Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Taking a Break

I'm working today on organizing my departure. I'm struggling with finding folks to take over some of my jobs. Who will be able to look at 400 pounds of food and determine what meal could be made from that? Who will receive donations and decide which of the four or five sites the donation would be best to go to? Who will keep the kitchens clean, and help people to cook according to the Oregon Health Department code?

I understand that things will be different when I leave for three months. I'm good with that. But I don't want to leave a mess that no one knows how to deal with.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


So I invited a bunch of Anawim leaders to a prayer meeting and they said, "Steve, we're glad you're here. We'd like you to step down from leadership, as soon as possible." Neededless to say, I was shocked! And my wife was the head of the conspiracy!

Well, it didn't go down EXACTLY like that. I asked them to pray with me about whether the Lord was asking me to take Fridays and Tuesdays off for three months. After seeking the Lord, they all felt that I should take off all the rest of the days as well. Basically, they were giving me permission to take a Sabbatical-- read, "pushing me out the door."

I think this will be really good for Anawim, and a real turn around the corner that Anawim needs. As long as I'm around, it will be easy for Anawim to depend on me, and only me, for the running of the church. Now that we've got a group of committed folks for over a year now, it is time for me to let go and let God use them!

That is not to say this is easy for me. Besides reorganizing a few things, I need to trust that the changes that WILL happen to Anawim while I'm gone will be positive.

In the meantime, I'm going to look for some help. Who is willing to help out Anawim while I'm gone? The dates have yet to be determined, but I suspect I'll be dropping out sometime in late September. I also need to figure out some other stuff, like a week in a retreat center (Diane's forcing me to do that as well!-- she really wants to be rid of me!). Also, I firmly believe that the Lord is calling me to finish writing a book during that time and see about getting it published. We'll see what happens in the end....

Please pray for me, Anawim and my family as all this goes down!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dealing With Conflict

Something that happened last night might help people understand some of the difficulties of having large groups of the mentally ill or socially weak together.

Julie and Jim (pseudonyms being used here!) are a mixed race couple who have come to Gresham a number of times. I met them for a first time when we allowed people to stay overnight when the weather was so terrible. They were nice enough, good people, never causing any trouble. Julie was definately more friendly than Jim-- he definatly had a tough repuation to keep up, and we were a little different for him. At one point a rapper friend of mine-- Jesse-- showed up and he spent the whole time talking to Jim about rap music and various musical things. That was great for both of them.

So Julie and Jim showed up last night, ate, hang out during the movie, and they went out to smoke. No problem. Well, maybe a bit, because what they wanted to smoke was weed. In Anawim, we have a no drugs policy, and I want to make sure that we don't get in trouble for people having illegal substances. The last thing I want is the police around.

This is where John comes in. I really like John (what is it with these "j" names in this story? I guess it's just the way it is...), but he can be a real hothead sometimes. I've had trouble with him in the past with his anger, but it's always worked out. Lately he's really been seeking the Lord, realizing that God can really help him with his problems. He's been listening to the Spirit and receiving counsel from believers. There's been a huge amount of growth in him over the last few months.

Well, John was outside and saw Jim with his joint. John went up to him and said, in his slightly manic manner, "Hey, this is a church, and you shouldn't be doing that because it's disrespectful." Jim promply ignored him. So John continued, "You know that I'm trying to get clean and I don't need that kind of stuff around me." Julie's response is, "So, go somewhere else."

John gets pretty upset, so he comes in to me, whispering under the movie, "You know that there's these guys smoking weed over behind the church." I couldn't hear him well, but I caught at least that much, and I thought he was talking about a different guy, who has a medical marijuana card. I knew I'd have to approach him about it, but I also knew John. I knew that if I came right out, they'd feel judged. So give it some time and I'll talk to them next time. I told John, "Okay, thanks. I'll deal with it." And sat back down next to my daughter.

Well, that wasn't quick enough for John. So he went straight back out.

About ten minutes later, John comes back to me and says, clearly enflamed, "You know, you should listen to what I tell you. I had to go out there and deal with it myself and bitch slap that guy."

"What!?" I said (still kinda quietly, because of the movie. I walked out of the church and went to the back.

"They aren't there, now." Jeff says.

"What do you think you're doing? I'm trying to get this guy to follow Jesus, and you're going to use violence? That's a great way to bring someone to the Lord! I was going to bring it up to him gradually, so that we could have a peaceful situation-- but you just couldn't wait! You just need to let me deal with it!"

"Look, he was blowing smoke in my face, there wasn't anything I could do. So I yelled at them. I didn't touch them, or anything."

"So... when you said you 'bitch slapped' him, you were lying to me?"

"That's right."

I turned away, disgusted. Now I had a situation. I have some folks who may not want to come back because they might think that I sent Jeff out there to yell at them. And I've just yelled at John, and that might trigger his anger and he'll want to take it out on me. Great.

