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.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

An Incredible Act of Kindness…

Today is Sunday.  Three days ago, on Thursday afternoon, I was visiting Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities and became very involved in a conversation with one of the residents.  When that conversation ended, I was focused on my love and concern for that person and not thinking about my Rubbermaid cooler sitting in the street near the curb and which had been recently donated to me for this purpose.  I hopped in my car and drove home.

Two days later, yesterday, I realized that the cooler was missing.  I immediately presumed that I'd never see it again and that I'd need to buy a new one for almost $70.00 so as not to disclose my own stupidity in not keeping track of donations. 

Upon arrival in Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities this morning, a man I've known for a few weeks immediately came up to me and told me that he had been holding my cooler for me.  This man is a dual addicted African American man, the likes of which would intimidate any suburban person.  And yet, here he was, letting me know that he was holding my cooler for me. 

Big deal!?

Well…  Yes!

This man held my cooler for me for three days in an environment a bit known for theft.  If that's enough, this man held my cooler through the weekly Friday "cleanout" committed by the City of Brotherly Love, a cleanout that requires the residents to move EVERY item in their position out from under the bridge and back under the bridge within 15 minutes of the time cleanout is done or risk losing all possessions.

And so…

This man, this African American Dual addicted homeless man, demonstrated so much kindness to me in keeping my cooler for me that I've been left humbled and speechless the remainder of this day…

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Tears For Cecelia...

Cecelia is a gentle spirit barely surviving in the urban thistle of addiction, prostitution, and trying to survive on the streets of Kensington while residing under a bridge.  I've known her for about 18 months.  I've come to know members of her family.  All love her and she loves them.  There does remain that river of despair that separates them from each other.  A bridge of love manages to keep them connected if but by the thinnest of thread. 

A couple of days ago, I saw Cecelia high as a kite, sitting in a chair barely aware of her surroundings.  My heart broke for her as I considered all that she could be and all that her family prays for her to become once again.  I touched her chin and she gazed at me through blurred sad eyes.  I reminded her of her family's love and I named each with whom I've had interaction by name.  There was only the mildest of reactions.  I stepped away.

No sooner had I gotten maybe 20 feet from Cecelia, that she slowly rose from her plastic chair, navigated past two tents, waddled up to me, hugged me and held on for maybe 20 or 30 seconds. 

I reminded her of her family's love, again, naming each one who I've come to know by name. 

She continued to hold on. 

I reminded her of God's love. 

She held on. 

I reminded her of my love for her in the Name of Jesus. 

She held on as if a broken kitten. 


A moment of silence and then…

Without saying a word, she let go and made her way back to her plastic chair…

I turned and cried.


Pastoral Care Under a Bridge - The Thorn in Pastor Martin's Side

People reading this may think that this blog is going to be about those well-intentioned men and women who visit Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities to provide pastoral care in the Name of Jesus.  That's a fine group of people but that's not who this blog is about.

This blog is about a man I'm calling Martin.  More accurately, I'm calling him Pastor Martin.  I've known Pastor Martin for the whole time I've been visiting these good people, these sons and daughters and moms and dads who call the underside of two Conrail overpasses "home."

Martin was ordained into the pastorate of God's church many years ago.  At some point since then, the demon of addiction found its way into his being and derailed his church pastorate.  Or did it?  One thing led to another on this all too well-known path and now Pastor Martin lives under these overpasses and calls them home.

When I first met Pastor Martin, I would not ever have guessed that within a very few months, I would begin to form a friendship with him which increasingly emphasizes pastoral care of the members of these communities that I visit and he lives within.  But I have. 

Pastor Martin is in good company with men of God who suffer!  Please take a moment to read this passage and follow the lettered footnotes I've added as I compare The Apostle Paul with the Pastorate of Martin.


2 Corinthians 12 New International Version (NIV)
                                                  
Paul’s Vision and His Thorn

12 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh[A], a messenger of Satan[B], to torment me.Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me[C]But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults[D], in hardships, in persecutions[E], in difficulties[F]. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Pastor Martin's church is not made up of bricks and mortar[G], stucco, ivy, nor stained glass.  It has no organ, nor choir nor board of directors.  Pastor Martin's church is the purest form of church you might ever witness.  He suffers with his thorn and ministers and offers authentic Biblical counsel when the thorn allows him to do so.  He knows the sheep of his pasture otherwise known to the rest of us as the people of Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities in a way that none of us who visit can do. 

If you are into pastoral care and you want to know how to best minister to these good people on the streets of Kensington, sit down with Pastor Martin as your peer in ministry and learn from him.  Your ministry will be better for it.





