by Rev. Ron Reese, Seattle First - Wednesday, October 19, 2011
One touching aspect of being part of the shelter community over time is that sometimes we get to see men make big changes in their lives. Three men – Robert, Luther, and Ti – have each been homeless for a very long time and have been core shelter volunteers for a good bit of that time. Tonight each of them said that they are pretty sure they have found housing and will be moving indoors before winter sets in. (“I don’t think I can take another winter on the street,” commented Robert, who had pneumonia much of last winter.) It’s not a done deal yet – a couple of them may need help with rent deposits (which our church’s Benevolence Fund might provide) – but it looks possible. I smile when I think of being part of the house-warmings for these guys.
Some changes are more personal. Frank (not his real name) came to the Men’s Circle tonight (which meets at 6:30 before the shelter opens at 8:00) for the first time. For at least six years, from time to time Frank has shown up around the church or at the shelter, sometimes asking for something (like to use the church as his mailing address), but usually it’s not clear why he’s there; maybe it’s that he’s a loner and sometimes simply wants to be around people. The problem is that it isn’t easy to be around Frank: he’s very tough, almost mean looking, and he sort of barks when he talks and sounds angry most of the time. When he didn’t get what he wanted from Jace Allen (a church staff person) once, he left him a voicemail in his thick Ukranian accent that said, “I veel keel you; I veel sleet your throat.” He has something like a permanent sneer on his face. I’ve always felt myself tighten up when I see Frank coming. So, when Frank showed up last night and said he was here for the Men’s Circle, I was a little worried. I could tell something was different, though; there was an openness about him. In the check-in, when the talking piece came to him he didn’t say much – just that he’d gotten his business done for the day early and was walking around wondering what to do with his time and then remembered that he’d heard about this Men’s Circle at 6:30. With some humility in his voice, he said that the Circle was new for him and he’d like to just listen. OK so far. Then we read the story in Mark 1 where a leper tells Jesus, “If you want to, you can make me whole,” and then Jesus puts his hand on this man and heals him. When the talking piece came to Frank, he said, “I’ve been healed like that,” and proceeded to tell about how he’s had two heart attacks, which should have killed him, he said. “I shouldn’t be here,” he said, describing how he couldn’t move ten feet without wheezing and almost collapsing. “But I really am OK, and I told the Doc that it is because of the man upstairs. … And I’m different now,” he said. Then he told the story of how earlier today he had been walking on the sidewalk downtown and felt some big, hulking guy coming up very close behind him, following him for awhile and then actually stepping on his foot. Frank said that that triggered his old fight response and that he wheeled around with his fist raised to hit the man. Something stopped him, though, and as he stood there with his fist raised, the man said, “Oh, I’m really sorry” (as though he hadn’t been aware of what he was doing), and offered his hand. Frank couldn’t quite let himself take the man’s hand, but they looked at each other a second or two and then the man walked away. “I couldn’t believe I didn’t hit him,” he said. At the end of the Circle, Frank said, “I don’t usually have much to do with people. I keep to myself most of the time. But this was good tonight. I’ll be back.”
Is God real, or what?
Another consistent high I get at the shelter comes when I notice the number of people who come to volunteer because they want to be part of something bigger than themselves and want to offer their gifts in ministry. Other ShelterLogs have told about the Spa (yes, we have a Spa, with foot soaks and foot massages) and the Clothes Closet and the New Life Clinic (with volunteer nurses and medical students) and Kevin the ex-addict who connects men with resources and the people who help in the kitchen or simply sit at dinner with the men. A new piece got added the last couple of weeks. Robin came to our church nine months ago and right away started helping at the Shelter. Robin has some training and experience in healing prayer ministry (in the tradition of Francis MacNutt) and is gifted in that ministry. Starting last week Robin teamed up with Bonnie (who has been praying with our men for years) to make praying with our men the main thing they do on Wednesday nights. Tonight, they staked out a space at the end of the hallway and spent some deep, extended prayer time with three different men. I could see the difference in those men afterwards. These were men whom they knew well and they had offered them the prayer time, which they readily accepted. Soon they may start saying something in the announcement time at dinner about being available to pray with men.
The action gets pretty thick sometimes on Wednesday nights. Thank you, Jesus.