Our Office Field Trip

Webb

[This post is written by one of our recent guests]

Take a look at this picture I’ve posted. That is my boss and three of my friends (co-workers). We are smiling and being silly as Dr. Webb was driving us to downtown Atlanta this morning. 

Now take a closer look at the girl in the middle. Did you see her hair …. freshly cut, colored and highlighted? What about her nails? Aren’t they pretty? Perfectly manicured from last Fridays appointment with Tina, her manicurist. This girl wants to tell you a story. Are you willing to take a moment to listen and hear what she has to say? 

A few months ago, well… Christmas to be exact. Our boss, Dr. Webb gave us a rare Christmas gift. That gift was a bible study book with the promise to do it together over the course of 2014. Dr Webb was good on his word and marked off our schedule one day every month for the total of eight sessions. Now, how many people have a boss like that?! I felt so incredibly blessed to work in such a place. 

The first month came and after looking over the study, it didn’t take me long to conclude that this study would take us down a path of community outreach. 
I wasn’t surprised by this, because for years … Dr. Webb has shared with us his passion for the homeless. We’ve collected socks, sent food, books and even seen some of these men and women in our office, reaching out to them with a warm welcome, improving their smiles and … Hopefully, their quality of life. 
So, again it was of NO surprise to me many months ago that Dr Webb marked off yet another day of our schedule with “Field Trip” typed in the description. 

As time passed and the “Field Trip” approached. ….We all were curious. We had questions and even concerns as this “Field Trip” drew closer. 
Where are you taking us Dr Webb? Will we Be safe? Will we have to do much walking? Will it cost us anything? What will they want from us?
After the “Field Trip” … will You take us by the Varsity?!?

The day of the “Field Trip” finally came and this morning …VERY early, I sat in a room of people. mostly men. As we enjoyed donated bagels, grits and coffee, Elliott (a homeless man) led the prayer time and devotion. I read along in Psalm 139. 
“O Lord thou hast searched me and known me, thou doest know when I lie down and when I rise up, thou doest understand my thoughts from afar”. 
Then one by one they went around the room…. Calling out, to our Heavenly Father….praying aloud… Asking, for forgiveness, for guidance, for healing, for political mercies. Thanking Our Heavenly Father for another day, surviving another night, for the blessing of another hot meal, for health … For safety… For freedom to worship…. 
For salvation. 

I felt so honored and humbled to be there to witness it, and to share in this precious time with God.

After prayer time, a few more folks joined us and Sylvia (a wife and mother that gives of her time unselfishly to minister to the homeless) asked us to open our bibles and turn to JUDGES where we would Continue their study and talk about Samson and Delilah. 
As we went through the verses and discussion…. 
Were there awkward silences as I’ve seen many times in bible study? No there was not. Insights were being bounced from one table to another. EVERYONE having SO much to share about what this passage meant to them, and ultimately what God was showing them. The men were so eager to share, Sylvia (the facilitator) had to say… You first, you second … then you third. 

I felt so humbled.

After bible study, Sylvia took us to the streets. As we began to walk, The wind was blowing and I couldn’t help but think what an absolutely beautiful day it was!! Sylvia led us around the corner where we were not only passers by, but it was as if She were a celebrity. Sylvia is very well known in the community they have created there at COTS (Church on the Street) formerly called The Abby. Not because she is a celebrity, but because she has established a relationship with many of the people that are homeless, hungry and struggling in this neighborhood. 

It was as though they trusted her and she didn’t seem afraid. One by one, she called out their names and greeted people with a hug, fist punched it out or gave them mints from Her pocket. 
There were hundreds of people on the street. Maybe because it was a beautiful day or maybe because there was a food truck giving out plates of warm pasta? 

We walked we trash, drug dealers, prostitutes, hustlers, children, even stepping over sick people lying In the gutters, sidewalks and bushes. 

I was not humbled… I was embarrassed and afraid. Even still we walked ….. And Walked… Greeted people, talked with people and walked some more. 

The wind was still blowing and the day…. Was Not so beautiful now. 

