When I left this morning, I really didn't know what I was going to do. Even getting in my car, I didn't know where I would end up. But I knew I had to start somewhere, so I entered the address of East Nashville Cooperative Ministry into my GPS as a starting point. I hadn't been in contact with ENCM at all, so I had no idea if they would have anything for me to do once I got there, or if they would be receptive of me. God knew, though! I got there and started to walk into the building and I met a man named Greggo who was outside sweeping. He asked me if I was a volunteer and I told him that it was my first time there, but I was there to help! So he took me in to meet Alan, who was kind of the man in charge.
I went in there totally blind, but they were all so receptive! Alan told me about ENCM and I told him about Love Works: America Tour. After talking for a little while, he immediately plugged me into their program and sent me to work in the kitchen with Donna, Tammy, and Juan. It's a small kitchen, but they make it work and they make great meals! At ENCM, they serve lunch to the homeless Monday- Thursday, Fridays they serve breakfast and lunch, and Saturdays different churches come in and serve dinner and provide a Bible study. ENCM is a great place that really builds up the homeless of Nashville. Not only do they provide basic needs, such as food and clothing, but they really respect and dignify the homeless. They want there to be minimal separation between the volunteers and the homeless. So much so that a lot of the homeless are actually volunteers!
Juan, one of the kitchen workers, is actually homeless, and he has such a servant heart. I'll talk more about Juan later.
Once we finished making and serving lunch, I was able to go just hang out with and listen to the people. One of the guys I met was Tom. Tom is such a character! He's a writer and he shared some of his songs with me, along with his story. Tom has been through a lot, and you can see God's hand in his life through everything. His parents were alcoholics and his mother had "many kids with many men." When he was eleven he got put into a foster home, but was abandoned by the foster mother, so he went out on his own where he grew up quickly, seeing the ways of the streets and thinking it was normal life. But Tom talks about how he never hurts anyone. He used to hurt himself a lot, but he doesn't hurt others. His philosophy is, "There's no excuse for bad behavior." A man who was emotionally, sexually, and physically abused and could easily do whatever he wanted and blame it on what's been done to him, has decided to not allow himself to make any excuses. It's a concept that many who haven't been through half of what Tom has been through cannot grasp. That we can't blame our circumstances for the choices we make. But here was Tom, a simple man in a homeless ministry, convicting me.
Tom really gets it! A man who many would say has every reason to ask God why, choses instead to thank God for the good in his life. One of my favorite things Tom said while he was telling me his story is, "I may be the product of a whore, but I'm the son of a King." That's so beautiful! It doesn't matter where you came from, your a child of God. That's where our identity is!
After I left ENCM, I decided to go to Starbucks for a while to blog and get rid of my caffiene headache. When I sat down to start blogging, I realized that I had left my laptop charger at the Young's, so instead of my plan of being alone in Starbucks working out, God's plan of me meeting people in the streets worked out. While I was walking back to my car, I met Jerry, Ben, and Sherri. Jerry was just a sweet man that I gave sandwiches and Jesus's love too. I didn't get to know him well, but he was very sweet and harmless. I got to know Ben, a man selling papers written from the homeless' perspective, better. Ben also has quite the story.
Ben has been through a lot. His parents were both alcoholic and he grew up watching his mother be severely abused and being severely abused himself. He's been stabbed and shot at by his own parents. He also has a lot of physical issues. He's had 38 surgeries from the waist up, has spina bifida, and has bad intestinal issues that keep him from being able to digest food or even eat. When I asked him if he was hungry, he said yes, but he couldn't eat because he can't digest food. As of today, he hasn't eaten in four days! Some more of his background is that he's from San Francisco. He was a ninth generation fire fighter. When the earthquake in 1989 happened in San Francisco that broke the Golden Gate Bridge, he was one of the men that went in to find bodies. That's where he found his daughter. She was on the bridge during the earthquake and she lost both her parents, who were her only family in America, because she was origionally from the middle east. He got a government translator and called her family overseas, but they didn't want the expense of having to take care of her, so Ben adopted her. He's such an amazing person, and like I told him, with all that he's survived in his life so far, it's obvious that he has a huge purpose here. Sadly, he seemed really shut off to the idea of prayer and God due to all of the struggle in his life. But I know God loves him, can heal him, and obviously has huge plans for Ben's life because through being shot, stabbed, and 38 surguries, Ben is still here. So please lift Ben up in prayer! That God would heal him of spina bifida and his intestinal issues, and more importantly that God would heal his wounded heart!
Then, I met an artist named Sherri. She had a canvas in her hand, so we struck up a conversation about art which led to other things (by the way, you can find her on facebook at Honky Tonk Art, if you're interested). She was telling me about how she had been a victim of violence in Nashville when someone hit her in the mouth with a pistol. When I told her I'm glad she's still here, her response was, "Yeah, and he's not!" and then she told me the wild story about the guy that hit her. He was a musician, and a while after he hit her, he was on stage, and in the middle of playing "Raspberry Beret" his heart burst and he collapsed and died on stage. She wasn't happy that he died or anything, but that's a crazy story!
After meeting all of these people and hearing their stories, all I could think all day is, "Why doesn't anyone want to talk to these people?! They're so interesting, and they have so much to share!" The homeless are real people with so many experiences, and wisdom from their experiences, but so many people just want to write them off as lazy and unimportant. But you can't know what somebody's been through until you stop and listen. And no matter what they've been through, God created them in the same image as you: His. And he values them and loves them. They're just as important to Him as you are.
At 5:30, I headed to Jefferson Bridge for the Under the Bridge Ministry that Juan told me about. I actually saw him riding his bike right when I pulled in, so I got to hang out with him the whole time and he showed me around and introduced me to some people. The Under the Bridge Ministry is a really cool thing. They actually meet under a bridge, feed the homeless, have a worship service and sermon, a raffle for a bike, tent, and sleeping bag, and then they send everyone off with a bag of food. It was awesome to sit and worship with them and pray for them.
The Under the Bridge Ministry:
My kitchen buddy/tour guide/street protection (he told me tonight that people know him and he wouldn't let anyone hurt me! haha). Today he told me that a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet. Juan quickly went from being a stranger to being my friend! Juan:
So my first day of being out in the city of Nashville was so great beyond expectation! I had no idea what I was going to do this morning, but God already had my day mapped out for me. I just had to step out in faith. And God is showing me how to do that more and more. He's also getting rid of my fears completely. I walked into ENCM not knowing anyone and nobody knowing me, but I wasn't afraid. I went in to Nashville not really knowing where I was going or who I would meet, but I wasn't afraid. I went to Under the Bridge Ministry not knowing any of the volunteers, and I didn't even sit with them. I just stayed with Juan and his homeless friends. But I wasn't afraid. And that's not me being brave, that's Jesus giving me peace beyond understanding and showing me that He holds my life in His hands, not the potentially dangerous people I will encounter. We just have to trust Him with that, and know He's always with us. Wherever we go, He is there, because He's in us.
I'm so overwhelmed by God's love and His plan! God loves you, and has huge things in store for you! Go shine your light and share God's love!