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.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Unlikely Evangelist

Before I say what I want to tell you, I want you to know that I despise the words 'prostitute, whore, and hooker.'  They are words that conjure up images of something less than the human being made in the image of God that every single human being is by virtue of their existence and nothing more or nothing less. 
                             
There are times, however, when I think that, regretfully, I need to use these words to paint in your mind's eye the experiences that I just had this afternoon, within two hours of these typed words finding their way onto my computer screen.

After church today, after worshiping with Bob, a former Emerald City resident who is doing all that he can determine to do to continue to put his days of addiction and homelessness behind him - and doing a great job of doing so - I began to investigate leads that I had regarding new places to which the Emerald City community has moved.  It's generally understood at this point that reports provided by the City of Brotherly Love that so many people found their way to detox or other housing are greatly exaggerated in the city's favor.  In reality, many people who called Emerald City 'home' are, still on the street and in less community than they were prior to January 31.

As I drove up and down Kensington Avenue, in search of men or women who I may know, I stopped at one red light and saw a cluster of four women and two men standing on a street corner.  I knew one of the women, a grandmotherly type of lady and potentially a matriarch of Emerald City prior to its deletion.  She initiated contact with a wave and a "Hi Chris."  I pulled my car over to the side of the street and parked.  We chatted for a while as I stood with her on the sidewalk.  It was in this chat that she confirmed what I and other people doing what I do have been concerned about - that most of the people of Emerald City have scattered across Kensington and are walking around with no specific place in which to settle down. 

As this conversation continued, the young lady next to us chimed in mentioning that she knew me from my visits to Emerald City.  I'll call her "Pebbles" for this blog.  I gave both of them my ministry card so that they could call on me if needed. 

Shortly thereafter, the conversation was coming to a natural conclusion.  One of the men accepted my offer of a bottle of water. 

As I was sitting in my car waiting for my light to turn green, an awesome moment happened.  This younger lady, this 'prostitute', this 'whore', this 'hooker' called out "Hey Chris, can I have more cards?  What's written on the back is really great." 

"Sure, Pebbles here's more." I told her as I gave her more cards for her to give to her 'prostitute', 'whore', 'hooker' street corner standing friends.  These six human beings, four women and two men, made in the image of God, were, at this moment, the purest 'congregation' in a church any Christian could ever hope to find.  And there I was, with a 'prostitute', 'whore', 'hooker' acting as an evangelist distributing Christian Scripture and a prayer to three other 'prostitutes', 'whores', 'hookers' and the two men who were most likely drug dealers. 

There is seldom a 'story's conclusion' to my blogs for one very real reason.  As you read this, any or all of these ladies are searching for or are engaged in some degree of a sex act to raise funds so as to buy their medicine and the dealers are dealing because they know no other way.  If these ladies have procured enough funds by way of their 10 to 15 'dates' per 24-hour cycle, they may be injecting their medicine as you read. 

This story does not end - 24 hours per day - 7 days per week - 365 days per year…

Here's what this young lady, this 'prostitute', 'whore', 'hooker' 'evangelist-for-a-moment-in-time' desired to distribute:





Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Sheep Named Sally

My life changed forever today thanks to A Sheep Named Sally[1]
                            
As I was driving toward a Men's Recovery House to deliver pizza,[2] I received a text from Sally's Mom informing me that Sally had not been heard from since the day of the Emerald City eviction.  Mom was beyond worried.  I told Sally's Mom that I would search for her after attending church at Urban Hope.  I added Sally and her Mom to the church's time of praise and prayer.

My first place to search for Sally was Prevention Point.   They could not have been more wonderful even though none of the staff said that they were familiar with Sally.  As I looked around the room packed with men and women whose lives were on the line due to Substance Use Disorder or the purity of poverty,  I saw one person who would know Sally.  I asked him if he'd seen her recently.  This man, about my age, gave me a hug and said he had not but if he does, he'll tell her to call her Mom or call me.

My next stop was a women's shelter where I found two women I know and who know Sally.  Neither had seen her recently but both told me they would tell her, if they see her, to call her Mom or call me. 

