Sunday, 18 July 2010

Another Chance - expanded story

Awhile back I posted a (true!) story about the street church that I am part of (You can read that original story here. I also asked some writers at The Word Guild for editing. While they did offer good advice about grammar and such, mostly they asked a lot of questions! So I have rewritten the story, incorporating the information they asked about. I was wondering what to do with it, if anything, and then I received a comment from Mark at Called Out in Kansas. This rewrite is for you Mark - and anyone else who is interested in the street church we call "Another Chance."

If folks want to know more, you can write "Another Chance" or "street church" in the search bar at the top of this blog, and find lots of things I've written about it. You can also check out the Another Chance website

This rewrite, though, will help you understand how this street gathering started - and, I want to emphasize, it is because one man and his wife (and children!) listened to Father... even though it has been a great sacrifice for them in some ways (ie financially) the joy they have in the Lord is truly abundant!


"Check it out! Steve laughed, as he dumped half a dozen tattered plastic grocery bags onto the ground, and plopped himself cheerfully into one of the ragged black lawn chairs scattered about the dirt parking lot.

The rag-tag street family, chilly hands curled around styrofoam cups full of steaming coffee, turned to look in Steve's direction. Gord remarked, "Looks like you've been busy already this morning, buddy."

Steve dug into the bag closest to him, and agreed, "Real back-alley treasures this morning." He held up a pet dish with an attached water container, and handed it to Marie. "Your kitty is going to love this."

Digging into another bag, he pulled out a couple pairs of slightly scuffed leather shoes, one pair white, the other black. "Check these out. They're hardly used." He held them out to the shortest guy in the group. "Maybe they'll fit you?"

Dave laughed and replied, "Just because I'm short doesn't mean my feet are that small. I'd have to take a sledge-hammer to my feet to squeeze them into those. But yeah, they are in good shape. Look like nurse shoes to me. Maybe they'd be good for one of the girls?"

Bill wandered over to the table and held his cup under the spout of one of the old pump pot thermoses. He pressed down on the pump button with the palm of his hand. Unfortunately, his aim was off-center, and the thermos tipped. Steaming coffee splashed over his hand, missing the cup. "%*@#%@*!" Bill hollered.

"Hey, no swearing around here," Vicky called out, and everyone chuckled, for this was rule number one of the five street breakfast rules.

The other rules, as everyone knew, were no drugs or alcohol, no gang colors, no fighting - and rule number five, no yawning. Nobody was sure where number five had come from, but it was somehow appropriate for these early-morning parking lot gatherings around the battered old plastic breakfast table.

Of course the yawns soon disappeared as the food and coffee on the table provided energy and warmth to cold, tired bodies. The street folks knew they could depend on Pastor Pete to bring coffee and juice, as he had been doing for years. Nowadays, he had been joined by Kevin, who pitched in cereal and milk, while Lorna brought boiled eggs and baked goodies such as pigs-in-blankets and cow-patty cookies. Ruth brought bread for toast, and Lex often dropped off fresh fruit. Sunday mornings featured cooked breakfasts: hotdogs or hamburgers, or french toast, pancakes, or eggs and ham. Whatever God provided, through His people. And of course, when they could, the street family members themselves added to the spread.

As the street folks enjoyed their breakfast, a couple on their way to work, he in suit and tie, she in dress and heels, walked by on the sidewalk.

"Hello there!" Pastor Pete hailed them.

The couple looked sideways at the dozen or so guys and gals gathered in the parking lot. They started walking a bit faster, the woman's heels tap-tapping a faster beat on the paved sidewalk.

Pete offered, "Come on and join us for coffee."

The couple shook their heads, "No thanks," with embarrassed smiles, and kept going.

"Well, God bless," the street pastor called after them.

The door at a construction office across the way opened, and a young woman stepped out, coffee mug in hand, and walked across to the group.

"Hi. My name's Joanne." She walked around, shaking hands with everyone. "I work over there, and I see you out here every morning. The boss is out just at the moment and I'm alone in the office, so I thought I'd sneak over and meet you all."

Everyone laughed and said hello, and Kevin offered, "Want some breakfast?"

"Oh, no thanks, I've already eaten," she replied. "But if it's okay, I'd like to hang out for a bit, as there's nothing happening at the office right now." Within moments, Kevin and Joanne were deep in conversation about construction work, and others in the group who'd done construction in the past joined them.

By now the sun had risen higher and the air was warming. Some of the early arrivals headed out to appointments or to check out the day-job work boards. They were quickly replaced by other street people, who, with the warmer temperatures, had unwrapped themselves from their sleeping bags in alleys and under bridges. They hid their bags away for the day in inconspicuous spots, and now headed to the parking lot breakfast. Over a two to three hour period, anywhere from thirty to eighty people might come and go. Sunday breakfasts could attract up to a hundred, and double that in the summer when transients moved into the resort community.

Steve finished his breakfast and coffee, and dug into another of his tattered bags. He brought out a handful of keys and locks. "Can you believe this?" he asked Lorna. "I actually found some keys and locks that match."

She laughed. "That's a rare find, for sure."

"Yeah," Steve added, "though as usual I also found some keys that don't have matching locks."

Lorna looked at the two keys he held out in his palm. "Wow, those look just like the key I lost for my bike lock. I was thinking I'd have to get the lock cut off."

Steve handed the keys to her. "Here, take them and see if they'll fit. I'll have to throw them out otherwise."

