Last Friday was my last day in leadership at Sunnyside Coffee House. My church would still be a part of cooking and serving food, once a month, but my bi-weekly visiting and praying with and serving the mentally ill and homeless of SE Portland is over. For now.
I was pretty sad about the whole thing. We cooked and served spaghetti (fresh basil and beef in the sauce, which was great) and then stood up to lead prayer. I announced my leaving and that Mark Woodson would take over. Many people clapped. Now, Mark Woodson used to lead the coffee house years before, so it was probably just joy that he's coming back. But it felt like a slap across my face. I've regularly worked twelve hour days for these people, making sure that had enough to eat and stuff to take home. I've worked hard at creating a place of peace, so people would feel safe coming in, where there used to be people yelling and obnoxious shouting almost every week. I've been threatened, yelled at, cleaned up overflowing toilets, cleaned out a back storage room full of mouse feces. We have prayed people's healings in, we had two weddings there, we showed movies, laughed and loved together. And I was deeply shamed at the rejoicing of my leaving.
At that point I remembered a story of Francis of Assisi. It's pretty long, so I won't quote the whole thing, but the summary is Francis saying, "Perfect joy is serving and suffering for your brothers only to have them reject you." You can read it all here: The Perfect Joy of St. Francis
I said to myself, "Well, I guess no good deed goes unpunished. I just need to chalk this one up for eternal reward." I was being pretty self-pitying, really.
As the evening wore on, it was clear that it was two of us: Styxx and myself, cooking and serving and cleaning for the hundred or so people who showed up. It's a big job, but we were experienced and knew what we were in for. Pretty soon we had a number of people come up and thank us for the food, "This is some of the best food I've had." Wow. Many times people would come and complain about the free food they received. This was different. A couple came up and asked, "Could you use some help?" and I honestly replied, "Yeah, we should could." They came in and helped serve seconds to folks as I went into the men's room to mop up an overflowing toilet.
In another twenty minutes, others, who did not ask to help, voluntarily wiped down all the tables, put the chairs up and swept up. Behind the counter, the couple cleaned up the counters and stove. All this work probably cut an hour off of Styxx and my evening.
A bit later Joline came up. She's an older Native American woman who's lived on the street for many years. She wasn't doing well tonight. She was either a little drunk or sick or just depressed. She said, "Thank you for all you've done. Here's what I have." And she put in my hand her last eighty cents.
At this point I realized that Francis was wrong. Perfect joy isn't being rejected. Perfect joy is working to build community where there was none before. Perfect joy is seeing people act like Jesus, especially those whom people say could never be discipled. Perfect joy is seeing God at work.