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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Where is My Hairbrush? Another Glimpse Into Normal

In the Veggie Tales song fitfully titled ”The Hairbrush Song”, Larry the Cucumber asks a very important question: “Where is my hairbrush?” 

I had this opportunity with Autumn this evening after giving her two granola bars, one for herself and one for husband, David.  I had noticed a few days ago that attempts had been made to do something with Autumn’s grossly matted hair.  It had looked better two days ago than it did tonight and I sensed that the mats were moving back in.  I had pulled away from her and drove into the parking lot of the shopping center right next to where this story began. 

I parked…

I looked down and saw my hairbrush, my trusted hairbrush that had ridden in my car for at least a hundred thousand miles.  It was sitting dutifully on the shelf between my seat and the passenger seat just waiting for its next call to follicle organizational duty.  But this time, it was not to be, at least not on me…

I picked up my hairbrush and plucked out portions of me that were trapped between its bristles.  It was almost a sacred moment as I prepared to do what I knew I needed to do.  It was time to give my hairbrush to someone who needed it more than I did.  I pulled up to and then crossed the intersection.  I pulled into the “Planet Fitness” parking lot as Autumn was standing on the dotted line of the street asking drivers for her next income.

I motioned to her and she came to the driver’s side window.  I asked if she had a hairbrush.  She said in her all too familiar half starved voice, “No”.  “I want you to have mine so you can brush your hair and keep it looking nice.”  With a shocked and bewildered look on her face, she extended her addicted hand to me and took it from me with a sincere “Thank you.”  She began to brush her hair for what may have been the first time in a very long while.

I pulled away in my car and turned around in time to see that she had put the brush down on the top of her Wawa ice water cup and was back in the intersection.  And then she did something I’ve never seen her do…

She ran her hand through her own hair as if to show some degree of pride in her locks. 

Without “preaching” a word to her about anything related to our LORD, is it possible that Autumn reconnected ever so briefly with the lady or girl of her youth whose biggest concern was her hair and her makeup long before the demon of addiction found its way into her life? 

Could it be that this remembrance could serve as a seed of belief that there is a healthy woman wanting to be rediscovered deep inside her? 

Could it be that such moments of remembrance can open doors to hope, healing, and wholeness for these children of God in a post-addiction and post homeless lifestyle? 

Two days ago, Mickey dropped her status as a triple addicted homeless woman for a few seconds and became simply a woman strumming a guitar.  I saw it in her eyes.  This evening, Autumn brushed and primped her hair in public with pride. 

In the living hell of homeless addiction, can these glimpses into normal inspire health, healing, and wholeness? 

Where is my hairbrush?  Right where God wants it to be...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mickey Makes Music and Gives a Glimpse Into Normal

The ingredients for this story were added to the mixing bowl years ago when I tried unsuccessfully to fiddle with my guitar.  I made only the most basic of sounds with that Yamaha Classical Instrument until my wife, Cindee, found a flier at a customer’s house while she was pet sitting that advertised an offer I couldn’t refuse. 

For $60.00, I could have six group lessons with Michael Favinger, a local guitar player, songwriter, and performer.  I signed up.  That was something like six years ago.  With those lessons coming to an end, Andy Williams, (another student in the class), and I have continued to teach ourselves the course (as opposed to fine) art of playing the guitar once a week.  We’re almost ready for our next performance which, as we explain to our audience of one cat, will be the next week when we get together.  With no intention of actually performing anywhere, it’s just a nice evening to play guitar and talk about life.

Enter my new life with Urban Hope

I’ve written quite a bit thus far about my efforts of personally connecting with homeless addicted people between my exit off of I-95 and 210 East Tioga – my path to and from Urban Hope.  I’ve shared with you the stories of several of these human beings.  I do what I can to connect with as many of them as possible each time I’m there.  It’s very hit or miss or God ordained as to who I find depending on your perspective on the eternal, omnipotent, all knowing, all seeing presence of God. 

Of the 10 or 12 people I’ve been getting to know, I see Mickey most often.  I pulled into the Wawa on Aramingo and there she was still wearing my lifelong friend Dolly Rea’s glimmering white (well, not so glimmering after a week of non-stop wear on the streets of Philadelphia) running suit.  I had just picked up some new (used) clothes at a Block party the day before that was organized by a ministry in which Rick Cartagena and his wife Brenda are deeply involved.  For Mickey today, I had two shirts and a stylish pair of jeans.  She changed into them in the back of my van while I stood guard outside.  The Wawa women’s room would have made more sense for this but they keep telling her to get out whenever she enters the store.