[A] Addiction                                                                                                                               
[B] How many times do we all refer to addiction as a demon?
[C] Over the years, Pastor Martin has been in detox and been "clean" for various periods of time.
[D] Pastor Martin and those with whom he lives, endure insults from drivers as they shout terrible things from the safety of their car windows.
[E] Persecutions: "the subjecting of a race or group of people to cruel or unfair treatment."  Pastor Martin and the community experiences some form of this almost daily.
[F] Hardships and Difficulties: Too many to list here, everything from living there to seeking help and resolution to the issues at hand and hitting road blocks with every attempt.
[G] Other than those that keep the rail line from crashing down.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Help Me to be Ordinary.

Dear LORD Dream Giver,

In this outreach to the fine people of the streets of Kensington and with the emphasis that You have placed on my heart for the men and women of Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue bridge communities, PLEASE help me to be "Ordinary" and take the way of Faith.

In Jesus' Holy Name I Pray.  Amen.

Ordinary walked. And walked. Every time he got hungry, he opened his suitcase and ate. And every time he got thirsty, he opened it and drank. And every time he thought about his Dream, he decided to keep going. Time passed. Ordinary’s skin burned. His feet blistered. His bones ached. One day blurred into another. And then one day he got hungry and opened his case … and didn’t find anything to eat.

That was the day Ordinary began to worry. He called out to the Dream Giver for food. But he got no answer. Two days later, he ran out of water. He called out to the Dream Giver again. And again, he heard nothing. Fortunately, that was also the day Ordinary managed to find a trickle of water coming from a rock. At least now he was only starving. But if he was smart enough to find water, maybe he could find food, too.

Sure enough, it wasn’t too long before he spotted a strange bush with some strange desert fruit hanging from its branches. Ordinary tried one. It didn’t taste sweet, but it didn’t taste sour, either. So he ate his fill.

Still, the Dream Giver was nowhere in sight. More time passed. The longest hours and days Ordinary could ever remember passed. Desperately, he began to look for a way out. One day he followed what looked like a shortcut over a ridge. But it led to a canyon that ended in quicksand. He tried traveling at night when it was cooler. But he kept losing the trail. Every delay made him more determined to find a quicker route. But every attempt only led to another dead end. Again and again, Ordinary lost his way. Again and again, he cried out for the Dream Giver to show him the way. But no answer came. Why had he ever trusted the Dream Giver to guide him in the first place?

The day came when Ordinary finally gave up. He sat on his suitcase and refused to move until the Dream Giver showed up with a plan. But the Dream Giver didn’t show up that day. Or the next. Ordinary had never felt so lost and alone. He became angry. He got angrier and angrier.

And then a hard, hot wind began to blow. The wind blew all that day and all the next. Sand blew into Ordinary’s eyes. It blew into his teeth and ears. When the wind finally stopped, Ordinary stood to his feet. But as far as he could see, there was only sand. The path to his Dream had disappeared completely. Obviously, his entire trip through the WasteLand had been a Waste!

Hot tears coursed down his dirty cheeks. “You’re not a Dream Giver,” he shouted at the sky. “You’re a Dream Taker! I trusted you. You promised to be with me and help me. And you didn’t!” Then Ordinary stumbled in despair across the sandy Waste, dragging his empty suitcase behind him. His Dream was dead, and now he wanted to die, too.

When he came to a scraggly tree, he lay down in its scraggly patch of shade and closed his eyes. That night, he slept the sleep of a dreamless Dreamer.

The next morning, Ordinary heard something. Startled, he peered up to see a shimmering Somebody sitting in the branches of the tree. “Who are you?” he asked, as she climbed down to the ground. “My name is Faith,” she said. “The Dream Giver sent me to help you.” “But it’s too late!” cried Ordinary. “My Dream is dead. When I needed the Dream Giver most, he was nowhere in sight.” “What do you need that you haven’t received?” asked Faith. “Well, if it weren’t for the few springs of water I found,” answered Ordinary, “I’d be dead of thirst by now!” “Yes? And?” she asked. “If it weren’t for the fruit I found, I’d be a walking skeleton!” he replied. “Wait! I am a walking skeleton! I could die of starvation any minute!” “Oh, my!” Faith murmured. “And?” “Well,” huffed Ordinary, “a little guidance would have been nice.