We went back to the Abby (Church on the Street) where we separated and sat in a room FULL of people that were waiting with forks in hand for their lunch. As I entered the room, the heat of the day hit me in the face and I clung to Elizabeth… not wanting to sit alone. We were invited to sit at a table with five men.
Five men that We did not know. 
I was a little overwhelmed, thoughts rushing through my head….unsure what to say to these men. How do I enter into a conversation? What would I have in common with them? 
A plate of food was put in front of me. 
There was no air conditioning, no breeze and By now…. I was very hot, feeling a little claustrophobic, sweating profusely and not very hungry. 
There was a man sitting beside me… He shook my hand and introduced himself. I noticed his warm eyes as he began to tell me that he had returned to Church of the Street today to share what God had done in his life. He had once come there to eat because he had no where else to go, but now… Because of the opportunities Church on the Street provided to him, he was able to get back on his feet. He had come today to share his “GOOD NEWS”… And encourage those around us not to lose HOPE. 

After a few minutes I found that I was conversing with him and the other gentlemen at my table… We talked about making homemade chicken and dumplins, adding green peppers to Ragu when making spaghetti, the tragic death of Robin Williams, How drugs and depression don’t discriminate, our loss in interest of ML baseball after that horrible strike over money in the nineties, moving here 24 years ago from Ohio and not missing that SNOW! 

Soon, Our “Field Trip” concluded… And it was time for us to go. We said our goodbyes..and went our separate ways. 

As I drove home this afternoon… I turned off my radio. I rode in silence all the way home. 
As I was reflecting on the events of the day, I found myself thinking about Football season. I don’t know if I’ll ever watch a Falcons game again without visualizing the face of Charles. His ragged T-shirt (Obviously A tossed out 2007 Carnival Cruise souvenir) …… His eyes dancing as he asked me if I enjoyed watching The falcons. And “football ms Linda… Do you like football”… He wanted to know… Was I a Falcons fan? Because He LOVED football.

I remember now as I was leaving thanking him for allowing me to have lunch with him and his reply asking me to please come back. Funny…. Somehow I can’t help but feel we would have no problem having a conversation. 
As I write this I can see still his toothless grin and Hear His gracious thank you as I slid my plate of food over to him. 

There is SO much more I could share and I Thank you for taking the time to read this very long post.

I’ll ask two things of you…
1) If and when you watch the Falcons this year? Will you Think of Charles, a delightful Falcons fan. Will you Say a prayer that he is somewhere warm, safe, loved and able to enjoy the game? 
2) Please do not look back at the picture I posted. 
Why? 
Because I should have never have ask you to look at that girl in the middle anyway.

 

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Perceptions from the mission field

Hey Brodie,

I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ve learned at Church on the Street and something finally tumbled out!

From the perspective of one who used to arrange for a large group to serve meals at the Pine Street lot, here’s some of what I’ve learned. (I really want to try to say this without bashing drive-by ministries!)

Planning, preparing meals, sorting donations and getting volunteers to serve in the parking lot is a crazy amount of work. Once in the parking lot, I was so busy serving, setting up and running other volunteers, that I had absolutely no time to interact with the people we were going to serve. Making folks line up and behave for food and clothes felt really awful — not like I was loving them at all. Going to Church on the Street with a heart open to give only yourself in order to see how God will work leaves a whole lot more room for God to work. It’s a step towards living like I really believe in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than in the power of my own works. 

I hope to see y’all on Wednesday!

(I received this email from one of our staff members)

Gray day at Church on the Street

 

Atlanta Police Department
Atlanta Police Department (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It’s pretty gray, weather wise, at Church on the Street today.  Overcast, misty days seem to lessen the crowds we see.  I guess they hunker down somewhere out of the weather.  Or as out of the weather as a homeless person can get.

 

There was an Atlanta Police officer parked in the parking lot this morning when I came in.  I took a business card out to introduce myself and let him know that Church on the Street is here and what we can offer.  Very nice officer by the way.  Hopefully, by introducing ourselves and what Jesus is doing here to more of the community, then we can grow into a unit that helps each other to move forward.

 

Rainy Day

Kind of a quiet day around COTS today.  The usual activities happened: prayer, bible study, breakfast, lunch, and hair cuts this afternoon.  There were no interns or mission teams around today so was definitely a change of pace.  Now is the time when we’ll start looking at some internal organizing tasks and move forward.  

I love the streets. Why?

I talked to a gentleman today that is living on the street, otherwise known as homeless.  He was in the COTS office to meet Pastor Andy and was telling some of his story.  One of the things he said that really caught my attention was that he loved the streets.  I was a little stunned by the statement.  How could this be?  How could a person love the streets?