After church, I stopped by the Wawa to see if any of my regulars were there (or any new folks with whom to connect).  None were but there was Mickey, looking sharp in her lady’s purple golf shirt that had a 2016 gold embroidered insignia from some no longer all important family reunion and her new perfectly fitting (except for being too long) non-faded jeans.  I offered her a meatball sandwich prepared specifically for her by the lunch crew at Urban Hope.  She was full from a recently provided Wawa lunch but was anxious to get away from the front door for a while because too many children were “looking at me and making mean comments.”

With an “Extra Sweet” Wawa Iced Tea in her hand and a Wawa “Some Pulp” orange juice in mine, we went to the back of my van that was parked under the one shade tree available to us.  With the hatch open, Mickey sat on the right side of my back bumper.

Mickey had told me she played the guitar years ago.  I pulled that same Yamaha Classical guitar out of its case and handed it to her.  She wouldn’t take hold of it but watched intently as I played my typical miscellaneous progression of chords.

The words just slipped out of my mouth or may have been guided by the eternal, omnipotent, all knowing, all seeing presence of God.  Either way (wink wink), I said: “Mickey, you strum the guitar.” Her cocaine, heroin, alcohol addicted hand reached out and she strummed the strings while I changed chords.   “You’re making music,” I said.  She smiled.

The moment lasted only a few seconds.  In those few seconds, Mickey was not a 29-year-old homeless cocaine, heroin, alcohol addicted woman.  She was a woman strumming a guitar and that’s all and that’s what her eyes conveyed – delight and relief for a brief moment from the living hell of homeless addiction.

While I may be reading into what happened next, I think the moment may have startled or even frightened her.  She stopped and almost immediately asked if I could give her a ride to close to the tracks.  Although she did not say it, I knew that her intent was to go there and buy her next hit of cocaine or heroin.  I gently explained to her that I can’t give her a ride to anyplace where she can purchase anything that may very well kill her.  I told her that even though she might not understand it, Jesus loves her and wants her to be safe and healthy and whole.  With that, our time ended as she explained that she needed to find more money.

May it be so that in some small way, these opportunities that I’ve been given with Mickey and others is fulfilling 1 Corinthians 3:6:  

I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.

Transposing this scripture to my current ministry: 

By the Grace of God working through the brokenness of my life, I pray to plant a seed of hope and faith in Mickey’s (Autumn’s, David’s, Ian’s, Gina’s, John’s, Joshua’s, Kim’s, Mike’s) life that may be watered by our ongoing interaction and ministries such as Urban Hope and CPLRM all by the eternal, omnipotent, all knowing, all seeing presence of God who makes it GROW. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What did I do today?

Have you ever had one of those days where you looked back on your day and wondered what you did?  I’m having a day like that right now.  The only wrinkle in the question and its answer is that I recall pretty much every moment of this day.

This Sunday started out normal enough as my Sundays have in recent months.  I drove up to Kensington for church at Urban Hope.  What I do on the way varies and is getting fine tuned in the direction of looking for homeless addicted people who I’m coming to know and care about as the creations of God who they are.

I stopped at the Wawa on Aramingo in search of some of my regulars.  I’d already seen Autumn without David a few minutes earlier.  It was a bit unusual not to see Mickey at the Wawa so I waited a bit.  After a few minutes, I decided to drive toward I-95 and gradually make my way toward Urban Hope as I searched for anyone I knew.  As I arrived at the red light at Aramingo and York, I glanced over at the Exxon Gas Station and saw Mickey with her bright red socks lying on the sidewalk next to the building.  I was in the wrong lane to get to her quickly so I had to sit through two red lights before I could get to the gas station. 

At one point in that interval, she stood up, sluggishly walked to another part of the sidewalk closer to the front door and laid down on her side.  This was not her normal behavior.  I arrived and called out to her with no response.  I parked and tried to wake her with appropriate shakes and moderately loud voice.  EMT training years ago came in handy.  The store owner came out and said through a thick Indian accent that she had been there for quite some time.  I explained my association with Urban Hope, my working with Mickey in hopes of getting help for her and that if I could get her to Wawa, maybe some food would help. 

Now allow me to abbreviate the events that happened next.  In a half-slumber, she asked if she could have fries from McDonald's.  I drove there as she slipped in and out of consciousness.  She ate well including an Egg McMuffin and orange juice but kept falling asleep as she did so.  I called one of the women at Urban Hope and we went there in hopes of Mickey wanting help after some woman to woman chat.  That was not to be.

After a few minutes, it was decided that I should take Mickey back to the Wawa area since she didn’t want help.  She was just as lethargic now as she had been at the beginning of this road trip.  On the way back to the Wawa on Aramingo, we have to pass Episcopal Hospital.  I stopped there (For people who know other aspects of my current life story, you can appreciate why the phrase ‘any port in a storm’ came to mind as I pulled in Episcopal’s driveway.)

I motioned to a Philadelphia Police officer in a white-shirted uniform who instructed a Philadelphia Police officer in a blue-shirted uniform to go into the emergency room to get help for Mickey who was wearing bright red socks.  Three robed and gloved medical personnel came out and asked me a few questions about the situation.  With Mickey noticeably unaware of what was going on and seemingly worse than she had been thus far, without filling out forms or asking for insurance or taking vital signs, one of the nurses gave her an injection of Narcan.  Mickey promptly woke up and refused further treatment.  The three nurses walked back in chatting among themselves as they did so.  I reiterated to Mickey her three choices of getting help there, going to church with me or going back to Wawa.  She chose Wawa.  On the way back, I gently confronted her about her now obvious heroin use (not cocaine as she’d previously told me).[1]  She acknowledged it. 

For the few minutes back to the Wawa, the conversation was normal for us.  I tried to assure her of God’s unconditional love for her.  I pulled up to the back of the Wawa lot where we said goodbye.  She got out and went on with her day.  I went to church and arrived in time to hear two of the four “We’re pregnant!” announcements that were made during the prayer and praise time by four married couples on this Father’s Day. 

After the church-provided lunch was over, I pulled into the Wawa to see if I would find Mickey.  She was walking across the parking lot and seemed to be fine.  We chatted briefly.  I did not sense from her any recollection of what had transpired earlier.  She told me to be safe which I found a bit ironic.

Having had a few hours to reflect on what happened today, I’m left with these nagging questions for which I’ll probably never have answers… 

What did I do today on this Father’s Day?

I remember every moment of what I did but what did I do?  To some degree, Mickey was having a heroin-related overdose as evidenced by the Narcan bringing her out of it.  Would this daughter of some unknown to me father have died on this Father’s Day on that sidewalk if I’d not intervened?  I’ll never know.

Would an unscrupulous driver have seen her and scooped her up for his or her own warped purposes?  I’ll never know.

Did I save Mickey’s life?  I'll never know.

Can someone tell me?

What did I do today?

[1] Narcan has no effect with cocaine.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Tracks: Organized Community In Hell

As several of us from Urban Hope stood "upstairs" from The Tracks, our guide came up and said Narcan was needed immediately down stairs.  My first ever supply was strapped to my belt. I told our leader that I had some and off we went on my first ever run down the hill into the bullseye of the drug epidemic on the east coast of our great nation. 

We dashed past the hospital (A wood plank shack) where the doctor (an expert injector) helps people who can't do so themselves shoot up with heroin.  We arrived at the foot of the hill where our half unconscious overdosed human being created in the image of God was parked, somewhat leaning up against the cement foundation that holds up the Second Street bridge. After some assessment, we felt that Narcan was not needed.  I was not able to take pictures of this area but you can see this exact place in this interview video from when Dr. Oz was there a month ago.  In this video, you will see the hill I ran down, the "hospital," the piles of debris and more.  

As I stood there in the worst desecration of humanity I've ever experienced, and remember I've seen some extreme poverty and Honduras, Dominican Republic and Mexico, I could not help but notice an odd sense of order to this hellish scene. In between the piles of debris which consisted of furniture parts, tires, paper, needles, syringes, heroin wrappers, human feces and more, there was a man doing his job of sweeping the "hallways" between these piles. The floor of these hallways consisted of dirt and rocks.  There were well-dressed men in one area which I later was told were the local dealers and distributors who had no concern about our presence.

This was the beginning of our walk along the tracks. We were at the Western end of what is considered to be the bullseye of the drug epidemic. We made our way east walking along the tracks and staying aware of our surroundings as our leader explained what we were observing. She told us that earlier in the day two bodies had been removed. I asked her if this was a typical number she said no. A typical number is 4 to 6 each and every day of the year.

As we walked a mile or so east along the tracks she explained to us that organized gangs from Central and South America operate there. They have their own lingo and system for communicating with each other that does not even sound like human voices.

There are so many stories within the story I'm presently sharing that I am actually struggling to figure out which ones to tell you at this time.

As we were nearing the end of our tour, that is to say, as we were coming back from our one-mile east walk, we began ascending where we had descended an hour or so earlier. I looked over and saw a young Hispanic woman actively shooting up with heroin with the assistance of a man approximately her age. We watched from a distance as they struggled to find a vein in her arm into which to shoot her heroin. I looked at her and simply thought to myself that she is someone's daughter. I prayed for her and felt the sadness in my heart grow.  Several of us observed her and all of us I am sure prayed quietly for her knowing that there was nothing that we could do to stop what was happening in front of us. 