Ever since I came here, it’s been one delay after another. I’ve been wandering in circles since I don’t know when. What a Waste!” “I see,” said Faith, nodding. “So what will you do now?” “Just tell me how to get back to Familiar,” he said. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But I can’t help you with that.” “That figures,” said Ordinary. “The Dream Giver sends me a helper who can’t even help!” “You might be right,” said Faith. “But that’s for you to decide.”

Then Faith walked away in a direction Ordinary felt sure was wrong. It wasn’t long before Ordinary began to have second thoughts. What if he was wrong? He wished he hadn’t been so rude to the Somebody named Faith. And he began to miss her. He realized that while they were talking, he had felt hope for the first time in a very long time. Ordinary jumped to his feet and scanned the horizon. “Faith!” he cried. But she was nowhere in sight. “Faith!” he cried again. But there was no reply.

Then Ordinary had an idea. He climbed the scraggly tree to the top. From there, he could see Faith in the distance. As quickly as he could, he climbed down and set off in the same direction. Later that same day, Ordinary was eating some fruit beside a trickle of water, when he saw his journey through the WasteLand in a whole new way. Food enough for the day. Water, when he needed to drink. A path to follow that led to Faith. How could he have been so blind? Even when the Dream Giver had been nowhere in sight, he had always been near.

That was the day, too, that Ordinary looked at his empty suitcase and decided it was time to leave it behind. He made a makeshift knapsack, took his Dream Journal and feather and ink, and walked on. After that, whenever Ordinary came to a scraggly tree, he climbed it to look for Faith. And when he had her in sight, he marked the direction and started walking again.

One day, Ordinary met some Dreamers returning to Familiar. They told him a sad story. They had crossed the WasteLand and nearly reached the Land of Promise. But then they encountered Giants so large and overwhelming that the Dreamers felt as small as grasshoppers. And the Dream Giver had been nowhere in sight.

The Nobodies sounded convincing. And he recognized their weariness. But as they continued talking, he saw something more: They had stopped trusting the Dream Giver, and now they were traveling in the opposite direction from Faith. 

When the Nobodies strongly warned him that what lay ahead was too hard, he saw something else. He had changed. His trip through the WasteLand had not been a Waste. Now he was prepared for what lay ahead, no matter how hard. “Travel safely,” he told the returning Nobodies. “But I’ll be going on.” 

As Ordinary pressed on through the desert, his Dream beat brightly in his chest again. And the more the sun blazed, the more Ordinary believed that he could find the Land of Promise, no matter how long it took—if only he took the way of Faith.[1]




[1] Wilkinson, Bruce. The Dream Giver: Following Your God-Given Destiny (pp. 31-33). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

She doesn't want to go outside tonight.

The purpose of this blog series has been to help the reader develop a better understanding of addiction and homelessness.  On a personal level, this series has served as my place to mentally and emotionally process the experiences I've had in Emerald City, on Frankford Avenue and Kensington in general in the preceding hours or days.  These writings along with prayer are my therapy in many ways.

Throughout these months, I've come to understand second hand the staggering differences between the sufferings of men and that of women on the streets.  All are suffering.  The suffering of women on the streets is easily tenfold that of the men.  Most men on the streets would agree with that as well.


Just yesterday, I was introduced to a song and video that portrays the experiences of addicted women on the streets.  Please note that the woman in this video has an apartment to call home.  The ladies I know have the underside of a Conrail overpass to call their home.

The A Team

White lips, pale face
Breathing in snowflakes
Burnt lungs, sour taste
Light's gone, day's end
Struggling to pay rent
Long nights, strange men

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
She's stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries

And they scream
The worst things in life come free to us
'Cause she's just under the upper-hand
And goes mad for a couple of grams
And she don't want to go outside tonight
'Cause in a pipe she flies to the Motherland
And sells love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly

Ripped gloves, raincoat
Tried to swim and stay afloat
Dry house, wet clothes
Loose change, bank notes
Weary-eyed, dry throat
Call girl, no phone

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
She's stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries

And they scream
The worst things in life come free to us
'Cause she's just under the upper-hand
And goes mad for a couple of grams
But she don't want to go outside tonight
'Cause in a pipe she flies to the Motherland 
And sells love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly

Now angel will die
Covered in white, closed eye
And hoping for a better life
This time, now we'll fade out tonight
Straight down the line
Straight down the line

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
She's stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries
They scream
The worst things in life come free to us
And we're all under the upper-hand
Go mad for a couple of grams
And we don't want to go outside tonight
'Cause in a pipe we fly to the Motherland
And sell love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly, fly, fly
Angels to fly, to fly, to fly
Angels to die
Songwriters: Ed Sheeran
The A Team lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC