Please Know...

As I come to know the men and women of Kensington, specifically the homeless and addicted, their stories become increasingly sensitive and personal. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist in regard to these fine people. Names are rarely their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Story of Addiction and Homelessness with a Delaware County Twist

Witnessing Christ to My Neighbor

I live in Delaware County, Pa.  To get to Emerald City, I drive, under normal conditions about 10 minutes to I-95 and then into Philadelphia.  Those ten minutes were more like forty-five minutes yesterday. 

There is one intersection on my route nicknamed "Little Five Points."  It is exactly that, a four-way intersection with an added side road that meets it.  Structurally, it is more or less the same country intersection that it was when George Washington and troops were marching to and from the Battle of Brandywine during our Revolutionary War.  This intersection gets extremely backed up during rush hour.  Anyone who lives in the area knows of the headache of getting stuck there when you'd rather keep moving.

I was discussing my frustration of being stuck in that traffic with a former resident of Aston, Pa.[1] who knows this headache in travel between our two communities all too well.  She had been stuck in that back up many times prior to becoming addicted to heroin, homeless and now living for several years in The TRACKS and then in Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities.  Once I realized our status as neighbors, I've made it a point to keep in close communication with her.  Sometimes, these days, she greets me with a hug and "Hi Neighbor Banana Man." 

She's made it clear that due to horrible events in her life for which she has held God responsible, she is open to me but not to any discussions of Faith.  I respect that and don't push the issue.  I do what I can to represent Christ without saying a direct word.

This past Friday, I was making my rounds with water and no bananas.  Another woman initiated a Faith-filled conversation complete with appropriate Scripture references and thanking me for my willingness to be doing what I do.  

My latest practice has been to give a prayer paper to anyone who gives me even the slightest indication that they would be interested.  As I conversed with this second woman, my neighbor was sitting right there.  I handed the second woman the paper while respectfully pointing out that I recognized that my neighbor did not want one.  That opened the most incredible moment of Christian witnessing between the two women.  A few minutes later, as I was passing these two on the way back to my car, my neighbor was teary-eyed and requested a prayer paper of her own.

Moral of this Story: Addicted people can provide Christian witness just as much as those of us who are not addicted AND the residents of Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities are very often our Delaware County neighbors.

Telling an accurate and Anonymous Story…

To preserve anonymity, I'm leaving out most of the details of the following true story.  This past Friday night, a woman who I've known for close to a year who would be called a "street walker" a "lady of the night" and other much more offensive single word terms here in the suburbs, dared to cross Kensington Avenue at Summerset so as to come over to say "Hi", give me a hug and to chat for a while.

Here's the part of this true story that I can tell in detail…

As an increasingly active part of the Urban Hope Community, I was serving through them this weekend with youth and their leaders from three different youth ministries from Hagerstown, Maryland and Waynesboro,  Pennsylvania.

Our original plan was to set up a food and clothing distribution at the corner of Kensington and Allegheny. Upon arrival, we found another group doing the same thing.  The quick decision was made to set up a few blocks away at Kensington and Summerset, a supposed hotbed of drug activity.  If it had not been for that last minute decision, I never would have found my young street walking friend who I'd not seen in a month or so.  If I could tell you the details of this whole story, you would be even more amazed at the significance of her greeting me as she did.

A Youth Group at the Corner of Kensington and Summerset?

If this had been a youth group doing these things, I'd be deeply concerned for them, their leaders and families.  These were not three youth groups serving the addicted and homeless on this supposedly drug infested intersection.  This was three youth ministries that merged for this weekend of prayer and service who truly ministered to the residents of this community. 

Merging these two stories leads me to pose these questions:

Are there any youth ministries or adult ministries for that matter, in Delaware County who would consider ministering to residents of their county[2] who find themselves addicted and homeless in Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities?  I'm not aware of any youth nor their leaders nor any ministries in Delaware County who have made that 40 minute drive to serve our own.

Why do we rely on youth and their leaders from Maryland and central Pa on this past weekend, Indiana and other points west, plus Hawaii and Alaska,[3] to visit Delaware County's addicted and homeless sons and daughters? 

I invite you to visit with me or take a bigger plunge and arrange a several day experience with Urban Hope Training Center to discover the awesome opportunities for ministry a few miles up the road.