As we stood there at the base of the hill that led us back "upstairs" we just took in the scene. Cameras are not really appreciated down there and so I have no significant pictures to show you but it was truly surreal. There was a sense of order and a sense of community which you would find in any group of people. And yet there was absolute desperation the likes of which I have never known in my life. 

Ambulance Crews rarely come downstairs. When an ambulance is needed for someone, that someone is carried to the top of the hill, that is to say, brought upstairs, where the ambulance crew will tend to them.

As much as I can tell the two primary reasons that an ambulance comes to the Tracks is for overdose and childbirth.  Let that sink into your soul for a bit. Awaiting Death and the birth of new life are the primary reasons for professional healthcare at the tracks.

No...  Really... Don't continue reading this blog until you've stopped and thought about babies being born in this place...

As we were starting to make our way up the hill I noticed that the young woman and the young man who had just been shooting up their heroin were actually catching up to us. I told our leader that I was broken-hearted to have watched this young person sticking a needle in her own arm. Our leader said that her name is Natalie. When Natalie got close enough to us with her guy friend our leader introduced me to them and told Natalie that I felt bad for her and her situation. Natalie immediately said that she was very embarrassed by her situation and wants help.  The four of us chatted together and I explained to her that she could find help if you wanted it and she said she does want it. I told her about the Recovery Group at Urban Hope and she said she really wanted to come to it.

About an hour later as I was heading toward my favorite Wawa store to get some lunch. In between A and B Streets, I saw Natalie and her guy friend whose name is Mike. I pulled over at the intersection that you see at the 28-second point of this video which is right next to the tracks and we casually talked.  They told me how much both of them want out of the drug situation that they are in. I gave them my sheet of paper that I give to folks that has the Urban Hope weekly schedule and they said they would be there.

Before we went our own way, we formed a three-person prayer circle and prayed together for their healing.  Stop and think about that for a moment...  Something like an hour earlier, I had seen them shooting up heroin at the base of the Tracks.  And now, here we were in a prayer circle praying to the LORD to save them and bring them healing. 

There is so much more that I will have to write about this day.  But for now, I've got to stop.  I'll be back there in less than 12 hours!

Sunday, June 11, 2017


How do I even begin to explain what I’m experiencing in this new ministry of reaching out in the name of Christ to human beings who carry the societal title of “homeless addict”?   I’m still processing as I begin to type this the experience that I had today with four people who I’ve been getting to know.  This may be a rambling blog but that’s ok…

It was about 4 pm when I left a wonderful, Jesus filled wedding reception for Nick and Emily who had been married in the most Christ focused unpretentious and yet glorious wedding I’ve experienced in a very long time – if ever…  I’ll write more about that later…

It was a really hot day and so I decided to stop in the Wawa Store on Aramingo to get some ice cream, sit in my car and just relax before returning to Glen Mills and my life here in the suburbs.  I pulled in and, only slightly surprised was I to see Mickey sitting in her typical spot trying to get change from those exiting the store.  I walked up to her.  She looked overheated and uncomfortable.  We greeted each other like two people who actually know each other.  I asked her if she wanted some ice cream and she readily said she’d love a Dilly Bar or an ice cream sandwich.  I told her I’d be right back.  She smiled and said thank you.  As I approached the inside back of the store, much to my surprise, I saw David and Autumn getting free ice water in plastic cups.  We greeted each other with the same delight that any combination of people would greet each other upon surprisingly discovering each other in an unexpected social situation. 

David was more firm on his feet than was Autumn.  She asked if I could buy her something to drink and asked if she could select something that was “2 for 3 dollars”.  “Yes. That’s fine.  Keep it cheap because I’m poor.” I said.  “So am I.” she said which only made me laugh out loud as I thought of her financial status after eight years of homeless addiction being equally compared to my financial status after 21 years of self-employment…

I guided them into selecting two orange juices.  David chose the “Some Pulp” ones.  As we stood in line with Autumn holding the two juices, me holding two ice cream selections and David in the bathroom, I noticed the improvements to Autumn's hair.  The mats (or were they dreds) were gone as if she’d been to the beauty shop in the past few days.  I complimented her on the obvious improvement.  The other shoppers looked as well.  The expressions on people’s faces were priceless as they realized I was complimenting this person who most of them would prefer not be in the store, on the store property or even exist for that matter.  Autumn’s wobble was making it hard for her to keep holding on to the juice so I took it from her and paid for it all.

 Upon exiting the store, I told Mickey I had an ice cream sandwich for her and some information on a ministry that provides showers, personal supplies and clothes specifically to women every Tuesday.  She came to my car and I gave her a brochure that had all the information. 

