It’s been a long week.
The crazy thing is, I only worked three days this week. We had our weekly office day on Tuesday and then I had off Wednesday and Thursday. I only did two street outreaches this week but the past two days felt like they made up for the two days of absence previously. Experiences from both yesterday and today taught me things I didn’t know about how to better love people.
God has been using this job to consistently teach me how to be a better follower of Him and how to be less selfish in the ways that I perceive what Love is. I’ll use several examples from the past 48 hours to help you understand.
Love looks like grace given when an angry passerby comes up to you and tells you that the food you serve to the people is “garbage.”
This lady came up to me and was complaining that we have been serving garbage to people for 30 years now and it needs to stop, it needs to change. Most of you don’t know what we serve so let me give you a little taste; we serve vegan soup that consists of water, our own blend of spices, kidney beans, canned diced vegetables, and parboiled rice (so it cooks while we are on the way to the outreach). We also serve bread that has been baked fresh early that morning from a Portuguese bakery in Newark who provides bread to some of the biggest companies in NJ (among them, Shoprite). We also serve fresh made fruit punch and lemonade as well as cold water for those who are diabetic. When told that our soup was vegan and what it consisted of, this lady turned on the drinks and scolded me for serving sugar to sick people. Did she have a point? Yes. Was it good? No. People like the options of water and a sugared drink. Many times they don’t get choices as homeless people because they are just given whatever whoever is serving them sees fit or has the money for. Choices are a small part of restoring the dignity of our friends on the street.
Love looks like grace given when another angry passerby takes pictures of your outreach and complains that we are illegally parked (technically true) as well as blocking pedestrian traffic with “lowlifes” (not true at all). We have been at this specific location for years and NYC police know that the work New York City Relief is doing is for the good of the city and is indeed helping people out of desperate situations into a better, fuller life. In short, it doesn’t matter that we were illegally parked. As to the other things this man had to say about our outreach, they were straight from the Enemy himself. God kept my cool as I listened to an angry, certainly sad and hurt, man spew utter darkness and lies about the people we help in Harlem. I was told that what we are doing in fact does Harlem harm because we are extending the lives of people who should be dying and thus leaving a better Harlem in their wake. I was told that we at NYCR are going against natural selection and not letting it weed out worthless people…
On a cheerier note, love looks like being able to be a part of shoing (verb) a homeless man who walked into our outreach without anything on his feet. They were badly blistered and looked painful but I’m not entirely sure this man was fully aware of his situation. Upon trying to talk to Greg he would listen and answer a question or two but then snap out of reality and start to laugh to himself and go back to eating and it would be hard to get his attention again. Once attention was once again procured, the same cycle would repeat. From what he told me he just wanders, uses the train, and that’s his life. He couldn’t tell me any specific area of the city he was familiar with and just answered with “I’m on the train and then I walk around.” It’s a miracle he came upon our outreach. A volunteer family that had introduced us was concerned for his feet and so I said I was going to walk down the block to a Payless to try and find him a pair of shoes. The husband wanted to come with me and buy the shoes if we found them. As we walked into the store we saw that they were closing and everything was 60-90% off! God is good! We got him a pair of foam-soled comfy Champions for the low price of just $12!!! As we were checking out, the volunteer who had accompanied me’s wife called him to say that Greg was wandering off. After asking them to try and keep him because we were checking out, I checked with the volunteer and returned back to the outreach quickly as he was continuing to check out, to try and catch Greg before he left. When I got back, the volunteer’s wife told me he had already walked off in a direction and I set out in pursuit with the new shoes. By God’s grace Greg hadn’t walked too far yet and I found him shortly after. I tried to explain that he had left too early and we had a pair of shoes for him but he didn’t seem to understand much of what I was conveying. We sat down in a bus stop and I encouraged him to try the shoes on even though they were a size too small than what he had said his size was (the store had been all but stripped clean because of the sales). He assured me with the first sane sentence that had come out of his mouth since meeting him that “they will do fit, they will do.” As he put the new shoes on a single tear made its way down the side of his nose and tumbled to the ground. This was the sign from God to me that he knew exactly what was happening in that moment and of the realization of the love that he had been showed. To be honest I’m not too sure if he understood much of what was happening around him but I am grateful that he understood exactly what was going on in that moment. As I returned to outreach to leave back to base, I told the generous volunteers who had bought the shoes exactly what had happened so they could rejoice with me.
That was a blessed ending to a (2-day) long week of outreach for me. Those kinds of moments are found nowhere else but in the loving work of Jesus Christ to a broken world. I encourage you to think about your own life and what loving people means to you and how you need to maybe expand that image a little bit or change some things. If you don’t know how to do that, I encourage you to come and volunteer with us at NYCR. It’s not glorious and certainly not prestigious but I can tell you that it will be one of the most transforming and challenging experiences of your life.
Just another long short week in the books. Man God is so good for letting me do this kind of work. I am still amazed and humbled that he chose me for this!!
As always, I am in need of your prayers. This work is exhausting on every level and it’s only by grace and favor that I push on.