[1] a town about ten minutes away right down Concord Road,
[2] And others of course
[3] On previous Urban Hope Training Weekends

Monday, April 16, 2018

Addicted, Homeless and Walking Into Walls

In the quieter moments of my work as "Your Helpful Neighbor", I often listen to Amazon Audible books.[1]  Steve Arterburn's book Walking Into Walls: 5 Blind Spots That Block God's Work In You provides AMAZING insights into my own broken way of doing life.  It also sheds light on so much of the agony experienced by my friends in Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities.  

Some of the opening words from this book:

Too many people live needlessly in defeat, immobilized by their own mistakes or the mistakes of others. They repeatedly walk into emotional walls that block the work God wants to do in them. It does not have to be this way! No matter how broken or hurt, every person can discover the way to healing, hope, and a new way of living. Walls of pain erected by past traumas need not be the obstacles they so often become. Getting past these walls means seeing them for what they are, finding the lies they present and the truths they hide, or finding the door in the wall that will allow us to move on. The important thing to remember is this: no matter how big or impassable your wall seems to be, there is always a way to get past it. Always. There is a way around it, through it, over it, or there is a way to take the wall down. Walking into walls may be inevitable, but staying stuck behind them is not. You can get past your wall, and that is what this little book will show you how to do.[2]

It would be wrong of me to sit here and tell you, if you are running into walls in your life, that you can get beyond your walls if I'm not willing to offer myself as an example of me trying to get beyond my own walls.  So, somewhat nervously, here it goes…

Before becoming involved in ministry to and with addicted and homeless people, I wrote the following in an unpublished blog on October 21, 2016:

Before I write anything here, I want you to know that today is my 55th birthday.  According to societal standards, I am officially old.  Other than a few aches and pains that I didn't have a few years ago, I'm no different than I was years or even decades ago.[3]

Years and decades ago...  Hhmmm...  That's when it all started.  In my younger days, significant people in my life called me retard, pea-brain, Elroy (From the Jetsons cartoon because they felt I was a space cadet), idiot, stupid, lazy and the list goes on.  In recent years, a clergy person with no licensure to make a diagnosis, told me that I demonstrated signs of Aspergers Syndrome and therefore did not have the wherewithal to fulfill my calling in youth ministry.

Now let me stop there and ask you to listen to today's short message from Dr. James Dobson.  I heard this as I was listening to John Yoast, the morning host, on WBYN today as I was waking up deeply saddened as I realized that my life has gone essentially nowhere professionally.

Dr. Dobson summed up my issue.  Having been fed all these hideous one-liners throughout my life, I've taken them on as absolute, factual, unbeatable, unavoidable, non-workaroundable reality.

To all those people who called me those horrible things: You poisoned my spirit!  You broke me!  I'm sickened that your path and my path ever crossed!

Shortly after hearing Dr. Dobson's message this morning, I received this email from Dr. John Townsend.  I'd emphasize the part where he says this:

"Your support system. We truly are as confident as our relationships make us. People are the fuel of our lives. Their care, interest, attunement, and encouragement are often the difference between success and failure. We “internalize”, or take into our brain’s hard wiring, the ingredients of what others provide for us. When you call these people to mind or some helpful thing they said to you, it makes us believe more that we are up to the task."

Having grown up believing in the reality of a boatload of hideous labels, I developed an extreme sensitivity to hurting people, people who themselves have been hurt by the people around them.  That ingredient, when added to poor choices of my own adolescence, led me into youth ministry.  Even within that realm, the labeling continued and my belief in the accuracy of those labels strengthened in my spirit.  The end result is a person writing these words to you now who has not been involved in my calling out of the knowledge that I WILL screw it up.

But wait...  Could it be that God is doing something in my life?  Earlier this year, a person told me: "You're a great listener and you've brought me closer to God."  Listening to people share their stories has always been something I've been good at in spite of all my apparent defects pointed out to me by some of the most significant people in my life.  This person's words have become my goal number one on my resume and my life!  Let me make this clear, this person didn't give me the goal.  It had always been there.  This person gave me the Twitter version of my lifelong mission!

So where do I go from here?  Where does an apparent mental defective go to fulfill their mission of being a good listener and bringing people closer to God?

To be continued......

Jump ahead to today:

Since writing that blog, I have listened to the stories of the men and women in Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities.  I have also read  Walking into Walls…, I've come to realize that what Steve Arterburn discusses in this book may be the missing ingredient(s) that I discuss in my blog Between the Sin and The Cell. 

Many, most or maybe all of the men and women of Emerald City, its surrounding bridge communities and all similar settings across our city, state and nation are walking into walls as they go through life with their addiction.  We can't erase what has been said and done thus far but we can change what we are saying and doing now and into the future. 

