Saturday morning we served with Habitat for Humanity. The head guys aloud us to give a short devotional before breaking out the hammers and nails. We shared with them the story of Mary and Martha, reminding them of the necessity to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his stories. We helped deck a roof and installed a couple windows....no big deal.
The rest of our time in Mobile has been spent downtown in Bienville square. We have met, hung out with, and fallen in love with so many homeless people. Every afternoon we pull up in our creepy van and hang out with the same crowd that sits there everyday. One man, Anthony, put it perfectly...he said that he sits out there "waiting for life to happen." We come everyday, bringing life in Jesus Christ. They know us as the Christians. Some of them think we are crazy, but the rest of them know they can talk to us when they need to be prayed for/with.
Once again the Lord is revealing to us the variety of stories and consequential hurts in the world. We met a guy named Patrick. Patrick has showed us the ropes to living on the streets. Basically....there are 2 types of people living in the streets, according to Pat. There are the guys who live in the streets because they want to...because its easier than working...and because they don't have to answer to anybody. Pat calls them "The Element" because they live in a world surrounded with drugs and alcohol. Then there are the ones who are out on the streets unwillingly. Circumstances literally left them stranded with no other place to go. Pat is there unwillingly. He broke his foot three separate times leaving him unable to work (we've seen it its true). Robby is a fellow southeast Texan who is out on the streets for the first time in his life after getting laid off. Nancy is trying to get away from an alcoholic husband. Dean left her husband and kids after years of being mistreated and overlooked. Charles is out on the streets after walking in on his 7 year old wife cheating on him. Robby said "We are good people, we just aint got no place to stay." It is so true.
We have watched over and over as these guys looked after each other like a family. They trust each other with everything. If one of our friends needed to use the bathroom, another one was quick to look after his belongings for him. Patrick gave his last few dollars to help a woman get a bus ticket. He offered up his tent for Robby to sleep in. A man, Marvin, was beat up a robbed. Patrick took care of him for some time. A man and woman walked by in need of a bus ticket and Patrick whipped out his and handed it over. We had mentioned one day that we like Cashews, the next day, Patrick and his girlfriend, Dean, had gotten us some Cashews. He insists upon buying us groceries when his foodstamps come in the mail. It is beyond humbling to watch as this man gives what little bit he has for the betterment of others.
Patrick took us out to Tent-City one afternoon where he lives. It is just outside of downtown (about 2 miles), off of a country road, in the woods. There are a few Tent-Cities located throughout the woods. Some are full of the Element and some seek to lead quiet lives, like Pat. When we walked in our hearts dropped. It was exactly what is pictured when we think of third world countries. Trash covered the ground in piles throughout the trees. The smell was beyond words. We were standing in a landfill. Deeper into the woods is where they slept. Tents covered the area. Above the tents hung some tarps that they had tied to trees to control some of the rain. There was a small community area in the middle of all of the tents. We climbed into Pat's tent as he showed us the treasures of his life...things that we would throw away in a heart-beat. The trash, that he held so dear to, covered the bottom of tent, only adding to the smell. Pat's sleeping bag was jammed in next to Robbie's old egg crate. The word sad does not even being to describe the condition of their lives when it is compared to so many of us around America. We look at other countries and see their poverty stricken lifestyles while these people have been living in the woods of America for years.
We returned to the square so that Patrick could get a meal from one of the shelters. That is when we met Charles. We've never seen so much fear in a grown man's eyes. He had spent the night before on the streets in a horrible storm and was scared of what the night was going to bring. Charles is new to Mobile and is just trying to make it to Florida where his brother is. Patrick began to tell him the dos and don'ts..where to sleep and where not to sleep. He sat with us and waited for the shelter to start serving. He couldn't focus enough to hold long conversation because the worry consumed his thought. As it got dark the "element" was stirring. We figured it would be better to take them to a calmer meal. We brought them to McDonald's and throughout the conversation we watched as Charles' fear began to fade.
We drove them back to Tent-City and got out to pray with them. As we did, a man stumbled out of the woods and approached us for a ride. He was clearly apart of the "element." Patrick stepped up in our defense and told him we were not heading his way and we couldn't help him. The man had hate in his eyes as he disappeared into the woods calling out to Patrick, "I'm coming for you in the backpack." We prayed over our friends and Charles' hands trembled. After realizing Patrick was scared to stay in the area, we brought them to a safer place to sleep.
A policeman told us today that he thinks we are crazy for doing what we are doing. He said "these people do not want your help." As if to say that they all want to stay where they are at. After watching Nancy break down in tears, holding the trembling hands of Charles, and talking with Pat, it is impossible for us to believe that they do not want the life that Jesus offers. There are so many people driving up and down the streets right beside Tent-City oblivious to the need in the woods. Homeless people crowd the streets in America and people will not even look at them in the eyes. They are brushed off as people who choose to be in the streets...we are not called to pick and choose who we will help out or who we will share the gospel with. We are called to help the widows and the homeless...regardless of how they got to the streets and regardless of why they are still on the streets.
"To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means, I might save someone. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." 1 Cor. 9:22