She then shared with me a level of suffering and personal embarrassment that she was dealing with this day the likes of which I will not discuss here and now.  I appreciated the trust that it took for her to share this with me and I took action to remedy the situation.  Without discussing the details, please remember that Mickey is a 29-year-old woman.  She could be YOU.  She could be YOUR DAUGTHER, YOUR GRANDDAUGHTER, YOUR NIECE, etc.  She’s suffering in a way that no one should.  Before anyone says her situation is gross or any such wording, please remember that she – like you – is a child of our living God.

I helped Mickey get settled at her post in front of the Wawa and walked back to my car.  I glanced over toward the side wall and saw a woman lying on the sidewalk.  “Gina…  Is that you?” I asked.  She looked over at me and said “Hi. Yes, it’s me.”  I had only seen Gina at the intersection of Frankford and Lehigh with her “Hungry. Feeding a family.” sign – never at this Wawa several blocks away.  I sat with her for maybe a half hour while we both baked in the summer sun on the sidewalk and she charged her phone on a plug that was all but invisible on the Wawa wall.  She shared her life story with me and I will not do so here.  Like Mickey, she too is a homeless woman and vulnerable to the human and weather elements around her.  Like Mickey, Gina could be YOU.  She could be YOUR DAUGTHER, YOUR GRANDDAUGHTER, NIECE, etc.

Finally, and with as much generality as I can create so as not to expose anyone, today I saw for the first time ever how any money, coin or paper currency, can go from your wallet or purse to a drug dealer with one middle transaction – you giving a homeless addict human being that money in the name of easing your conscience and giving to the “less fortunate.”  These four who I have mentioned today know that I will not give them money.  I will give them food and a few supplies if I have them.  Most of all, I’m giving them my time and my ears in listening as they share their human story – a story that could be yours just as much as it is theirs.  Best of all, I hope and pray that I'm introducing them to our LORD and Saviour.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Well, that didn't take long.

I thought I would leave home early by about 2 hours to go to the Conquering grounds Cafe in Bensalem Pennsylvania. I stopped along the way at the Wawa store on Aramingo Avenue to see if Mickey and others who I know from here we're here. I pulled into the parking lot, got halfway around the building and there was Mickey walking across the parking lot. In this hot weather her shirt was rolled up a little bit and I could see how much weight she has lost by being on the street for four years.  I asked her if she had eaten today and she said yes she's had 3 full meals and it's quarter of 5 p.m. I jokingly said that I should have come up earlier and eaten with her. She went on to explain that she's desperate for a cigarette and needs 5 more dollars for her next purchase although she didn't say it quite that bluntly. She knows that I will not buy her cigarettes and I will not give her money.

I looked at her and I told her that I knew that she would make it through this situation if she chooses to and reminded her of what we talked about last time. She seemed to understand. With that we said our goodbyes and I went into the store to buy a fruit smoothie that I am now enjoying as I sit here in the parking lot. And she is sitting next to the door to the store looking for money to continue her lifestyle.

Dear Lord May the seed of faith that was planted in her a couple of days ago begin to grow in Jesus name. Amen

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Day Mickey Cried

Whenever I go to Urban Hope, I look for the various homeless addicted people who I’ve been getting to know.  On the surface of what’s happening, it is random.  Will I see David and Autumn? …Ian?  … Gina?  …any of the others I’ve not written about?  …Mickey?  As it turned out, Mickey was the only one I saw today of those I already knew.  I did add a Steve to the group as he was acting as a Wawa Store Doorman in hopes of raising addiction money.  Before I left, he had received a granola bar and a paper with Urban Hope’s weekly schedule from me and I received a thank you from him.

I sat in the Wawa parking lot and ate my Chef Salad with its two ranch dressings and two packages of croutons with a chocolate milk on the side.  With almost two hours before the Recovery meeting to which I was hoping to take at least one of these homeless addicted human beings, I decided to drive to B Street and Lehigh Avenue to see who I could find.  That was not to be.  God had another plan.

I wasn’t even out of the Wawa Parking lot yet when I saw Mickey standing at the edge.  I called to her and she came to the driver’s door and we chatted briefly.  I asked if she’d eaten recently and she said no.  I asked her where she’d like to go and she mentioned Pizza Hut across the street.  I suggested that she get in my car and we’d drive over.  As she got in, two Philadelphia Police officers in one van pulled up near us and asked her what she was doing.  I said that we were going to Pizza Hut.  The officer who was driving said that if he saw her at Wawa again, he’d haul her in.  He then started balling me out for supporting her drug habit by feeding her when she needs to get into recovery. 