If you are addicted and homeless or the loved one of such a person or if you are a person who serves these good people, I would highly recommend reading or listening to Walking into Walls and paving your new path with whatever fits your life. 

That's what I'm doing.

[1] I'm one of those people who will listen to the same book over and over again. 
[2] Arterburn, Stephen. Walking Into Walls: 5 Blind Spots That Block God's Work In You. Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition. 
[3] Maybe a tiny bit wiser…

Friday, April 13, 2018

Be their friend.

Here's mine as stated by someone to me earlier this year:

"You've been a great listener and you brought me closer to God."

Lonely people and hurting people may or may not be the same person. Either and both need someone to listen to their heart. When is the last time you listened to someone's thoughts and feelings buried deep inside their heart? 

Don't judge them as you listen. Just listen. As a Christian, offer the love of Christ in a way that draws them to our Lord Jesus.  In so doing, you will fulfill the love of Christ. 

Be their friend.

If they are accepting of the following, be their honorary brother or sister if they don't have one. Be their honorary father or mother if that person is missing or dishonorable in their life. Fulfill your role in their life as a representative of Christ and with no ulterior motive of your own.

Your reward will be to know that this person has been heard and is moving closer to Christ.

True ministry, ministry in its purest form is just that. Connecting people to Christ through our words and deeds. For me, it's listening to broken hearts and finding a way to guide that heart to Christ. For you, it may be very different. And that's great. However, you minister to others, demonstrate to your recipient that they are a child of God worthy of dignity, honor, respect, and love.

Friday, April 6, 2018

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

As I have been privileged to hear the very personal stories of the residents of Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities, I have heard many accounts of hideousness forced upon these human beings in the years of their childhood and youth.  Steve Arterburn writes about this in his book, Walking Into Walls: 5 Blind Spots That Block God's Work In You.  (Bold lettering added by me.)

In 1977 I began my studies in counseling at a seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. For the first time, I looked forward to every day of school. Very quickly I was involved in doctoral courses and providing counseling under the supervision of doctoral students. I loved it and believed, as I still do, that I had found my purpose: to help people with emotional and mental problems.

As I progressed I wanted to gain experience with those struggling with the worst of psychiatric diagnoses. The only job I could find was as an attendant on a psychiatric ward, and I took it with great excitement and dedication. My job description was to help in any way needed. That meant counseling a newly admitted patient or cleaning toilets. In my ascent from custodian to chief therapist, I saw nearly every kind of emotional and mental damage. Much of it was inflicted by cruel and heartless perpetrators who ripped normalcy out of patients’ lives and left them with scarred souls.

At first, I could not understand the depths of evil committed against the innocent. One man’s moment of sexual gratification often destroyed the healthy and happy life of another. I don’t have research figures, but I would guess that one moment of illicit sexual gratification produces ten thousand moments of pain and suffering during the lifetime of a victim.

It wasn’t just men who wreaked havoc on the lives of the young. Mothers did it too. Some smothered, even trapped their young to always be there for them throughout their entire lives. Never free to become independent adults, these tethered people collapsed into psychiatric care, not understanding why life was so unmanageable or their minds so filled with conflict. Unexpressed rage and ungrieved loss piled on top of confusion and disappointment.[1] 
Those of us on the outside of addiction looking in need to realize that these sons and daughters are not living under bridges because they want to be there:

He does not hold his 'hungry' sign on the white line in the middle of a busy intersection and dodge traffic because he enjoys almost being hit by bad drivers and having things thrown at him or being cursed at for being "a worthless junkie." 

She does not allow herself to be tied to the bed in a center city hotel room while a wealthy attorney who has told his wife that he's working late this night has his way with her.

Independence Hall is at the bottom.
Emerald City is at the top.
It is this Creator God that our Nation's Forefathers wrote of 3.03 miles away from Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities and thereby changed the governance of our land and world when they penned these words in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, [2]

When our current city government officials and their police representatives: 
  • order that these under-the-Conrail-tracks residents move all of their belongings out from the relative protection of the bridge and into the rain and snow[3] so a weekly housekeeping can be done,
  • arrest our daughters for prostitution when they despise and cry about prostituting themselves,[4]
  • and more, 

they are making it clear NOT that they are being mean or uncaring.  They just don't understand that these men and women would much prefer Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness but due to their medical condition that is a recognized condition in the DSM-5, they cannot achieve in the absence of medical, psychological or spiritual intervention.

