, stumbled up and joined them on the bench. He was drunk. He's drunk most of the time we see him. He followed the conversation for a while and moved over to another bench where he ate his hot dog and asked for another. We gave it to him. After eating something, he sobers up a bit. None of the volunteers quite knew how to minister with Singh. That piece of ministry fell on me. He came up to me and gave me a hug exclaiming, "My buddy, Tebe!” That's as close as he can get to "Steve" when he's inebriated. I managed a little conversation with him. He's difficult to understand when he's drunk. I said a prayer (again) for my buddy who is so possessed by the bottle.
While Katt was holding court, Dave, with his bald head, beard and winning smile, was engaging another group of the volunteers in a lively discussion. By the time he finished his conversation, the group was back together. Then Marck, a homeless man originally from Panama, took over. Everyone was smiling as Marck asked them their names and what grade they were entering in school and followed up with delightful commentary.
Finally we crossed the street to the last stop. We handed out the last few hot dogs and headed home. The last one we laid beside a man who was passed out on the grass.
I know the events of the day don't seem like much. Nothing extraordinary happened …or did it? Homeless people were grateful for the humble meal we provided. You could tell some were hungry by the way they dove in as soon as they got their hot dogs. One man was encouraged in his faith and formed a bond of fellowship with the volunteers who lifted up their hearts with him to the throne of God.
Katt, who desperately needs to feel special, was made to feel very special indeed. The girls and women who spent time with her were also touched by her heart and interest in them. I could tell by the comments of a couple of the girls as we left the park that she had an impact on them.
We could feel Dave's and Marck's energy levels soar as they engaged in lively banter with members of the group. You could read the joy on their faces and on the faces of those who were serving them.
I may never know for sure, but perhaps the greatest impact was on our volunteers. Their faith took them somewhere they would have never gone otherwise. It allowed them to connect with people they would have never dreamed of talking with outside of their faith journey. Not only did they experience the joy of serving the poor, but they were blessed by getting to know people they would have otherwise passed by. They got to see new threads of the rich tapestry of humanity, these wonderfully diverse creatures that God loves so much, and to develop that agape love for others in their own hearts.
I know it doesn't seem like much but, maybe - just maybe - our encounters make a difference for a day or a lifetime.