Just then Mike ran across the street to join the group, a big grin on his face. Pastor Pete commented, "You look warmer this morning than usual."

Mike answered, "Yeah, I actually slept well last night, even though it was raining and close to freezing. Say thanks to whoever donated that awesome insulated sleeping bag, eh? Can't remember the last time I was warm enough to sleep through the night. At least not since the downtown businesses barred off all the ventilation shafts."

Three or four of the guys nodded sympathetically. "Know how you feel," Allen commiserated. A former street person himself, Al had experienced the love of Jesus shared by Pastor Pete and the other brothers and sisters. Now he was off the street, back with his family, and working. He was also part of a local church, as were many others who had encountered Jesus here on the streets. Still, whenever he got the chance, Al would come by, bringing some treat like real cream for the coffee. And he would encourage those who were presently walking the path on which he had once been.

A pickup truck pulled up in front of the construction office across the street, and Joanne laughed, "The boss is back. I gotta go."

As she ran across to her job, she nearly bumped into Fred, who was stumbling toward the group. Even though he wore a jacket and warm gloves, Fred shivered with cold. "Hey, Kev, buddy, do you think you could do me a favor?"

He pulled off a glove and painfully held out a hand with fingers stiff and white from the cold. "I got terrible circulation. Do you think you could pour me a coffee? If I try to do it myself I'll probably spill."

"Sure," Kevin responded, and poured him a cup of steaming hot coffee. Fred removed his other glove, and carefully wrapped his fingers around the cup. As the warmth from the cup moved into his fingers, and the heat of the coffee into his body, Fred relaxed and gradually stopped shivering.

Dana sidled up to Pastor Pete. "I'm kinda having a rough time," she confided.

Pastor Pete took her by the elbow and they walked a few steps away from the rest of the group. The others noticed, but kept their distance, as pretty near every one of them, at one time or another, had themselves confided in their street pastor.

For over five years, Pastor Pete had walked the streets of the community five or six days a week, listening, counseling, sharing Jesus. Peter had been involved in the street life from the age of 15, as a drug dealer, bartender, biker. He had gone through multiple marriages and relationships. But then at age forty, he had met Jesus. And it was not long until his Lord called him back to the streets to walk with Him there, and to share God's love with those he understood so well. God also gave Pastor Pete a new wife, Tineka,who became a truly suitable partner for him. Together, she and Peter now cared for their blended family of five teenagers, and Tineka also worked full time to support the family, freeing and encouraging Peter to follow God's call to the streets.

As the street family watched Dana and Pastor Pete talking, they knew from experience that Dana would find help - a listening ear, a prayer, a gentle direction to relationship with God. Jesus' love would reach her through Peter in practical ways, too. A toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, clean socks. And connections to others who could provide warm clothes, a place to sleep, professional care. Pastor Pete didn't have an established mission building or programs or anything fancy like that, but he did have the love of Jesus. And so she would be treated with dignity and care, and that was what mattered. She, like hundreds of others, would be given another chance.

Some members of this family had been on the streets for many years. Others were new arrivals. All, with Pastor Peter's love, were being presented with the opportunity to come to know Jesus. Some would reject the offer, but many had accepted. Some of these had quickly moved on to new lives. Others continued to struggle with addictions, life-long abuse, mental illness. Yet in the midst of these difficulties, there could be seen true peace and assurance in those who had accepted Jesus. As a family, those who now knew Him were caring for, encouraging and supporting their brothers and sisters however they could, often giving away their own sleeping bags or jackets, or even endangering themselves by protecting them from violent young punks. And they were also looking out for and caring for those who had not yet encountered Jesus.

In fact, the streets of the community were changing. The police agreed that far less people were homeless, the number of hookers had decreased, and violence and addiction-related problems among street-level people were now way down. The officers were now able to focus more attention on other components of the community among whom crime continued to escalate.

The sun was getting high in the sky, and the early morning chill had lifted. The thermoses of coffee had run dry, and the baked goodies had nearly all disappeared. Everyone pitched in to pack up the remaining cereal and milk to be saved for tomorrow's street breakfast. The last few boiled eggs were tucked into pockets for lunch snacks. The table and lawn chairs were folded up and packed away into the trunk of Kevin's old beater car, and into Pastor Pete's tired van. Lorna placed her plastic containers and the empty egg cartons in her granny cart. She started to head off down the sidewalk, looking out for anyone with whom she could share the last of the baked goodies.

Steve, too, was packing up his bags. He was almost ready to leave when he stopped and pulled out the leather shoes once more. "Here," he called after Lorna, "I don't know who can use these. But you probably know someone. Can you pass them on?"

Lorna stopped and came back. "Totally," she responded. "I bet Cheryl could use them. I need to drop by and see if she's okay, anyway." She laid the shoes in the top of the cart and headed out again.

Steve lifted his tattered bags of back-alley treasures together. Pastor Pete and Kevin were climbing into their vehicles.

"Thanks for the coffee and goodies. See you all tomorrow," Steve called to them. And laughing, he headed down the alley to check out another dumpster's treasure chest.


Mark said...

Great (true) story! I followed the link to the community website. I feel even more strongly about the need for the body at large to support these people. Even with limited financial support look at how much of a difference the work has made? Imagine if there were resources available to help these brothers and sisters back on their feet? I think we can't even imagine what He is planning for His church!

Dan Allen said...

This post was really convicting. to see people with nothing giving to each other! How incredibly humbling. Thank you for sharing!