Dear Government Officials of the City of Brotherly Love and Birthplace of the Now Internationally Recognized Birthplace of the Concept of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,

Please know that your sons and daughters who live in Emerald City, its surrounding bridge, and equivalent communities throughout your city are human men and women who would prefer healing and wholeness over addiction and homelessness. 

I encourage you to sit on the sidewalk and listen to your city's current residents who reside there.  Within their God created intelligence lies the real and essential answers to this current pandemic that is expected to claim 1,500 more lives of residents of your city during this calendar year. 

Prior to being as you now see them, many of them were serving society as professional tradesmen or college graduates from schools of nursing, social work, various aspects of medicine and law.  Some were and are artists and poets and musicians.  Some may have helped develop your current skyline through architectural design.  Others have never seen the inside of your high schools.

Please come to know these people for who they are; humans created by God and, therefore, worthy of dignity, honor, respect, and brotherly love with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and not simply as homeless sufferers of addiction.

Chris Battin


Dear Readers,

I am being evicted from my rental home in the most polite way any homeowner can do so.  My home's owners have decided to sell this beautiful house I've called home for the past seven or so years.  My service business all but disappeared through this past winter.  I cannot seem to find the magic words to convince a computerized "Human Resources" hiring system that I'm worth being interviewed by a living person. 

Just as are the addicted and homeless men and women of Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities, I am a man who is in search of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  I am currently a resident of Delaware County, Pa. 

My resume which highlights my growing interest in service to addicted people and 20 years of medical hospital service can be made available upon request.


[1] Arterburn, Stephen. Walking Into Walls: 5 Blind Spots That Block God's Work In You. Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.

[3] Therefore rendering their clothes and bedding useless against the elements
[4] Dear Ladies of Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities who I care so very much for, Please know that I despise those "P" words but felt that they fit the discussion better than the more accepted words " dates and dating."

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Joyful Surprises are Part of the Routine in Visits to Emerald City and its Surrounding Bridge Communities!

Yesterday's afternoon visit to Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities was expected in my mind to be a fairly routine experience if there is any such thing as "routine" in these visits.  Even as I typed that sentence, a beautiful realization came over me. 

Joyful Surprises are Part of the Routine in Visits to Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities!

With Anna participating in a very special Ladies' Night at Prevention Point and with Luke preparing for a missions-related trip, I visited on my own with three cases of water and four bags - about 15 pounds - of bananas. 

As with any gathering of people, there was a group personality going on that I'd seen before.  The energy level was up and not in a totally positive way as 15 to 20 people lined up along the sidewalk to buy their "medicine" from a visiting dealer.  I chatted with people who were not involved in that line.  Once that line dispersed, I made my way down the rest of the sidewalk with my water and bananas.  Conversations were typical for any gathering of people: weather, Villanova's win and more. 

"Tom the Tramp," asked for water and told me that he's getting tired of this lifestyle. I've known "Tom" for as long as I've been visiting the streets of Kensington.  As the months go by in this relational ministry, I see the doors of communication opening between us.  It's a privilege that I welcome and I can't rush.  It's a door that cannot be pushed nor pulled open from my side. 

Most residents of Emerald City live in tents.  When I see a closed tent door, I call out "Banana Man is here."  Sometimes I get a response back asking for bananas and/or water.  Other times I get a response that someone inside wants to talk.  They open their door and we chat right there.  On occasion, someone will chat without opening their door.  Other times, a hand will reach out for a fist bump and fruit.  These men and women are disrespected in so many settings that I do what I can to demonstrate respect in accepting whatever mode of communication they prefer.

Renewing Health

When I first met "Sally" last summer I was very concerned for her physical health.  Medical issues secondary to her addiction were becoming increasingly severe and dangerous.  Since the time we first met, I'm aware of two times when Sally has detoxed unintentionally, once when hospitalized for that medical situation and once while in jail.  Upon discharge from both settings, Sally came back to Emerald City and her addiction.  Some people reading this may be tempted to say that Sally is simply a moral failure.  For those of us on the outside of addiction looking in, Sally is a great example of the mystery that goes on within the mind, body, and soul of the addicted person.

I see Sally to really talk to about every couple of weeks.  When I saw her last night, I was delightfully surprised to see appropriately regained weight that had been lost to addiction and a renewed sparkle in her eyes.    I told her that she looked great.  While she did not share any details, she explained that things were better.  I was tempted to ask why she's still there but chose to bite my lip instead.

