Imagine, if you will, walking into a room and being told you have recently run into what some might call “bad luck”. You are now poor and find yourself to be on the streets. You are then told you can keep 4 items and will be allowed to pick a pair of pants, a shirt, and shoes at a local thrift store. You have $40 for the next 48 hours. The items won’t cost you anything to keep but the clothes will cost you $3, all possible meals will cost $6/each, shelter for one night will cost $20, a tarp will cost $2. You will also need to keep in mind that life sometimes throws you random chances: some good and some not good, so you will need to keep money to help with that. The four items you have chosen are: a sleeping bag, a hair tie, and the other two items you gave to your friend who is completely homeless and does not have any items.
At the beginning of these 48 hours you find yourself in tennis-shoes that don’t fit well or have laces, a light weight pair of salmon colored pants, and a Michigan sweat shirt sleeping outside in your sleeping bag on top of a tarp. You know three of the thirteen people sleeping outside under an awning while the sky slightly drips with rain. As you find yourself resting on the cement you talk with your friend before trying to fall asleep. Once you have successfully fallen asleep you are eventually woken up by the cold water that has now begun to take over your sleeping bag. You wake to find the cement covered with an inch of water and the tarp completely wet which is why you are becoming colder and wet. As you try to reposition yourself in your bag searching for a dry spot you slowly fall asleep again; this pattern continues until your are awoken to begin the day.
Having no idea what time you are allowed to enter a building to find warmth and possibly food, you are informed you will go and hang out in the local section 8 housing with the children doing kings club with a local non-profit. You learn how to best organize the games and how to interact with the children. As you and the other fourteen people walk down several blocks you come to the non-profit’s children’s program to find out that since it was still gross from the rain the night before you will not be going to the section 8 housing but rather help clean and work on the children’s center. After you have cleaned the children’s center you are given a “scavenger-hunt” to complete in the next four hours.
You find yourself in a group of three. The three of you set out searching for the items and information on the list. Over the next four hours you meet a 72 year old man named Harvey who shared with you about his life, family, views of Waco and his spirituality; a grandmother named Cookie and her grandson Ty who helped you look for a place that provides lunch; a woman randomly came up to your group and offered a bag of cans which just happened to be on your list; three men (Cricket, D, and one of their friends) who allowed you to pray with them; a group of friends (Kevin, Mary, Babbete, and Babbete’s sister-in-law) in a park enjoying the community gathering; ate lunch with Eddy and Roger who shared a bit of their story with you; gained a little information from two women walking from the store about local resources; looked for a quarter and eventually found one in a newspaper dispenser; was given local information about diversity of wealth and resources from a kind woman named Susan; read a few articles on the Bible and poverty; and learned more about the two people in your group.
You and the others sat down talking while waiting on the doors to open for dinner. You pay for dinner and when you walked in the door you found yourself to be eating in India with all but one of the others. The one not in India ate in the U.S. Those of us in India had chi, ngan, rice, and curry. As we ate there was a beggar who was being kept away from us and would get in trouble the few times people tried to give her food. The one who ate in the U.S. had a salad, steak, potato, veggies, an ice-cream sunday, and tea. We were then told more about poverty around the world and their main religions.
After dinner we were sent back outside where we found all of ourselves receiving a little bit of chance. My personal chance was that I found $1 by a dumpster. Others’ chance was everything from needing to go to the doctor for a tooth ache to receiving social security. We were then given an apple! After all of our chances we went back inside to watch a movie about the pain taking place across this world and how we fit into it.
All but six of us slept inside. That night was better than the night before since it wasn’t raining and there was enough room for all six of you to sleep on the bench or table of picnic tables. As the six of you share stories or random information you find your heart being warmed which helps keep the rest of you warm. The night is less broken up by randomly waking up than the night before. When morning comes you are fairly rested and thankful for the dryness of your sleeping bag and the comfort of the picnic benches.
Since you paid for breakfast the night before all of you who bought breakfast go inside to find cheese puffs, nacho flavored chips, and pop for your meal. The group as a whole discusses the difficulties that come or could come with having inadequate meals like the one you find yourself eating. You also watch a film about the church and how there is a difference between believing in Christ and being a disciple of Christ.
All of you walk several miles to a local church that meets under I35 between 4th and 5th street. At this church you meet a man named Robert who asks what you have learned in the past day or so. The fifteen of you spread around the church and start talking with the members. You get to meet a man named Arlies who shares with you that he has been sober for 658 days! The two of you pray together since he had experienced a dream a few nights before about being drunk and how it scared him. While sitting during the service you see three beautiful children in the row in front of you who continually make you smile. You meet their mother, Brittany, as they are leaving the service. During the service you hear what the people around you are thankful for and even reflect upon what you are thankful for.
Once the service is over and the group of you is walking back you are delighted to see the sun come out and offer you warmth. When you get to the place you slept the night before you are surprised to learn that there is a hot meal inside for all of you. Walking in the building you are given a plate of lasagna, garlic bread and salad. It’s the first time you have filtered water and are quite thankful to have it. The group of you talk about the past 48 hours and what you will take away from it. You are then surprised with an ice-cream sandwich that puts a nice smile on your face.
All of you clean the area you ate in and the area you slept in and leave in your separate directions.
The story/reflection I have just shared with you is the story of my weekend where for 36 hours I was placed into simulation of poverty. It allowed me to walk a mile in a person’s shoes who lives on the streets. It in no way was the same as what they go through but it did offer some insight to their world and how hard they work to stay alive, safe and well.
This is one part of my journey that coffee was not a witness to but I have no doubt that as I process and think about this weekend coffee will be one of the key witnesses.
Blessings, Warmth, Safety and Thanksgiving.