When I got home, Diver (finally, not a "j" name!) told me that he talked to the people involved, away from the church and explained that John just went off a bit. Diver said that they were okay. John called me today, and apologized for his overreaction. So I guess it's all okay.

I still have to deal with the weed issue, and I will. But at least I have a chance to do it, now, without losing folks who might be damaged by feeling judged for something they think is perfectly fine. Everything in Anawim is step by step, no huge leaps here.

Steve and Natasha's story

Steve Taylor showed up at the Gresham meeting one day. When I finally got his full name, I was amused because he has the same name as a Christian musician I loved as a kid. Once I could remember it was Taylor and not Tyler, I was all good.

Soon he came to the meetings regularly, both in Gresham and in SE, and he brought his pregnant daughter, as well. They were both homeless, and they were trying to be as responsible as possible. They sought jobs and Natasha got one, then two. Natasha was able to find a midwife who was willing to provide a birthing center for her, when it came time for the baby to be born. Steve kept getting them food from ministries like ours, and he kept seeking housing for them. They got on SSI, so hope was high, but it was difficult because Steve had a felony on his record, even though it was more than 5 years old.

Time was getting short, as the baby was a couple weeks from being due, and they still were sleeping outdoors. I knew the practice of the government, as I had seen it in the past. If they were outside when the baby was born, the baby would be taken away and they would not have another chance to get the baby back because the requirements for that would be too high for a homeless mom to meet. But they had a lead on an apartment and applied for it, using me as a reference.

I talked to the manager and he seemed like a good guy. He was friendly and asked me a couple questions, recognizing, "You're a minister, so I know that you won't say anything bad about them." I admitted that was true, but I thought I would push a bit more. "You know that Natasha is Steve's daughter, right?"

"Oh, I thought she was his girlfriend."

"Nope, his daughter. And you can see how pregnant she is. Let me tell you, Steve is a responsible guy, and Natasha is working two jobs to care for that baby. There is no way that Steve will let anything happen to that baby. Please, just give them a chance."

I guess the manager was impressed, because Steve said that they got the apartment, partly because of my reference.

However, the ordeal wasn't over. Although they had enough for rent, they were still trying to get enough for a deposit. On the day they were supposed to get the apartment, they had all of it but a hundred dollars. They asked the manager if they could move in on that, but the manager said if they didn't have the complete amount by 8 that night, then the next day they would offer the apartment to someone else.

We were able to help with 50 dollars, and Steve was able to find someone else who was able to help get another 50 dollars that day, and they moved in. Praise God!

We didn't hear from them for a while, except when Steve's SSI checks came to our house (he kept them coming there, for fear that they might lose the apartment). But a few weeks ago, they brought the two week baby boy, Sabriel, to Anawim. He is beautiful. And quiet (Dang! How jealous I am of these people who have perfect infants!).

The task of living is still difficult for them. But at least they are able to do what everyone should be able to do-- take care of their child.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Ya Never Know" by Jeff Strong

Guest column by Jeff Strong:

This morning when I open the bedroom door there was a host of cats awaiting me. Not because I am their favorite human, but because the food dish was empty. So flanked on all sides I was escorted to the kitchen and to the food bowl. I open the sack and it was almost empty. So I put a small scoop in the bowl and made my escape to the bedroom to get dressed. Then taking another small scoop I decorated the front porch bowl and made it to the truck. Fired up the engine and made the trek to Freddies to buy more cat food. Now this may seem silly to some but when you have a host of 17 cats it is not a good thing to upset them. Yes I said Seventeen.

After securing the food I began my journey back tohome when I encountered a body spanning the east and west bound lanes of Foster. Cars were swerving around him but no one was stopping, except me of course which angered some motorist for blocking traffic. I managed to get him to his feet and to the curb and then called 911. It took the police 20 minutes to get there. The paramedics never did show up. Meanwhile my charge, somehow got back to the standing position and stumbled back into oncoming traffic and I went with him and we made it to the other side and to a bus bench. Then a bus showed up and somehow he managed to get on the bus. Then the police finally showed up and began chewing me out for calling them which I fired back that if they had got there 20 minutes earlier he wouldn't be on the bus but in and ambulance. They said they didn't feel they needed to hurry for drunks. I said not your call you are sworn to protect the population as am I so when he gets off that bus and passes out infront of some motorist and they are freaked out because they just hit some body it is your fault right?

The younger of the two officers said they would go and pull the bus over and check him out and we parted company.

I just thank God that I had to do a cat food run. Not only are the cats happy, but there is a soul who at the very least has another opportunity to experience the healing power of Our Fathers Grace and Compassion.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wendy and Lucy (pic)

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Wendy and Lucy: A Movie Review

Wendy and Lucy is an independent movie, without a music score, filled with wind and wandering and a woman just barely hanging on to hope. It is about a woman who is homeless, hopefully temporarily, looking to go from Indiana to Alaska for work, only to get stuck in Portland when her car doesn’t start, and then her troubles begin.

