Our Baptismal Call with Houseless Neighbors

Dallas awakes to snow and ice, and flurries continuing to fall as I write, and I’m here to update you again about our ministry helpful our houseless neighbors.

Yesterday, it seems to me, was one of those both beautiful and heartbreaking days…especially if you’re going to serve others.

We started with our primary mission (IMHO) as a church at KPUMC: We worshiped…and we “remembered our baptism.”
We talked about our common authorization to work in Jesus’ name, and how we United Methodists —at least in our stated beliefs— honor the gifts and graces of all baptized persons…and seek to dissolve the hierarchical lines between “lay” and “clergy.”
(Transparancy: Sometimes, reality manifests differently than stated beliefs…)

We talked about our “mission field” in North Oak Cliff, and I passed out a years-old map with a circle that indicates our primary mission field. I ask us all to continue to pray about how we could, in all we do, be in mission and ministry to everyone there.

“How will we —authorized through baptism to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves”— do just that in Oak Cliff?”

I knew full well what one answer would be: Our Inclement Weather Ministry, in conjunction with our partners like Oak Lawn United Methodist Church.

Sure enough, even before church was over, Oscar Brown (Our Missions Chair) and I were getting text message that Oak Lawn would be opening as a night shelter, and they could use our help both in bringing them homeless folks with the van, and also with some meals. We made the announcement during worship itself…I mean, really, you can’t make up this timing…

So, instead of going straight to lunch, a group of volunteers met at the kitchen to plan out just how they would serve. Oscar went home to start roasting up of his legendary pulled pork.

Andrew McGregor and I committed to meet around 3 pm —slightly earlier than the previous two nights— to his the streets and see who we could get to come with us. Later today, those volunteers will meet at Oak Lawn to serve the meal to our new houseless friends.

Last night on the streets —both Andrew and I agree— was one of our more powerful nights out.

We got EIGHT folks to come in with us…seven of whom were from Oak Cliff….most very near our church. (Either inside, or very near, that “mission field” circle pictured below…)

One of the highlights was one of the very first new houseless friends we met: a woman named Karen, who said she had been praying for help to come to her.

She was so excited to be picked up, and she prayed continually for our ministry…and all our church volunteers. She spoke very animatedly, in some rather traditional pentecostal language about Jesus, and faith, and other folks she knows. It wasn’t my kind of faith language, of course. But I could still understand the meaning behind her metaphors.

Karen also directed us to several more neighborhood spots that Andrew and I could never have found on our own. This is one of the blessings we have seen over these past few years…that folks TRUST us because the van has our church name, and I’m in my collar.

We get a benefit of TRUST from these folks that is something you cannot buy, to teach. It’s a precious thing. They seem to believe we’re not out to harm them, or “turn them in” to any authorities, but to simply help them in their time of great need.

Sure enough, we got several folks from some of the locations Karen took us. She was our navigator for several hours, all over North Oak Cliff.

We also found our first folks ever who had very little English…at least little enough English that even my broken Spanish was little use. Maybe it was the cold and that we were both a little nervous, but I couldn’t seem to get the words out right. I am fairly confident these are folks with jobs…and they had car…but simply with not enough resources to have a place to live.

Jonathan Campoverde helped me translate over the phone (A small reminder of just why, in our mission field, Jon is going to be helpful to our team…).

They didn’t come with us…they had a car, said they needed to get to work early today (that seems doubtful to me now…) but we did drive back late last night, and give them the physical address of the shelter, since they could indeed drive themselves.

I hope they went.

Finally, there were some folks in a nearby park (I’m not gonna name it…) who were among the worst off we’ve ever seen. Two gentlemen who refused us two nights ago, and at first didn’t want to come in last night.

But when we finally convinced them to come with us, could BARELY STAND…their hands and feet were shockingly pale, and we had to help them walk, they shivered, and I don’t think they even warmed during the ride over to OLUMC….with the van heater full blast.

Oscar had given us some gloves and hats, and both of those really helped those guys. The volunteers/angels at Oak Lawn were so gracious to them. It’s hard to describe just how grateful they seemed to be that somebody was giving them just a bench to sit on…hot coffee to drink…and the promise of a safe place with a meal and cot.

THAT pair…along with Karen, the folks she helped us find, and the info she’s given us…those were beautiful moments…

So…all told…eight more souls off the streets.

I’m confident our volunteers will likely meet those new friends tonight at Oak Lawn when we gather later to serve the meal.
These stories are rich…and heartbreakingly beautiful.

As always is the case….not everybody came with us…for a variety of complicated reasons.
We now have ice/snow falling….which makes everything both harder and more urgent.

Continue to pray not for us…but for all those without shelter in this weather.

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