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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.

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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!

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