On Frankford Avenue

With bananas and water in my cooler, I drove to the community on Frankford Avenue.  Among other conversations, I had an awesome chat with "Rebecca".  We've been in regular conversation about her and "Natalie" entering a specific detox setting that would be ideal for them and would meet their personal interests in life, interests that have nothing to do with addiction and everything to do with regaining the normalcy that they both deeply desire. 

As this conversation progressed in the doorway of Rebecca's tent home, "Sammie" another young woman, sat next to me and leaned against the cement wall of this railroad overpass.  Sitting as close to me as my computer screen, Sammie tore open the little blue packet of her last purchase of "medicine," prepared it, filled her syringe, wrapped a tourniquet around her right arm, found a vein and injected her medicine, removed the tourniquet, continued to hold the syringe with its exposed needle, and nodded off into an experience that those of us on the outside of addiction will never fully grasp.  The entire process was done as smoothly and almost as quickly as the time it took you to read that preceding run-on sentence. 

Oh, the irony of that moment.  Within a three foot square section of public sidewalk, Sammie, a child of God, risked it all for the sake of a high while Rebecca and I seriously discussed the options for herself and Natalie getting into detox and reclaiming life.[1]

On To Family Night

With conversations coming to a natural conclusion, I drove to Urban Hope for "Family Night."  There again, God had another plan for me.  I entered the church building and went downstairs to the fellowship hall.  The room was totally flooded with a sea of green-shirted teenagers and adults from Indiana who were preparing meals and 'goodie bags' for the residents of Emerald City and its surrounding bridge communities!  An intern and student in the SUM program at Urban Hope, Tommy - whose real name is Tommy -, asked me if I'd like to go with them.  That was an easy answer!

Once we were organized, four extension vans filled with teens and adults fanned out across the four bridge communities.  I led the group to Emerald City.  As the group was getting out of our van, I walked down the sidewalk explaining to the community what was about to happen.  Residents immediately announced to their community "Kids and visitors on the block."  Drugs and paraphernalia were tucked away and the visitors were welcomed just as any homeowner would welcome a visitor to their house.

These teens and adults spread out to distribute spaghetti and meatballs in individual Ziploc bags, sandwiches and a book to each accepting resident.  Residents stopped conversations with each other to engage in conversations with their guests.  One man who I'd never seen before and who would probably frighten your typical suburbanite, actually gave me a hug as he thanked me for bringing these guests.  

At one point, four or five teens and an adult were learning from a man who was telling them where he went wrong in life.  Behind him, a dealer sat patiently waiting for us to leave.  A resident who did not realize we were there came up to this dealer to make a purchase.  I could hear the dealer say "Not now. Visitors on the block."

This team of youth and adults actively asked residents for prayer requests and proceeded to pray with them if given permission.  It was a beautiful sight to see these middle school and high school youth from the farmlands of Indiana kneeling in prayer on the sidewalk in front of or next to these people who call Emerald City home.[2]

At one point, I saw Sally again and introduced her to some of the Indiana group.  I told them about how Sally thought I was so annoying at one time and how we get along great now.  Sally always laughs about this story even though she's heard me tell it multiple times in the past couple of months.

Having this group of teens and adults from Indiana visiting Emerald City provided me with such an awesome example of the benefits of being involved in relational ministry.  I was able to introduce them to Demetrius and Cecelia, Sally, Tom, and others who I've come to know as the people they are and not as the addiction they bare.

[1] It's amazing what I realize as I write these blogs… I've known Rebecca and Natalie for about 10 months.  Trust has been built through this relational ministry.  Sammie is somewhat new to me.  Deep conversations are yet to happen between us.  By sitting next to her without casting judgment on what she was doing, I hope that she sensed that she's cared for just as she is.  (I did think about where my Narcan was sitting in my car just in case.)
[2] Oh how I wish I could find Philadelphia suburban youth and their leaders who would do the same!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Easter In Emerald City: A McDonald's Communion

Our plans were set. 

Our earthly plans were set.  Following an Easter morning visit to Emerald City that tentatively involved "Emily" joining my partner in this ministry, Anna Batten,  and me for worship at Urban Hope, I was to be joining Anna for Easter dinner with her family.  At that dinner, I, Chris Battin was going to meet some of her family, including her son, Chris Batten. [1],[2] 

God had completely different plans. 

Anna had to change her plans and I could not find Emily.

