Since October 2, much more has happened than I can put in one blog post. I won’t burden you all with updates about my life as of yet, instead I would like to write some thoughts down about outreach in Harlem today.
For the past two months or more I’ve been leading outreaches in Harlem every Saturday since the closing of our Harlem outreach on Fridays. We have decided to focus more resources and energy on our Friday co-op at the Salvation Army headquarters on w. 14th street and so we are only in Harlem on Saturday now, hence why I am almost always in Harlem on Saturday.
The past couple weeks have been extra cold on the weekends and today was no exception. Aside from the colder weather, we have had to move across the street (under some train tracks that divide Park Ave N/S) so we have had less guests stop by because they don’t see the bus in the old location. Our regulars have found the new location though and this week several of them were waiting for us to show up! As we started outreach, the temperature declined slowly. The sun barely came out and the wind was painful. What warmed my soul today was having the time to talk to two of our guests that we have served for a while that I have come to call my friends.
Carlos is known as Eddie Blanco on the street and he owns a motorcycle and is in a motorcycle club. He always shows up with a pair of sunglasses and a smile. He’s one of our friends who enjoys interacting with our volunteers and is only there to hang out. We were talking about his life and he told me that he really enjoyed coming to the bus and being with his friends.
“Ben,” he said, “You are a really great f***ing guy, you know that? Excuse my language but you’re just such a f***ing solid brother.”
*I’ve only ever talked to Eddie for about 5 minutes at a time during the whirlwind that is outreach, and I’d never sat down with him one on one.*
As I smiled and thanked him he shook my hand and continued to tell me how he would always look out for us at the relief bus and that if there were ever any punches thrown that he would throw them right back and that he’d “go down” with us if it came to that. Whereas you might be thinking about what awful language he used, I’m thinking about how much the relief bus has made an impact on people like Eddie. Even though I haven’t spent much time with him in conversation, he still feels so strongly about how “good” I am. He’s just a rough and tumble dude looking for a place to be accepted. He has found that at the bus.
The second great conversation was with a good bro named Sharif. I’ve sat down with him twice and know that he has a wife and a couple kids. I hadn’t asked him why he is in Harlem before and today the question came across my mind so I asked. He told me that he gets his dose of Methadone at the nearby clinic. I was surprised because he has a pretty high dose but I never noticed him acting in any way that would elude to it. He talked about how he was on heroin for a while and didn’t have a steady income so he would use everything he got in order to get his next fix. He started doing things that he never thought he would in order to get money for his addiction, all while being with his wife. He told me that if it hadn’t had been for his wife, he would most certainly be dead by now. About a year ago he woke up one day and decided that he didn’t want to live his life that way any longer and used his medicaid to get on methadone. By God’s grace he hasn’t had the urge to go back to the drug.
“I’ll never use that drug again in my life.” He said defiantly and I applauded him for taking the step to get on methadone and get clean. He plans on slowly getting off methadone but knows that is a long process. I told him about how I had been addicted to pornography for a long time and knew something about the vicious cycle that addiction puts us in. I love encouraging my friends on the street and when I can empathize with them it makes the connection even deeper. It was the first time that I had gone so deep with Sharif and I am grateful.
A cold Saturday in February. An old retro-fitted bus. A crew of rag-tag leaders and volunteers. Hurting and broken people serving and being served. The Gospel being played out in East Harlem.