With a boldness that has come over me from parts never before known, I informed the officer that I was taking her to dinner so I could talk her into going with me to Urban Hope’s recovery meeting.  I pointed out my green Urban Hope hoody that I was wearing and his berating of me turned into an apology and sincere interest in my efforts and Mickey’s wellbeing.  I gave him a copy of the paper I hand out and he said he was going to make copies to hand out too! 

Mickey and I went over to Pizza Hut and split a personal size pepperoni pizza as we sat on the sidewalk at the back corner of the store.  (There is no inside seating.)  As we sat there, we talked about her cocaine and alcohol usage, how God loves her and how there is a healthy life to be found.  She has told me in previous chats that she hates the taste of alcohol and says plainly that she is an alcoholic.  Tonight, she told me that alcohol is her god.  “That’s a profound statement Mickey.” I told her as I thanked her for her honesty.  I was so intrigued by her honest and candid insight that I called Rick right then and there.  The three of us chatted and Rick was powerful and compassionate with his opening words to her by phone. 

Just after we hung up from that call, Mickey asked if we could go back to Wawa so she could buy some M&Ms.  We did but before going in, we sat in my car and watched Rick’s video.  But before I go further with the description of what happened next, let me set the scene for you…

Mickey is 29 years old.  All of her siblings are dead from overdoses.  Her parents don’t seem to be in the picture.  She’s been living on the street for about four years double addicted to cocaine and alcohol.  She’s alone and trusts few of the other street people.  No one wants her to come into their store.  I’m sure that if I knew more of her story, I’d be shocked at what I would learn about her. 

With that short introduction as to who Mickey is, take a moment to watch this video of Rick.  As Mickey heard Rick’s testimony, she held my cell phone in her hand as we sat in my car in the Wawa parking lot.  Her eyes started to mist.  Her chin began to shake. 

And then it happened…  Mickey cried.

Mickey cried as she heard maybe for the first time ever in her life in this video and from me that God loves her just as she is and wants her to be healthy and whole.   She tried to absorb this new-to-her eternal truth but it was too much to hear all at once.  It was time to let the idea of God loving her settle into her soul as we went into the store to buy those M&Ms.

When we came out, I asked her if she’d like to go to the recovery meeting.  She respectfully said no.  She asked for a hug and then went back to the front door of the Wawa to raise her next $10.00 to be spent ASAP near the tracks. 

The seed of the message of God's love has been planted.  Dear LORD, let it grow.  Amen.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Doing Homeless Addict Ministry with a Homeless Addict

Each Sunday after Church, Urban Hope provides lunch to everyone who attended church for $1.00 per plate.  Today’s lunch was ham and cheese sandwiches and chips.  Way more sandwiches were prepared than what were actually needed.  Angie asked me if I’d like to take them to distribute to the homeless addicts I’ve been getting to know.  And that opened up the door to an afternoon adventure.

Once Kingdom Kids was over for the day, I took a tray of 20+- sandwiches with me.  I was still wearing my Urban Hope Green Tee Shirt as I drove along “The Tracks” area looking for David and Autumn with no luck.  I kept alert for Gina along Lehigh Avenue so she would have food for her family for tonight.  No luck there either.  When I arrived at the Wawa Store on Aramingo, I immediately found Mickey.  She came up to my car and I told her I had dinner for her if she’s hungry.  She was shocked to see such a large tray and stated that she couldn’t carry that much food around.  She sat in my car and enjoyed sandwich number one as we chatted about her life and while she wrestled with her ever drifting bandana head covering.  She shared with me that she’s been on the street for four years, is addicted to Cocaine but doesn’t do too much these days.  Alcohol addiction is her primary issue.[1]  I gave her the leather purse that I mentioned in my last blog and she was thrilled to see the Yardley soaps and powder and creams. 

Still wrestling with her bandana, I suggested that we go into the Rite Aid and look for a hat for her.  I’d seen them for 50% off so getting one for her was no big deal.  As we were at the register, the store manager came over to her and told her she was not welcome there and that she knew it.  Without skipping a beat, I politely and boldly informed this manager that whenever she was with me in the store, she would be welcome.  He said nothing and moved on to his next task.

We went back to my car and Mickey asked me if I could give her a ride to a friend’s house a few blocks away.  Somewhat nervously, I agreed.  And that’s when the fun began.  As I drove my car with this 29-year-old homeless cocaine and alcohol addicted woman, she rolled down her window and pointed out to me the homeless friends she saw along the way.  “Chris, can you pull over here?...  Can you pull over there?”  She called out to each person and asked if they wanted a sandwich!  And so here I was, doing ministry to homeless addicts WITH a homeless addict, who, as a reminder, is a child of God created in the image of God just like you and me!!!!

