Uncategorized Patrick Mead on 21 Jun 2010 12:25 am
The week was busy enough before the sun popped over the horizon on this Sunday. I drove over 1200 miles last week speaking to Rochester Church four times (two sermons, a class on Sexuality, Intimacy, and Affair Proofing Your Marriage, and a class on Joel), planning our ministry re-org, speaking to teen leaders at Michigan Christian Youth Camp in Attica, Michigan, holding guitar lessons and a large small group Bible study in my home, and speaking twice to junior high students at Lipscomb for IMPACT. Today — two more sermons, another class on Intimacy, etc. and then a drive down into the heart of Detroit. It was Cass Park day.
For well over four years now we have gone to Cass Park and fed the homeless. Yes, it was Father’s Day but my children are grown and off on their own adventures. I headed south along with twenty or so volunteers and entered the heart of the city. After a return home this evening, I’ve worked for the last two hours on email as the US Open plays in the background. Impressions of the day…
The park is overgrown now. The city of Detroit can’t afford to cut the grass. Nearly a foot high and getting higher, the place where we meet to feed our homeless friends was trashed. Literally. We set about picking up trash. “Watch for needles.” Frequent squirts of antibacterial gel. Back to picking up more trash. “Are these clothes abandoned? Is this a crime scene?” asked in all seriousness. Fact was… we didn’t know. We picked up the sodden clothing and put it in bins. More squirts of antibacterial gel. Someone mentioned the former NBA star who died this week in a Virginia hospital after picking up a rare, virulent skin disease while doing charitable work in Africa. We all get quiet, but we keep picking up the trash.
Finally the area is clean. We set up the grills and the tables. People start lining up. We shake hands, give hugs, and exchange “Happy Father’s Day” with a couple dozen who have been waiting for us. Some are ashamed to look at us. They didn’t want to be here. They didn’t want to need us. Others are happy and open. All are polite. Last month, some got out of control. Words were said. Bottles were thrown in anger. The one who caused most of the frightening disruption is back. He apologizes profusely and means it. We can tell. We hug him. All of us. He eats with us, the smile never leaving his face. One asks us if we are there to spy on him. We assure him that today is all about love and grace. He seems relieved.
I walk around the park while the others cook and serve. I find people laying down in the shade, avoiding the 86 degree heat, 70% humidity. That’s oppressive for people raised in Michigan. I see two drug deals going down. I approach them anyway and invite them to the meal. They thank me. Eventually, they join us. They aren’t high. Yet. I count eight prostitutes. Six are female. One is male. One is… indeterminate. All are dirty. All are wearing wigs and a bizarre set of ill-matched clothing in an attempt to look pretty. It breaks my heart. I invite them to eat with us. All eventually do.
Some go through the line three times. A couple go through a fourth time, this time just for pie. We don’t officially count but it seems that we have fed 120 or so people, some of them several times. Good.
Two teams split off from us. One takes a cooler full of pasta salad, hot dogs, and pie to the Rescue Shelter. The Rescue Shelter has another name but I’d rather not give it. It is hell on earth. In winter, it is used as a warming shelter. People stand or sit on terribly overcrowded benches. Fights break out. Steam rises off cold, wet clothing and hair. Today, it is hot. Most people are on the outside of the shelter. The food is welcomed. The second team goes to the shelter for homeless veterans. It is well run and clean but everything in it is old and worn out. The people who run it care but there is no money. The food is gratefully received. I am impressed — as I always am — by the good manners and sincere thanks we get from everyone — vets, prostitutes, drug dealers/users… everyone. No public high school — and few private ones — in America is as well behaved and mannerly as these broken, lost people.
Graffiti is on the buildings that remain. Many have been torn down. The news on the street is that a rich family has bought the properties and is going to make a new sports complex there, driving the homeless on to new places.
We will follow them. And feed them. And love them. No, we aren’t changing their lives. That’s probably something that is beyond our power to do. But we are loving them. And they aren’t hungry tonight. Drugs and alcohol might take their memory away, but most of them will remember that this day… they were hugged. Someone called them “sir” or “ma’am” and referred to them as “brother” or “sister.” Someone gave them food. Someone listened to them. Someone treated them like a person.
This was Courtney’s last day running this ministry for us. She is off to Lipscomb to get a graduate degree in urban ministry. Kevin has stepped up to take the ministry. He’ll do a good job. Stephanie will continue to handle the food organization. And Rochester Church will continue to enter the heart of the city and find the people that others take great care to overlook. And we will look them in the eye, for they are God’s children.