So I asked him, “why do you love the streets?  What makes someone want to stay in this situation?”

His answer was very clear and straight forward.  He said “it’s what I know.  It’s where I grew up.”  One a side note, he also said that he is growing tired of the life he’s living.

I had never really thought about living on the street as something that would have been a life style.  That it could be a learned behavior that has to be in essence, unlearned.  Or at least, a new way must be shown and learned.

I don’t know that his feeling is the majority, but I can definitely see that it is fitting for several.  So I guess the take away is there are some that actually need to learn not just a life skill, or go to rehab of some sort, but they actually have to learn a whole new way of living.

Murphy, North Carolina

Murphy, Cherokee County, North Carolina
Murphy, Cherokee County, North Carolina (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

We had a group from Murphy, North Carolina, jump in their church bus and travel down to Atlanta today.  I hope they got more than they bargained for with Church on the Street.  I’m guessing that they got more than they bargained for, in a good way, from learning about the mission of Church on the Street.  I couldn’t keep up with all they were able to do today, but I think it was definitely an eye opener for them.

Really hoping that they will come back for a longer visit to learn more about living in community according to God’s plan.

Carwash Success!!!

We had another carwash fundraiser in the parking lot today.  From what I could see it was quite a success in more ways than one.  

Obviously we raised some money, but we also had people that knew nothing about the mission of Church on the Street learn about what God is doing in the community and much farther.  It’s awesome to watch staff, interns, missions team members, and community members work together for a common cause.  

Jesus rocked it again.  Image

I can’t tell the difference, homeless or not?

I was in the Church on the Street office today.  I was basically in my own world working on some social media things.   I was listening to the guys, and a couple of ladies, in the kitchen.  I had the thought that I should ask Pastor Andy which are homeless and which are volunteers.  But then Jesus proposed a bigger question to me.  “How do I know the difference?”  

The answer is, I don’t.  Sure there are a few individuals that come in that I know for sure.  But for the most part, I can’t tell.  They’re not different from me, you or anyone else.  Their current living situation does not in any way, shape or form define who they are.  

I even walked from the office into the kitchen at one point and still didn’t know for sure.  I could take some guesses, but I would have been working off of pure appearances, which truly tell me nothing.  A person should not and can not be judged by their dress, surroundings, or any other external characteristic.  

I think God gave me a glimpse today of how he sees each of us.  Not by our house, car, job, status, or lack thereof.  But rather by our heart.  By who he created us to be.  

 

Brodie

Just in Time: A Baby Story from the Street

     Several months ago a pregnant 19 year old showed up at Retreat from the Street.  Her name is Carol.  One of our regulars, Donnie, had met her on the street and thought he had better find her a safe place to be so he brought her to Retreat.  Initially she often talked of satanism and other occult spiritualities – a valuable technique for a young homeless girl to keep people at a distance.  She was difficult to get to know, but over the course of several weeks she began to open up as this sweet, but street savvy, little girl.  She recounted how she became a foster child at 4, being bounced from home to home, frequently experiencing all kinds of abuses.  She ran away often. 
     In her late teens she found a man I only heard her refer to as her “fiance.”  She discovered that she was pregnant so they began to ride the rails together in an effort to find work.  First, from Portland to New Orleans.  Then on to Raleigh, NC where they were able to find work.  Soon her fiance was downsized, so she quit too and they jumped the train for new opportunities.  They stopped in Atlanta to try to “make” some money while on their way to find work.  They set up their “Stranded, need money” sign on a highway exit and waited for sympathetic drivers.  Soon an unsympathetic police officer drove up.  He arrested both of them.  Neither said anything, but since he was holding the sign the fiance was booked.  Carol was released.  When the fiance was brought before the judge he pleaded not guilty and instead of being released with a fine he was detained until the court date.  This is what left Carol on the streets by herself.
     When we met her she was already over 6 months along.  Over those next two months she realized she had better do something for the sake of the baby.  She approached Gary, the director of Retreat, about her situation.  He began to ask her questions to find out if there was any safe place for her to go. Back in Portland she had an “aunt,” the closest thing to a mother figure that she knew, and an older sister, Tiffany. (Tiffany had been fostered as well and they had not reunited until Carol was 18, just before she started riding the rails, and just as she found out she was pregnant.)  Gary spent two weeks trying to track down these women, discover if they were stable, and see if they were willing to take Carol into their homes. 
     After making sure the contacts were willing, we booked her a bus ticket to Portland.  On Friday, August 12th, with a knapsack, the clothes on her back, and a bag full of food, Carol left for Portland.  She arrived Sunday morning and on Wednesday she gave birth to a 6’11” healthy baby girl named Khatt Lee.
     We were blessed to be able to play a part in ensuring that a 19 year old, lonely, lost girl was able to make it “home” to safely bring into this world a beautiful little girl of her own. But as I reflect on Carol’s story I am reminded that it was a homeless man, simply being attentive to his neighbor in need, that made our blessing possible.  May the love of the least of our brothers be a witness to the relentless pursuit of God, and may it be an example to us as we try to live faithfully in the midst of a broken world.  If you would like to partner with us as we seek to save lives and spread this message of hope you can do so by donating here.

