To: Chariots of Fire Division Command
I spent last night as a shepherd at Tent City, guarding the flock of Lubbock’s street homeless who opted to come in from the storm. I have many reactions which are hard to distill into recon report. Some are positive, others negative. Some are speculation, others matters of public record.
I will start with the parts I am thankful for, but keep in mind that at places along the way this is paradoxical.
I am thankful for the coordinators who put us all together in a shelter. Just administratively speaking, a lot of work is evident to me as a bottom-level volunteer. The barn at Tent City was recently cleaned out and sprayed with insulation. Even if that work was donated, it cost someone a lot of time, money, and energy. Food and rides were supplied. Someone cordoned off “spots” for people to claim on the floor. We had a TV to watch, coffee to drink, firewood and a fire-grate on the patio. We had port-O-potties, matts, cots, blankets, and flashlights some of which were new out of the box. The diesel heaters were brand new – right out of the box.
These were a lot of goods and services that I am very grateful for. Thank you to Paul’s Project and the leadership there at Tent City for nearly every bit of it. Thank you.
I am aware that our alternative could easily be for Lubbock to ignore the homeless and/or call the cops to roust them. I am sure that even though only a fraction of Lubbock’s street-homeless actually came in last night from the cold and freezing rain, that this option faaaaaaaaaaaaar out-weighs what could have been. I am aware that the leaders at Paul’s Project appeared fatigued and physically/spiritually exhausted by the time I showed up to take over the night watch. I want to say THANK YOU for their sacrifice and encourage them to stay strong. Their work helps.
But that said, I wonder why the Church of Lubbock, Texas, does not step up to the plate. Why is this work left to a handful of volunteers out at Tent City? Those street-homeless people we took in last night ARE the face of Jesus to us (Matt. 25:35). Yet no matter how you slice it, the people of God in Lubbock that got up to worship Jesus in their fine sanctuaries and cathedrals today, left him to languish in a barn last night.
Why aren’t these same volunteers heading up all-night prayer vigils at at least 5 different churches in this town? We could have managed them better in smaller groups, wouldn’t have forked out nearly as much expense to transform a family life center, gymnasium, or sanctuary into an overnight emergency shelter, and we could have involved the church rather than leaving her ministry to the 501c3’s that coordinated themselves outside church walls.
I was mindful of this when I led our flock in prayer last night. I remembered that during this holiday season, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in a barn. Jesus is sleeping in a barn again tonight. He could have been invited into our church buildings and homes, but history repeats itself instead.
Check this out:
As I sat there watching over my flock, I began noticing the trouble-makers fairly early on. It is true that some were high and/or intoxicated. It is true that one individual became hostile to the point of letting him leave (at his own request, btw). It is true that most from our flock were in need of better hygiene. But it was not true of us all.
I had one couple join us who have been married over 27 years. They did not want to separate in men’s and women’s quarters, but dutifully did so when presented with our rules. They drove themselves to Tent City only because the storage unit in which they live lost power when the moisture got into the electronics. They figured they would be warmer with us. And when they took their spots, early in the night, I never heard another peep from them until wake up call.
This couple (let’s call them the Andersons) would have been ideal candidates to stay in someone’s guest bedroom last night. They were quiet, clean, respectful – EASY to host. They were gracious guests of the first order and did not “fit in” with our over all ministry, but only lacked options. Still, I heard NO complaints from them.
There were others. I saw one lady who looked well dressed and in her 50’s or 60’s. She reminded me of my little old Mammaw. She came in with a walker, and took a spot immediately. I never saw her again until wake up call. She also did not “fit in” with our crowd. Seriously! Who let’s their Mammaw stay in a barn during a freezing rain storm? (Apparently the Christians of Lubbock do. Ouch!)
There were several others who were very well behaved, though they were of a more rugged sort. I recall one scrounge splitting up the last piece of pecan pie 3 ways to make sure all his friends got a share of the wealth! In fact out of the approximately 50 people I watched over last night, I only found 5 of them to have alarming behavior, and only one of them left our fold.
I watched one man (let’s call him Earle) sit up at a table working on a painting of highly skilled artistic ability literally all night long. He wore a flashlight headband and sat there quietly working for a solid 10 hours! He never asked for anything, never complained, never uttered a peep. And though he looked like he fit in with our crowd, he was absolutely NO trouble and should have been a candidate for sleeping in someone’s church building if not their home.
One cool cat by the nick name “Road Kill” was actually extremely helpful to us volunteers. He was a volunteer from among the ranks of the homeless who live at Tent City. He advised us on numerous aspects of the work and maintained the heaters through the night. He shouldered responsibility for the group magnificently and definitely earned my respect.
Sir, I am not describing everyone. I only mention a few. And if I were pastor at a church and had volunteered last night, I would only have had reservation about inviting 5 of these individuals into my church building for shelter. If I were a team of 5 pastors volunteering last night, we could have divided up those troublesome 5 taking one each and conquering their troublesome behavior quite easily once they were isolated – probably just by being able to expend more personal attention to these troubled souls.
As it is, we are on course to expend the few volunteers we have on yet another night in a barn again tonight. And though that barn beats the cold damp street by a country mile, I must tell you – as a person who normally sleeps in a warm, dry bed, in a fine home on the nice side of town, that barn was no picnic for me. I doubt the other volunteers found it to approximate their homes either. Going outside of the barn, in the dark, to a port-O-potty in the cold and damp on my third visit made me realize how far from home I was. I longed for my bed which is only feet from my bathroom – or any comparable facility.
As I listened to some of these street-homeless talk, I sensed how deep their chronic pain goes. They have no sense of home at all, it seems. No lament at missing it. Just adaptation to craziness that seems never ending. Hardly any depth of conversation. Just living minute to minute and taking comfort in a radio, a stool, and a fire on the patio before laying their heads down in tents or on matts in a barn. It’s no wonder the white, middle-class mentality I come with does not communicate well.
Let’s face it. These people need a home. And like any good home, the church should be at the center of that.
Yes, I am grateful for each little particle of kindness Paul’s Project and Restoring Hope and Carpenter’s Church afforded this flock. But I think the real action is in the touch of Jesus. And that comes from his hand, not a 501c3 that rises to the challenge his body ignores. “On this rock, I will build my church,” Jesus says, “and the gates of hell will not withstand it!” So far we are holding off from taking on the gates of hell with a group of 501c3’s and not the church which conquers.
Please send reinforcements soon.