Outreach Journal: April 27th, 2024

April 27, 2024

Usually, I would start by writing about the logistics of how the day was put together, beginning with how the provisioning was obtained and the food bags assembled. While all of that is important, I’ll instead jump right into some events that took place on Saturday, April 27th, that I feel are extraordinarily profound.

Our journey began at the Cadillac Motel, our customary first stop. The day commenced as usual, with the unloading of supplies and knocking on doors. The community responded, as always, with a surge of people. Among them were new volunteers, including a nine-year-old boy named Riley and his mother. They took it upon themselves to distribute food and toiletries at a table in the parking lot, embodying the spirit of our community.

The boy seemed to really enjoy what he was doing. I’m not sure how it came about, whether I suggested that he accompany me or if he asked to.  His mother agreed.  He grabbed four or five food bags, and we walked into the mass of people.  I scanned the crowd and suggested individuals I thought he ought to seek out, which he enthusiastically did.  This was certainly not the behavior I was expecting from a nine-year-old.  When he was down to his last food bag, he approached a specific man who might have been experiencing homelessness, as evidenced by the fact that he was carrying what appeared to be some of his belongings.  To me, the man seemed hardened in spirit, but evidently, that’s not the way Riley saw it.  Riley asked the man if he would like a food bag while simultaneously extending it into the grasp of the man’s hands.  When Riley’s hands were free, he embraced the man around the waist with both arms, squeezed tight, and said, “God loves you.”  The once callous expression on the man’s face immediately transformed into a man who started to weep.  His demeanor completely changed, as did mine.  Riley headed back toward the table for more food bags as if nothing had happened.

For about another hour, Riley and I made several trips back for more food bags and had similar experiences with people I knew who lived at the Cadillac and could not leave their rooms and join the crowd due to mobility issues. I stood in the background and allowed him to do his thing.  He exhibited no hesitation approaching people regardless of their appearance, smell, the filth they may have been living in, or their race.

As Riley and I walk back to his mom, we pass by the still-tearful man carrying his belongings.  The boy doesn’t say anything, as if it wasn’t anything unusual.  I can’t resist and say, “God bless you.”  The man replies (and I’m paraphrasing), “You’re the one who’s blessed me today.”  Of course, he’s speaking of the boy because I didn’t do anything.  And ultimately, the man is referring to Jesus, who chose the boy to work through.  And there’s the clincher: the boy chose to show up.  Read that again.  Let that sink in for a moment.

This puts a few things into perspective. I’m so worried about not being “holier than thou” that I’ve sometimes been afraid to speak at all.  There’s nothing holy about being silent when you’re supposed to speak. And I’ve been given the opportunity to do that here.  Through Amos, God told the people of Israel that it is just as important to be righteous inwardly as outwardly. We cannot say we love God and others when we fail to help people who are within our power to help.  People who claim to be “broken” get cleaned up, attend their theology classes and bible studies, assemble committees, elect leadership to address their church’s needs, and fundraise to plant campuses out of town. Meals are planned and served to honor one another’s milestones in their faith.  Dances, trips, “branded” tee shirts, and children’s camps are all filled with photo ops to publish on social media for all to see. And while studying the word of God and being a part of that common community is vital to His plan, I wonder if it’s supposed to focus that far inward.  We can make ourselves feel better by our recruitment efforts to increase our Sunday attendance.  After all, that’s part of how we fulfill the Great Commission, and that’s focusing outward, right?  Check that off the list.  It makes me ask if some of these well-seasoned theological masterminds who can recite the entire bible from memory might not get it as this nine-year-old boy does.  And I can say all this because I’ve lived in the middle and participated in this inward focus thinking for several years.

To be clear, is the church “bad”? Not at all.  Church is composed of people, just like you and I.  And we are flawed, each and every one of us, and I put myself at the top of that list.  Church leadership reading this could easily unleash a thousand scriptures defending their policies and render my point unworthy of consideration, even evil.  And to support their verdict, I’ll admit that, at the very least, a part of me is judgmental and bitter.  Am I suggesting that all churches only focus inward?  Not at all. In contrast, one church was at the Cadillac Motel that morning, distributing ham and cheese biscuits and coffee.  They followed us to Tent City and did the same thing.  When we showed up at the Colonel House Motel, another church was already knocking on doors. And that same church has members who volunteer and are absolutely critical in fulfilling our monthly objective.  The pastor of yet another church showed up that Friday afternoon and personally filled a couple hundred or more bags of food.  Without him, my wife and I would’ve been filling bags until midnight.  Some churches have soup kitchens and blessing boxes. I know one church with a house on their property devoted solely to clothing people, which is crazy when you consider the massive amount of work that goes into that.

Similar to how we can prove counterfeit money by how it looks and feels, we can determine the quality of our own faith by how well we love others. To my own demise, I pay very little attention to what anyone, especially the church, says it does and more attention to what it actually does.

