Please Know...

As I come to know these fine people, they share with me more of their personal and sensitive stories. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist. "Blog names" have occasionally been given to me by the person whose story I am telling. Names are never 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 8, 2017

Kittens in Kensington

This was a night I won't soon forget.  I drove 45 minutes from my rental home with its beautiful pond in the front yard in the suburbs of Philadelphia to Urban Hope, a church that is, and I mean this as literally as reality will allow, the hand and voice of God Almighty in Kensington ( also known as the "Badlands") section of Philadelphia.

My first stop was at a Wawa Store to pick up a Chef Salad, two packages of french dressing and two packages of croutons.  I'm weird.  I know this.  I like chocolate milk with my chef salad and they didn't have any so I settled for 2% reduced fat white milk.  I tell you this because I had the option of choosing the salad, it's double portion of dressing and my selection of beverage.

The scared little kitten of a young lady who I'd seen come out of the Wawa seconds earlier did not seem to have these options.  She scampered to the back corner of the sidewalk where she sat down and ate a large bag of Herr's regular chips and a fountain soda as what seemed to be her first dinner in some time.  I watched her consume her dinner, doing all she could to get every last crumb out of the widely opened bag.  I watched her as I frustratingly tried to get my chef salad with it's two dressings and two packages of croutons to stop falling off the passenger seat of my car.

Should a grown - obviously older - man approach this younger scared kitten of a young lady?  It struck me that if she is on the street then she has recently arrived.  She didn't seem too dirty, not like that woman and that man I'd seen for the past seven months that are filthy beyond words.

What would Jesus Do? I asked myself.  I'm wearing my green Urban Hope hoodie - a shirt known throughout Philadelphia as a shirt that represents Christ's Love.  I did what was right.  I got out of my car and asked her if she was hungry.  She looked up at me from her seat on the Wawa sidewalk and I knelt at her feet, introduced myself and asked her name.  She looked at me with scared kitten eyes and said she's very hungry and that her name is Martha.  (Her REAL name in case anyone is looking for her).  I gave her a Nature Valley Crunchy Oats 'n Honey granola bar and a slip of paper with the address of Urban Hope and the location of our soon to be held homeless dinner.  She thanked me in a tone of voice that demonstrated kind and physically weak appreciation.

As I drove to Urban Hope, I prayed that I would see at least one of the two other people I mentioned above.  Since August, when I started attending Urban Hope, I've regularly seen this man and woman, never together so I doubted they were together at all.  As I approached the corner of Lehigh and B Street, I saw the man with his tiny "Hungry" sign standing on the dotted line in the road looking for money to support his addiction.  I gave him a granola bar and a slip of paper telling him about the dinner and our church.  He half heartedly thanked me - a sign that food is not his primary interest.  He started to walk toward the corner of the intersection and there was the woman waiting for him.  Her name is Autumn and yes, that's her real name according to her.  As he approached her, she began choking - seriously choking, something was wrong and he knew it.  He shouted to me: "Hey Dude, do you have any water.  Autumn is choking.  She needs help!"

I could see the caring nature of humanity in his eyes.  I had a 3/4th full bottle of store bought bottled water right next to me and handed it to him through my car window.  This heroin addicted man who was made in the image of God took it from me with exuberant appreciation and assisted Autumn, a heroin addicted child of God made in God's image, with the water and she drank and found relief from her obviously serious situation.  She regained her composure and I asked her if she was OK.  She said yes and looked at me with relief and some degree of thankfulness.  I can't say that I saw kitten eyes in her, at least not much - possibly due to being on the street for so long.

All of this happened half a block from "The Tracks" which is the bullseye of the heroin epidemic in Philadelphia and the entire East Coast of our Great Nation.

Once at Urban Hope, I sat at a table in the fellowship hall and ate my salad, chatted with members of the homeless ministry team and texted with a friend to make plans for a fancy birthday dinner.  We loaded the church van and pickup truck with 120 +- dinners, clothes and shoes to give away to homeless addicts at the corner of Kensington and Allegheny.  We arrived there and met many addicts who want to get well and can't find up to do so.  One woman with two black eyes told us a story that demonstrated hiding physical abuse by her boyfriend.  Another woman, in her early 20s I guess, her real name is Kelly Ann, was so wasted that she could barely stand.  Her boyfriend was doing all he could to help her eat her dinner.  At one point, I was helping hold her up while a member of our team prayed with them.  Before we parted ways, Kelly Ann asked us each to give her a hug.  As she asked, I saw the same kitten eyes as I did in Martha.  Kelly Ann's eyes were more broken than Martha's but just as sad and even more lost.

I've now returned to my rented house in the suburbs.  I didn't see Martha when I circled the Wawa on my way home.  As I sit here, I think of her, the young lady with the two black eyes protecting her abuser, Autumn and her friend and Kelly Ann.  They are 45 minutes away from the colonial era chair that is holding me up.

All too often, we in the suburbs can be heard making hideous comments referring to such people as the trash of society.  Each one of these people who are made in the image of God are living on the street as you read this and are not trash.  But maybe we're onto something with that hideous comment.  They are not trash but they are litter - a lost litter of broken human kittens - human beings made by God, in the image of the God who created the universe and who died and rose again for their sins just as much as God died and rose for yours sins and mine.

It's now 11:10pm.  I better get to sleep in my kingsized bed.  Nine hours from now, I'll be circling a Wawa that is 45 minutes away from here looking for a scared kitten to feed in the name of Christ.   Maybe I'll find a litter...


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