Tonight was the last time I would coordinate and lead a community dinner at the church. Community dinners started some years ago. They are free dinners, open to anyone in the community who would like to come. We've had around 120 come each month. It's really a cool thing to have a place for people to meet, eat and share life together, no strings attached. The youth have helped out with one dinner a year, usually in the summer. I have to say, one thing this church does well is feed people.
A little while after the community dinners started, a group started thinking about reaching out to the homeless and hungry a little further. The church has a shower, so a shower ministry started and then Free Lunch Tuesdays began. It wasn't long after the all these things began that J came through the door. J and I had gone to high school together. His story was traumatic. J went into the Army right after high school and I'm pretty sure he was suffering from PTSD when he returned and wound up on the streets. He would come in for a shower once a week. After a couple of months, J disappeared. I'm not sure what happened to him. That wouldn't be the last time that someone I knew would walk through the door.
A couple of years ago R came in. R was once a neighbor of mine. The first time I ran into him as he was signing in for the shower, I wasn't 100% sure it was him. And then he smiled. Yep, same guy. A couple of weeks later, I was in the local Taqueria and there he was with his Mom. Two days later, he was back at the church for a shower. I soon found out that R had chosen to live on the street after being confronted by his family and given the choice of getting sober or moving out. He moved out.
There's something about R that has captured my heart. R has always been the most polite, kind young man...with a drug and drinking problem. He's got a great smile, a great sense of humor and has never been one of those who makes me feel like he's taking advantage of the system. He's made his choices and he's dealing with them.
Awhile back I heard that R wanted to make a change in his life. He got a job, was trying to get an apartment and was sobering up. I was excited for him and praying hard that he would make it. Tonight he was back at the community dinner. I was hoping that he was just there for dinner, that he was still working on getting his life on a clean path. My hopes were dashed as soon as we made verbal contact. R has lost his job. I smelled the alcohol on him. It made me sad, so sad. And yet there is a part of me that has hope. He joked about me just being able to yell down to his Mom if I heard of a job available. His smile was just as genuine and he was just as polite as always. I really like R...and it breaks my heart to see him struggling. I'm going to keep an ear to the ground for a job for him and I'm gonna keep an eye out for him on the street. He need to know that he is valued and valuable, respected and liked. And I really like this guy. I'm going to keep praying for R as he finds his way in the world.
There are many nay-sayers about the ministry the church is doing with the homeless and hungry. People who look down on those who don't fit in with the rest of society, but I am proud to say that I've been a part of a group of people who are caring for those whose lives are visibly imperfect. I'm pretty sure it's something that Jesus would do and that is enough for me.