So, should you change churches because the one you attend is inward-focused?  Or avoid church altogether?  Please don’t.  Do the opposite.  Take it upon yourself to follow scripture and set an example.  As James 1:27 tells us, true religion includes helping orphans, widows, and those in distress. James goes on to write that faith without works is a dead faith (James 2:26).  There’s no shortage of “those in distress” right in your backyard.  Pick a spot, and go there.  It probably won’t go as planned and will likely be messy.  That’s just the nature of the beast.  You might reach five or five hundred.  It’s not a competition, and the numbers shouldn’t be the goal.

We departed the Cadillac and arrived at Tent City.  The residents headed down the railroad track toward the area where we set up at Triad Lane shortly after arrival.  The last time we were there on March 30th was the first time we had food available to hand out.  Before that, we could only provide coats, hats, gloves, and other warm clothing.  This time, once again, we had plenty of food and toiletries.  In fact, we had specific totes designated for Tent City that included items that would most benefit them, such as bottled water, body wipes, and feminine products.  And another with canned food with pull tops, bagged MRI-type meals, and other non-perishables.  As usual, they were extremely grateful and polite.  A new face we had not seen before was wearing no shoes.  By the grace of God, we had a tote full of shoes and socks.  At the end of our visit, she rode away on her bike, wearing a pair of shoes and a tote strapped down on the back (of her bike), full of provisioning.

More than one of them mentioned that the food they had obtained from the last time we were there at the end of March had almost lasted until we returned. There’s no way we could’ve accomplished that without the number of people who gave that food so generously—God’s will.

We arrived at the Colonel House Motel and set up our tables as usual.  It never ceases to amaze me how humble and helpful those who are less fortunate can be.  There was no shortage of people asking to unload the totes and tables.  Just like last time, everybody who wanted food got food.  The one man (who ironically has mobility issues) I was saving socks for, who specifically asked for them the last time we were there, wasn’t there.  I was told by the couple he had shared his room with that he had been arrested for drug-related charges and asked if they could have his socks instead. I was happy to give them to someone that needed them.  We always run out of socks.

We departed there for Dixiana Court.  By now, we were down to just enough totes to cover the trailer we pulled behind our truck, Ole’ Blue.  So, it was just a matter of parking and removing the lids, a welcome predicament for our last stop.  We had hardly arrived, and we were greeted by a familiar nonverbal teenage boy who motioned for me to follow him. I suspected it was for me to knock on his family’s door first, which I gladly did.  This confirms that these folks are starting to recognize and trust us, which is what we’re after.  Within moments, the trailer is surrounded by people filling up bags with provisioning.

A few days earlier, a well-intended lady dropped by a case of dishwashing liquid and laundry detergent.  Initially, I thought to myself, “Wow, we’ll never get rid of those.”  But I figured that if anyone took them, it would be the people living at Dixiana Court since they had access to the luxury of kitchens and a laundromat that our other stops didn’t.  Apparently, I greatly underestimated the need.  These containers were grabbed up frenetically and were gone instantly.

I was walking down a flight of stairs after knocking on a few doors on the second floor and was met by a boy who might have been seven or eight years old.  He struggled to carry two bags up the stairs, one in each hand, so overloaded with food at one point that I thought he would fall backward with their weight.  I motioned to help carry them, and he reluctantly allowed me to have one, which I delivered to his door.  I walked down to the trailer, and within a few moments, the boy returned with his wagon.  Someone inquired what he had in mind, and although I can’t recall his exact words, he relayed his determination to feed his family.  He started filling his wagon with food bags and random cans of food.  Now, remember that when we fill these food bags the night before, we do so in such a way that they’re intended for each person to have one.  If by chance we have someone that asks for two, of course, we give it to them.  But this boy was loading up.  After he filled his wagon, he started filling more bags.  How can you stop that?  Karen from Ridgewood Baptist double-bagged his bags so they’d survive the trip.  We asked the boy how he planned on getting his wagon up the stairs, and he said he hadn’t figured that out yet.  Needless to say, we got his food upstairs.

I hate to keep saying it, but let that sink in a moment.  Here’s a child who’s so determined to see that his siblings don’t go hungry and so consumed with the thought of grabbing as much food as possible that it’s superseded his concern about how he would get it inside his home.  What does that tell you?  Was he that hungry at that moment? There was food in the many bags he was desperately collecting that he could have unwrapped and put into his mouth on the spot.  We’re witnessing raw empathy, just like we saw with Riley at the Cadillac Motel.  The boy is more concerned with others than himself.  What would it look like if we all did that for a day?

Thanks to the generosity of people, we ended up handing out about 500 bags of food that day, several pairs of shoes, a few clothes, and some socks. Please feel free to bring your donations to our store, and I promise they will be handed to someone who needs them.  Although all nonperishables are welcomed, the following are the most commonly distributed.  Ramen, peanut butter crackers, oatmeal packages, Vienna sausages, tuna pouches, cereal bars, peanut butter, and apple sauce.  Toiletries like baby wipes, feminine products, toilet paper, soap, and shampoo are appreciated.  We do not accept money.

All of the real names used here were with permission. Otherwise, the names have been changed. To protect the identity of those photographed, they have been blurred intentionally unless consent was given before publishing. Riley’s parents permitted us to publish his name and picture with the woman at the Cadillac Motel, as did she.







1 Comment

  1. Debra Blandford

    What blessing you and your team provide for our community.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also like…

Call Now Button