I visited Emerald City and the equivalent community on Frankford Avenue and distributed two cases of water and almost six bags of bananas.  The number of men and women who initiated "Happy Easter" greetings with me was inspiring.  I handed out more copies of a prayer paper that Anna found some time ago.[3]

Following worship, I went to Save-A lot to buy more bananas and water.  The communities under these bridges are growing and the needs are great.  I returned to Emerald City for an extended time of conversation with anyone who wanted to talk. 

"Demetrius" and his girlfriend of several years "Cecilia" told me that they needed to tell me something serious.  They invited me into their tent.  This couple has lived on the street for as long as I've been visiting Emerald City.  Cecilia looked at me with all seriousness and said "I just found out I'm pregnant.  It's time for us to get life straightened out and get out of here."  I smiled as I immediately thought of Romans 8:28…

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

They were expecting me, in my secondary role[4] of "Pastorish Chris" to be upset with them.  When I smiled instead of scolded, they realized that their April Fool's joke didn't work.  We all had a good laugh at the attempt.  I told them how much I appreciate the acceptance that I feel from this community that this April fool's attempt communicated. 

Mixed Emotions
As I made my way down the sidewalk, I asked a man if he had seen "Tierra" recently.  Tierra is the woman who I've witnessed save three out of the four people I've seen overdose to the point of needing Narcan.  A few days after that most recent save, I asked her how many times she's been in that situation.  Her answer, which I accept at face value, shocked me.  "I have fifty-five saves and no losses." 

The man who I asked about her presence gave me an answer I wasn't expecting.  "She turned herself into the police.  She had warrants and wanted to get this life behind her."  I was simultaneously happy for her being off the street and concerned for this community that has lost one of its most effective lifeguards.[5]
Finding Emily
As I approached Emily's tent, I quietly called in with a poetic little phrase that doesn't work here being that "Emily" is her blog name and not her real name.[6] 

After some conversation, we decided to go to Applebee's for Easter Dinner.  As we pulled into their parking lot, it was obvious that this wasn't going to work.  The line of people waiting for Easter Dinner was extending out the front door.  We drove up Aramingo Avenue to other restaurants.  Places were packed.  We ended up in the drive-through line at McDonald's.  With our orders delivered, I pulled over into a parking place in that same lot. 

Emily's strawberry shake with its whipped cream topping and my coffee, her cheeseburger and fries and my sausage, egg and cheese McMuffin took on the sacredness of The Body and Blood of Christ Himself.[7]  Emily shared with me the painful events that led her to Emerald City and the hope and faith she is starting to sense on the horizon of her life's journey.   She acknowledged and sympathized with the pain in my life that she had read in my recent blog.

Hope and Faith: The Reasons For The Easter Season

Emily may not have realized it during that conversation but she tapped into the purest of all reasons for the Easter Season: Hope and Faith![8]

Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Click here for more examples of hope in the Bible.

Click here for Examples of Faith in the Bible.

With our McDonald's Holy Eucharist[9] complete, we made our way to Dollar Tree across the street.  All issues related to how our paths originally crossed gave way to traveling the isles in search of a few needed items with some extra perusing time spent in the book section. 

Well within a couple hours of when our journey began, we returned to Emerald City.  Emily went on with her day and I continued on with mine. 

As I returned home, I could not help but reflect on the privilege of spending Resurrection Sunday with these good people and of being permitted to enter their lives.   I think of them as friends who are so completely misunderstood by our larger society.  Dispelling some of these misunderstandings is the primary reason for these blogs. 

[1] Keep in mind, Anna and I only met through our mutual interest in the good people of the streets of Kensington.
[2] Emily and I have an agreement that she will visit Urban Hope with me and I will visit a Roman Catholic Church with her.  Either visit will be followed by Sunday lunch at Applebee's.
[3] We've been handing these out for a few weeks.  It's rewarding to see some of them sitting in significant places in each person's area.
[4] Secondary to that of "Banana Man"  Sometimes my primary and secondary roles merge when I am called "Pastorish Banana." 
[5] It's a sad statement on our society that a person seeking medical intervention must seek it through law enforcement procedures.  In all likelihood, Tierra's warrant is due to an infraction of the law brought about by her need to continue to buy her medicine.
[6] Emily is a brilliant and fun to chat with poet with a deep and natural smile. She is by far the most discreet person in Emerald City. The activities of her life that are trying to hold her there are activities that I don't think I've ever actually seen her do. I've told her a time or two that I can't figure out why she's there. Emily reads these blogs and has encouraged me to keep writing.                      
[7] as we sat in my van in that parking lot because there was no room for us in any restaurant. 
[8] I can't possibly do this topic justice in this blog but here's a quick look.
[9] Otherwise known as "Holy Communion" in some churches

Friday, March 30, 2018

Being an outcast in so many social settings when balanced by my ever developing Faith has produced in me a sensitivity and Hope that I try to tap into as I relate to addicted and homeless people who are among the most outcast people of our society.