From there, I drove around the streets in the area of the now deleted Emerald City.  I found standing on street corners women of Emerald City who I know and who were searching for "dates."  I asked each lady[3] if they had seen Sally.  None had but if they do, each told me that they would tell her to call her Mom or call me. (Do you see a theme developing here?)

I saw a drug dealer I know and a woman walking with him and I asked them…  "Yes." She said.  "I saw her about an hour ago.  I'll tell her to call her Mom or call you."

I drove around the block and saw a man I know…  "Yes, I saw her not even twenty minutes ago.  She's fine.  When I see her again, I'll tell her to call her Mom or call you."

With so many people now knowing to tell Sally to call her Mom or call me, I knew I had done all that I could practically do.  On my drive home, Sally's Mom sent a simple text:  "She called. She is fine…Thank you."

Sally is a living manifestation of the Words of Christ in the following parable:

Luke 15 New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

This parable from the teachings of Jesus became real in my life today.

My life changed for the better forever, thanks to a sheep named Sally.




[1] Keep in mind that I never use actual names.
[2] That had been donated by II Brother's Pizza in Glen Mills, Pa.
[3] A daughter of her Mom and Dad

Friday, February 1, 2019

Madison's Avenue

I arrived outside Emerald City at 8:00am yesterday morning[1] to see the street closed off by Philadelphia Police, trash trucks ready to digest worldly belongs, News Media representing all of Philadelphia's Press Organizations with video cameras rolling, outreach workers, street chaplains and the remaining sixty or so soon to be homeless-homeless human beings.[2]  With a wind chill of something like -15, packing was being done in various stages.  Some people were already gone.  Others were all but done packing. 

Be advised that there is one really crude quote in this blog that needs to be there and in context so that you can have some sense of the emotional pain involved in the moment.

And then there was Madison.  With a look on her face and body language of desperation, as if life as she had created it was being ripped from her, Madison was just starting to pack things up two hours before the police were to call "Time's Up." and the trash trucks would start digesting everything left behind.

The wonderful people of Prevention Point were providing large tubs for Emerald City residents to store items in for up to 30 days.  Madison and I quickly filled three of those tubs with the second most important items she owned.  Many of the first most important, items she felt were readily needed are in the back seat of my car as I write this.

With several bags of most needed items gathered, we loaded them into my car.  My hands were screaming in pain from the cold even with my gloves on.  I can't imagine what the people on the streets were feeling at this point. 

Madison said that she'd not eaten since some time the day before, had not slept, had not had her medicine and was starting to feel the early stages of dope sickness.  We agreed that going to the Wawa on Aramingo would be a good first thing to do so she could get something to eat.  She took one of her bags into the women's room where she washed up and got changed into some slightly clean clothes.  After that, she ate her favorite Wawa item: Chicken Noodle Soup while we sat in my car.  Together, we sorted out the options.

By the time Madison had gotten out of my car close to the now abandoned Emerald City, sometime around 11:30am, she had made it clear to me and two housing authority volunteers who we coincidentally met at Wawa, that she had no intention of going to a shelter or detox at this time. 

Her plan was to exist[3] on the street, possibly move into an abandoned house and continue "to support my extensive drug use by sucking any guy's dick who will give me 10 or $20.00".  The last few minutes of her time in my car she spent using the makeup mirror of the passenger side sun visor to put on her makeup in preparation for standing at a nearby intersection to find a "date."

To see Madison dressed up and ready for a date in any other setting, you would be convinced that she is a young executive heading to an important business meeting.  Her external appearance is that of a professional with grand plans.  Her internal reality is far from that.

I have no idea where Madison is as I look out my suburban apartment window and watch the snow falling.  I can only pray that she decided to seek shelter in a shelter.  Pray for Madison and all of the men and women on the streets whose "Entity Named Addict" has decided to keep on the streets during this frigid time. 



[1] January 31, 2019
[2] who all endure the diagnosis of Substance Use Disorder as officially recognized in the DSM-5
[3] "I don't live out here.  I only exist." She told me.