Proverbs 19:17 He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.

“Its 6:45 a.m. gentlemen, 15 minutes to be dressed and out the door” a staff member at The Salvation Army Shelter yells. “What are you going to do today?” I ask someone. “I don’t know, CNN Center first and then maybe the Library” answers another.  “Is there some place we can go and get out of the weather for the day?” I ask back. “Not really” is the response. And thus begins my journey in the world of the homeless.

A few days later I heard the phrase “the Five Points Shuffle” describing this journey: you get shuffled from location to location by businesses, MARTA staff, the police and sometimes even service providers. There seems to be little sympathy or understanding for the plight of those most vulnerable in our society. The homeless are seen as drug addicted, mentally ill criminals that need to be hidden from the eyes of decent, law abiding citizens so as NOT to interrupt their comings and goings, rather than children of God – neighbors – seeking love, acceptance and belonging.  They are exactly the ones we are commanded to love.

Out of this reality is where “Retreat from the Street” was born. We recognized a need for space where the homeless could find peace away from the chaos that is life lived on the streets.  A space that offered retreat from the elements, the endless wandering, being jailed for crimes as senseless as loitering or jaywalking (crimes that you and I would never be jailed for), crimes perpetrated against them (homeless people are the most likely segment of our population to encounter muggings, violent assaults, theft of their meager belongings), sexual abuse and murder.

It became clear, God was calling His church to be attentive to these outcasts, to provide the space where the most vulnerable of our neighbors could get their heads clear of the clutter; a quiet space to begin to consider the course of their lives, to get a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning, to sit and hear the voice of God speaking life into their hearts. With its location in the Old 4th Ward of midtown Atlanta where a large homeless community walks the streets and a chapel that could be utilized for this type of ministry, St. Paul’s Presbyterian church became that place. With the blessing of Pastor Chris the doors of “Retreat from the Street” were opened in late October.

Early on very few people spent any time inside, instead choosing to grab some coffee and a sandwich and leave, but slowly as they saw consistency and authenticity they began to stick around. As the relational part of this ministry took on better form we began to institute a more formal theme to the work. Now we serve more than 70 different individuals throughout the week and 25-30 regular men and women that have taken ownership of the ministry. They are involved in bible studies, both group and individual, some go into the sanctuary for personal prayer, many others ask for prayer, they clean the facility daily, painted the sanctuary, and serve one another by helping with food, coffee, creamer, sugar, fixing plates, washing dishes, etc.

Being treated with dignity, finding purpose in life, experiencing love from us, and maybe more importantly from each other, has proven to be God’s prescription for the tearing down of strongholds and breaking of bonds. Several have entered long term, residential drug/alcohol rehab programs while others have sought and found transitional housing from which they can seek to re-enter community, and still others are reconciling with God and their families. 

If we, as professing Christians, believe that God does not give up on His children, using every chance to bring about His purpose in glory then we need to reconsider our beliefs and actions towards the most vulnerable (“least of these”) neighbors of ours. We are told consistently throughout the bible to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This means for us that we MUST engage this command in any way we can – physically, materially and financially.  If being a Christian cost you nothing, neither time nor resources, and all you desire from it is for your personal benefit then your religion has no value and you might as well spend your Sundays doing something else. If, on the other hand, you seek to do the will of God it will cost you and sometimes dearly (sacrificially). Pray about these things and how God might be calling you to a greater commitment to your neighbors. 

Be sure to follow us on Facebook at Church on the Street. If God calls you to know and love these throwaways then contact us to find out the many ways that are available for you to truly reach out in love.

 Leviticus 25:35 If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.