Every once in a while, I need to be sure that you know something about me so as to make some point about the people who find themselves dealing with the combination of addiction and homelessness. My first mini-biography was in this blog about the Prodigal Daughter.

To really appreciate the significance of what I'm about to tell you, you need to understand that I am a tall skinny white man with a short conservative hairstyle who lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia. 

Tall skinny white men with short conservative hairstyles who live in the suburbs of Philadelphia were taught as children if they grew up in those suburbs that we don't go to Kensington.  You just don't and to do so is to put your life in your hands because the people who live there are not tall skinny white men with short conservative hairstyles! 

You also need to know that throughout my life, I've been bullied.  In my youth, classmates called me pea brain, retard, and stupid among other similar horrible names.  In recent years, I've been told by one clergy person[1] that I demonstrate signs of Asperger's Syndrome and therefore do not have the wherewithal to be in youth ministry.[2]  I've been told through the words and actions of other significant people in my life that I'm just not worth it.  In many parts of my life, I've been kicked to the curb.

Being an outcast in so many social settings when balanced by my ever developing Faith has produced in me a sensitivity and Hope that I try to tap into as I relate to addicted and homeless people who are among the most outcast people of our society.

Jump ahead to last night.
Toward the end of my evening of visiting Emerald City and its neighboring community on Frankford Avenue, I was sitting on the sidewalk talking to a man who did not match my personal physical or social description in any way whatsoever.  He and I are polar opposites in many ways.  I'm quite sure that, if he chose to do so, he could turn me into a 200-pound pile of confetti fairly quickly.  But there we sat on this sidewalk in our first ever real conversation. This African American Man with his stocky muscular build and his long flowing dreadlocks wanted me to know something about me. 

"I've been watching you on your last visit[3] and today.  I see how you walk through this cement jungle and sit and listen and talk with all of us.  You walk and sit around trash and needles and don't get hurt.  You're not afraid of anything.  You are a fearless, quiet, ferocious lion.  You are making a major difference here and will be making a major difference in our lives.  God has a plan for you."

I sat there speechless and overwhelmed with gratitude to God for this moment.  I looked around at my surroundings[4] and thought, "There is no other community of people I want to serve at this time in my life."  As we stood, he taught me "the hood" way that men greet each other.  I did it to the best of my ability.  He appreciated my effort but explained that what I was doing was the Puerto-Rican Men's greeting.  The African American greeting has an extra shoulder bump at the end.[5]

I share this with you not to bring any glory to me but rather to share with you this one example of how very wrong we[6] are to assume that someone who is not like us on the surface is not like us in their heart.[7]

Arriving in Emerald City
For my weekday visits, I always try to get there by 4pm.  Thanks to traffic and other factors, I rarely arrive before 4:30 or 4:45.  Yesterday was different and I managed to arrive a bit after 4.  I had told Anna and Pastor Jason that I figured I'd be there at 4:30.  As I pulled into my usual parking place and hopped out of my car, I heard words that made me laugh.  It was an announcement that I'd been told is made in various ways each time I arrive.  This was the first time I heard it.  "Banana Man is here!"[8]

Announcements of particular people arriving in Emerald City are typical.  Lots of people visit this community, especially on weekends.  It's not unusual to hear an announcement such as "Visitors on the Block."  The residents all live on the right side of Emerald Street.  The left sidewalk is kept open for pedestrians.  When children or teens are walking on the opposite side of the street, the announcement is made: "Kids on the block."  All of these announcements are made as a sign of respect for the people who are arriving or walking through.  Activities related to drug use stop or become more discrete in these times.

Conversations preceded by handshakes, fist bumps, and/or hugs are the norm as we distribute bananas and water.  Anna had chocolate candy filled Ziploc bags that she distributed as she conversed with people.  We always run out of bananas and water before the need ends.[9] 

As Pastor Jason, Anna and I spread out across the Community conversing with people: 
  • One conversation was about the power of sin and Jesus' death and resurrection. 
  • Another was about the possibility of getting two different people into a specific detox center. 
  • Another conversation was with a newcomer to this community although not new to the streets.  She was, from a suburban perspective, beautifully dressed in her Sunday best, as she was returning exhausted from her long day of 'dates.'
  • In another conversation, arrangements were being made to help a resident get to an important medical appointment.
  • One woman told us that the next morning,[10] she was going to detox.  Please pray for her.