But it gets better…

As we approached B Street and Lehigh Avenue, I saw Autumn in the intersection and asked Mickey if she knew her.  Mickey said she did and proceeded to call out to her from my open passenger window as we crossed through the intersection:  “Autumn, I have sandwiches!”

We pulled over and Autumn wobbled over to that window, looking worse than I’ve ever seen her.  Mickey and I were both concerned for Autumn.  I was wondering if I was too late with my intent to carry some Narcan.  She said she was sick and very tearful with worrying where David was.  She’s not seen him in about 20 minutes.

We gave the remaining tray to Autumn and she accepted it, put it to one side and went back to the intersection with her “hungry” sign.  I took Mickey the one more block she requested and circled back to check on Autumn.  I found her, very unstable on her feet and with no sign of David.  There was an older formal looking man seemingly concerned for her as well.  We both tried to convince her to get help at Episcopal Hospital right up the street.

As we were talking, a Philadelphia Police Officer pulled up and got out of her car.  She opened her trunk and produced a bag of her own clothes that she was giving to Autumn.  And so, there we were, Autumn, the older man, the officer and me.  Three of us were expressing our concern for the fourth who was clearly having a bad night. 

Autumn was very appreciative to receive these clothes.  She went to the corner of the sidewalk, right next to the untouched, foil wrapped sandwiches and peeled open the bag.  The first item she found was the officer’s bright white bra with bright pink padding and she placed it on her head like a summer bonnet.  Our common humanity found its entrance into our interaction when Autumn, the officer and I found a good laugh in that moment.  Somewhere in these few minutes, the older man slipped away unnoticed.

At about this same moment, Mickey reappeared and was looking stylish in her new hat and carrying her leather purse.  She, the officer and I continued our efforts to encourage Autumn to get the help she needed.  The officer asked Autumn if the 10-year-old Autumn would want the current Autumn to be living this way.  There was no answer.

The officer and I had a good conversation about the drug situation and about all the resources there are for people who want help.  She also explained that there are so many resources that it’s easier, in some ways, to live on the streets there because there are so many free services for addicts.  She referenced free haircuts etc. 

I explained to the officer what I was doing, how I was with Urban Hope but doing this current effort on my own.  She seemed pleased by this.  We wrapped up our conversation.  I went over to Autumn, opened one of the sandwiches and all but fed it to her.  She took a bite and seemed to rediscover the good nature of eating food.

At about this moment, David reappeared from “The Tracks” area noticeably agitated.  I encouraged him to eat and he did.  The two of them were talking so I figured it was a good time to leave.

As I approached the Arby’s on Aramingo, I started craving my favorite Beef and Cheddar Sandwich.  I ordered that, fries and a chocolate shake.  As I was sitting in my car, I was somewhat surprised to see Mickey walking down the sidewalk in front of me.  She glanced over, came over to the car and thanked me for the hat.  She made no attempt at anything other than showing appreciation.

And with that, I finished my dinner, drove home and started to write this blog.

[1] I accept all these accounts at face value.

Wawa, Dad and a Personal Purse

As I dictate this blog into my phone, I am sitting in a Wawa store parking lot on Aramingo Avenue.  There are at least four homeless men hanging around the store looking for money. Presumably, all of them are addicts. This location seems to be a hub of homeless addict activity.

I have to admit that I find it rather ironic that I am sitting in a Wawa store parking lot doing my best to fulfill this new calling in Ministry. What most people don't know is that as a child I actually knew Graham and Emily Wood. Graham Wood was the creator of the Wawa store. His family were active members of the church that my father served faithfully and honorably for his entire ministry as an Episcopal priest. 

A couple of days ago I was sharing these Ministry adventures with a woman friend of mine from Delaware County Pennsylvania. She proceeded to pack up a woman's purse with all kinds of woman items to give specifically to Mickey if I can find her. And so here I sit in the Wawa parking lot reminiscing about Graham and Emily Wood and my father's Ministry hoping that in some small way I can carry on his legacy as I do what I can to follow God's call on my life.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Kicked to the Curb

Kicked to the Curb

Two weeks ago I was ‘terminated’ to use the supervisor’s terminology, from my fifth lost paid position in a church.  In the first situation, my supervisor was brought before his supervisor sixteen years later and confronted with issues involving his relating to me.  In a review of my second lost position, the reviewer stated that he had spoken with many people and come to the conclusion that I “had been wrongly treated.”  Before I moved away from that second area, a litany of congregational apology had been written and built into the last church service I attended there and, with the bishop’s approval, I was licensed for one Sunday to serve Communion.  My third, fourth and fifth lost positions were as close to home as anyone in my situation could possibly be. 