Where has this movie been all my life? Although this is fictional, I swear I know this woman and her situation with her dog, Lucy, has been repeated many times with people I know.

Below is a full synopsis of the movie. If you are planning on seeing it (and haven't yet), please skip the next two paragraphs:

Wendy enters “Willamette” (really Portland) at night and gets information from some young hobos which confirms her thoughts about going to Alaska for work. She spends the night in a Walgreen’s parking lot, and the security guard tells her she can’t sleep there in the morning. At that time, she finds that her car won’t start, and the garage down the street isn’t open. She counts her money to find that she has barely enough to fix the car, but none for food. She goes into a local store and tries to shoplift some dog food for Lucy, her companion, only to be caught. She is arrested, and Lucy is left tied up in front of the store. Wendy spends half the day at the police station, and when she returns Lucy is gone. She is frantic and begins to call for Lucy around the neighborhood. The security guard tells her about the pound a fair walk away. The next morning Wendy goes to the pound, but no Lucy—they tell her to keep calling. Wendy is told then that the repair of the car would be at least 250 dollars, including towing the car for 50 dollars down a couple blocks.

After using the security guard’s cell phone to call the pound, Wendy spends the night in a nearby woods. In the middle of the night, an older crazy man goes through her pack and begins talking to her. He goes away, but her fear of being attacked causes her to run off and stay awake the rest of the night. The next morning, in front of Walgreen’s the security guard tells her that the pound called. She checks, and the pound says that someone called with a description of a dog that matches hers. They give her the address. The security guard insists upon giving her money and puts it in her hand—it is seven dollars. She stops by the garage and they tell her that her engine is shot, it would cost $2000 dollars to repair. Then she goes to see Lucy, who is overjoyed to see her. Wendy plays catch with her for a bit and she says, “This is a nice yard. I’m sorry, Lucy, but I can’t fix the car!” Wendy leaves Lucy and hops a train to Alaska.

This is a very personal movie. Not only was much of this movie filmed in places where I have lived, but it is a story that I have experienced through others many times. My family and I have been homeless, “couchsurfing”, in the past, but we have been serving and helping the homeless in Portland for 15 years. I have met many people just like Wendy, in even worse situations—no car, no money, looking for work, but stuck in a strange town that has no work for them.

And I know of many people on the street who are deeply attached to their dogs, only to lose them. People on the street, for the most part, are lonely people, bereft of deep relationship. Family has rejected them, like Wendy’s, if only because the family thinks they are asking for something more than they can give. A dog can provide an excellent companion. They are with you, and can literally be your best friend, keeping you company during the day and warm at night. But others, like the grocery clerk in the movie, think that people on the street aren’t deserving of such companionship: “If you can’t feed a dog, you don’t deserve to keep a dog.” And so, if one is struggling, they feel they have the right to take an animal away. I know of three people on the street who have had their dogs stolen from them while they were going to the bathroom, or eating in a soup kitchen. I have had our dog stolen from us, when he jumped our fence and we went after her only a few minutes later. No one seems to understand the depression and grieving that follows such a loss. Perhaps they understand, but they don’t really care. Rather than helping, they would rather pour on sorrow on top of sorrow.

But what is most poignant in the movie is the second-class citizenship of homelessness. The “crazy man” hit the theme of the movie perfectly, as well as the theme of homeless life: “They are after us. They can smell the weakness.”

People sense the weakness of being homeless, the vulnerable position—and while some have compassion, most just have contempt. Wendy kept running into people who demanded money from her, and even the breaks she got were too small to help. The store required her to lose money and her dog, for the sake of a couple dollars of food she was taking. The sheriff’s department told her that if she didn’t pay the 50 dollars she would just have to pay more later, and if she ran away, they would transport her back to face the consequences (although this is what a sheriff’s department might say, it isn’t actually true. She’d only have to pay court fees if she were declared guilty, and a state wouldn’t request transport for a 50 dollar fine). The garage was willing to give her a break, given that she’s strapped-- $230 instead of $250.

Everywhere Wendy turned, there was no one who would really help. Even the security guard only gave Wendy the use of his cell phone and a few bucks—that’s as far as his compassion could reach. Not far enough to save the only friend who truly loved to see her, who truly loved her completely for who she was.

Don’t let anyone fool you. The sorrow of homelessness is not being without a home. It is being without a friend. And sad is the one whose friend is stolen from her by desperate poverty.

Just looking at this film objectively, I should give it four out of five stars. But this is MY movie. It is about my city, my people, my life. It is certainly reflects my experience. I don’t care, objectively, how great this movie is. It is most important to me. 5 out of 5 stars.