One conversation really won the prize for most frightening and funny.  As Anna, Pastor Jason and I were walking down the sidewalk on Frankford Avenue right about here, I saw a pair of men's boots sticking out of a tent door.  They were obviously on someone's feet and in a position that made me question if the unknown wearer was safe.  I asked the man standing next to the tent if the man inside was OK - as in not overdosing.  This man quietly explained that they found him dead about 20 minutes earlier and were just waiting for the ambulance.  The man blocked my attempt to access the tent.  I called Anna who came right over.  We managed to get past the standing man and flip open the tent door to find the wearer of the boots sitting up and laughing at the joke they played on us.  I gave them each an extra banana in recognition of their acting abilities.

As conversations were coming to a natural close, I made my way to Urban Hope to attend their "Road to Recovery" meeting.[11]  Before I left for that, however, I agreed to charge a phone in my car for one man while I was in that meeting. 

When I came back to Emerald City to deliver the phone, a wave of sadness hit me when I saw a woman there who I've known since my first visit in July 2017.  It wasn't the "seeing her" part that made me sad.  We had chatted briefly a few hours earlier.  It was the seeing her dressed and preparing to leave for her night of 'dates' that made me sad and deeply concerned for her safety.  For all of the months of interactions that we've had with deep conversations, this was the first time that I'd seen her in that mode.  We only passed each other on the sidewalk.  We each said "Hi 'First Name.'" to the other.  For me, there was an awkwardness at that moment that I can't quite describe.  I sensed in that brief moment that she felt it too.

There is no real conclusion to this blog because as you sit here reading it, each person mentioned, with the possible exception of the one who was planning on going to a detox today, is still there risking health and life all because society cannot provide a REAL way out for them.

[1] "Pastor" "Rector" depending on the setting and denomination
[2] My college degree from Eastern University: I have a double major in Youth Ministry and Psychology
[3] Two days earlier.  It was the first time we had met.
[5] This is reminding me of this song: "We All Bleed The Same.
[6] Suburbanites
[7] This writing makes me wonder which community of people has the bigger heart.
[8] Someone told me later that the occasional phrase is "Pastor Banana is here!"
[9] Hint Hint
[10] The morning that I'm writing this.
[11] I attend these meetings as my way to gain a better understanding of addiction and how Faith plays into recovery.  People sometimes ask if I am a recovering addict or if I've ever had an addiction.  I've not.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

You Can't Live Here Forever but You Can Die Here Forever.

Every once in a while in a conversation with a person I'm chatting with in Emerald City, a series of words that my mind has never thought before will pop out of my mouth with perfect timing.  The first obvious time this happened was on August 13, 2017.  It was a warm Sunday morning when I saw "Lauren" walking to her abandoned house that she was calling home.  Here's what I wrote about that encounter and the words that popped out of my mouth by way of the Holy Spirit.

There have been other moments along the way when just the right words popped out of my mouth at just the right time.  As with my words to Lauren, the statement I made to "Demetrius" this past Sunday startled me.  We were conversing about his situation and his growing frustration with continuing to be there.  I looked at him and said: "You Can't Live Here Forever but You Can Die Here Forever."  Demetrius and I both paused in our conversation for a moment to simultaneously and independently ponder what I just said.  Speaking only for myself here, it was a moment where I startled myself.

"You Can't Live Here Forever but You Can Die Here Forever." 

No one lives in these bridge communities forever.  They move on by way of jail time or entering detox and working on recovery.  Others continue their lifestyle somewhere else within the general area or move way far away.  They don't live there forever.

Many people don't survive their addiction.  Of the three people who I've come to know within Emerald City who I know have died, each represents a 'category' so to speak of how people die as a result of addiction.  

Intellectually, these intelligent men and women who I love in the name of Jesus know of these three broad categories of ways they may die forever.  As I've pointed out in various blogs, there is a war going on within these people who are just like you and me in so many ways.  It is a war that is trying to keep them addicted.  Here are two of those blogs:


Dear Friends,

If you are reading this and you are addicted and homeless,  please know that you are loved in the Name of Jesus.  Please reach deep into your soul to find the determination to move toward the healing and wholeness that wants to evict your current troubles and move back into your life.  Please determine to do what it takes to find healing and not live where you are forever.  Please determine to rearrange life so as not to die there forever.  You are not alone in this journey.  You are loved in the Name of Jesus.