In summary, three different “supervisors” decided to kick me to the curb and that’s exactly where I am in ministry.  Allow me to explain:

Rather than repeat myself with the accounts of each very real experience, I’m providing the blog title with its link and showing the curb where it happened. (You might want to use the 'open link in new tab' feature.)

And that’s only what I’ve blogged about since January 1 of this year! 

If church supervisors had supervisors to whom they were accountable in the moment and not long after the fact, I might never have found the curb.  Perhaps this is an example of what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 1:11

God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God,[c] for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.

God is able to take those events which should not have happened and turn the undesirable effects into something that should have happened.  Praise be to God.

Sometimes you just need to be watered…

Sometimes you just need to be watered…

The past couple of weeks have been spiritually brutal.  The details of that brutality for this blog aren’t important other than to say I have been left feeling disrespected and betrayed by several people who and one organization that I held dear to my heart.

I try hard to keep going even through the storm.  Last Thursday, even in the pain of my life, I attended a Christian Faith based drug recovery meeting at Urban Hope.[1]  (No, I’m not an addict.  I attend as part of my current ministry that you can read about in this series of blogs.)  When my dear friends Rick and Brenda are leading the meetings, they open with joyful and boisterous worship/praise music and prayer that my soul was just not absorbing through any outward sign of worship that night.

As the twenty or so men and three women stood and sang and clapped and raised their hands in praise, I just couldn’t do it.  Even though I was able to engage in basic conversation with a smile, I was wiped out, spiritually numb and defeated.  While everyone else was up, I was down in my chair with my eyes closed and tears almost flowing from the pain of this past couple of weeks.

So I just listened to Brenda sing.  (Here’s an example from another setting.)  The men and women sang with her and I listened.  I listened to a chorus of recovering or recovered addicts praise our LORD with a quality of singing that was not quite ready for Carnage Hall but was more than ready for the Throne Room of God.

I saw myself in that Throne Room somewhat curled up in a corner and sitting in a clay pot – which I thought to be a bit odd.  And then these words slipped into my conscience…  “Sometimes you just need to be watered.” 

The clay pot now made sense…  I had become a shriveled houseplant in a clay pot.  I needed the water that can only come from the Throne Room of God by way of the Holy Spirit which was flowing through these men and women as they praised God for their personal freedom from drugs, a freedom of two weeks to 27 years joyfully celebrated and represented among them.

The situations that have caused so much pain in my life still exist.  Having been watered by the Holy Spirit renewed my strength to do what needs to be done to get past these situations.  As with your typical houseplant, this watering by the Holy Spirit must happen on a regular basis and by “regular” I’m not talking weekly!  Daily, Hourly, Minutely and Secondly is often what’s needed to get through by prayer and Bible Study (Yes Rick, I remember your message that night J).

[1] Rick Cartagena is involved in a wonderful ministry to those who are incarcerated or just coming out of prison. He and his wife Brenda are part of an extension of the Urban Hope Training Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Visit to find out more.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ian, Autumn and Mickey: three human beings made in the image of God

Please say a prayer for a full grown man named Ian. I saw him crying like a baby with his hands folded in prayer and his head held low on a street corner in Kensington. When I pulled over to ask him what was wrong he said that his mother had come to see him where he's living on the streets and scolded him for ruining his life with his addiction. His mother's words cut him to the core and he was broken.

I told him that I was going to a recovery meeting and that I would like him to come with me. He thanked me and turned me down.

Each and every Thursday for the past month or so I have been going to Kensington and a faith-based recovery meeting for the sole purpose of finding homeless addicts to take with me to the meetings.

In case you're wondering, I do not suffer from any addictions myself.  I just feel this as a very strong calling these days.

In addition to Ian, I found Autumn who I have mentioned previously. I invited her to the meeting as well. She explained to me that she was not really interested because she's been living on the streets across the entire country for the past eight or so years. She is married and her husband is with her although I did not see him this evening.

As I was leaving Kensington this evening, I stopped at the Wawa Store on Aramingo Avenue and found Mickey who I have also described before in my blogs. I asked her if she had eaten properly in a while and she said yes but was thirsty.  I said let's go into the Wawa Store.  She hesitated because they keep throwing her out every time she walks in on her own.  I reminded her that as a child I actually knew the founders of the Wawa Store and if they gave us a hard time I would do some name-dropping.  She giggled and we walked in. She chose a Sprite.  I chose a chocolate milk. We stood in the rather long line conversing like two human beings having a conversation while we waited our turn to pay for the items.

Please pray for all of them, human beings made in the image of God just like you and me.