THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD, GO I
By the Rev. Dr. David L. Madsen
Chief Executive Officer
Welcome Ministry of East San Diego County
In the past 15 years I have worked with people on the margins – in particular, people who experience homelessness, many who shelter in their cars. People who live in cars can be referred to as local or distance travelers. Often, because of their limited incomes they must choose to pay rent or lapsed mortgages or car payments, often choosing their car to get to work and other necessary places. It is a surprising number of people.
I wonder how people with minimum wage jobs survive financially in Southern California. How does one live on a monthly disability payment of $1,000 or less when they rent a room with kitchen privileges that costs $800/month? How do retired people live only on Social Security benefits of less than $1,000 monthly? They all do the best they can, and that means they might have to live in their vehicles.
These are the kinds of things I think of when I think about the mission of Welcome Ministry. Are we making a difference? Do we see people as “projects” to be accomplished, or do we look at people as God sees them with eyes of love? Just as God loves me so I am called to love others, not to minister to others or for others, but with others.
I have a practice of walking up to individuals in a park or on the street to offer them a packaged lunch. (I plan to keep doing this until someone or something forces me to stop.) When I meet someone, I begin with an “ice-breaker” like this: “Excuse me, would you like a lunch?” They usually smile and hospitably welcome me into what they consider the front door of their dwelling place, whether that is among bushes, a park bench, or their parked car. I ask them questions, for example, “Hi Joe, how you doing? Where do you spend your nights and days?” I also say things like, “It’s good to see you again. How’s your back? I know it was bothering you the last time we talked. We prayed together then. Would you like me to pray with you again before I go? I’ll be glad to. Here’s lunch. It’s a protein pack lunch. We stopped handing out food with a lot of sugar and starch, and now we try to concentrate on these healthy protein packs now.” My attention and interest in them along with the lunch and conversation are appreciated.
It is because of my conversations with him that I know Joe wants and needs help. Joe’s life is impacted because he has “DD” (Developmental Disability). That’s a description homeless outreach and case managers use. Joe doesn’t know what “DD” means. Joe just wants help. I know because I have sought help for Joe. I have limited funds and limited links, but I will do what I can. He has spoken to outreach professionals before, but so far has not received assistance. It is interesting, they have not asked about his “DD. So, on his behalf I try to tweak this out with a counselor or therapist if I get the opportunity. The conversation will go something like this: “You know I’ve known Joe for awhile. It appears that he has a social disorder. No, I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve noticed that he seems to exhibit a form of autism. No, he wasn’t diagnosed as a child, but he has lived on the street since he was 12 years old. His health is poor right now, and he really needs help.”Then comes their response: he doesn’t qualify for current housing assistance or supportive services. The question remains: Who can help Joe?
People on the streets suffer from substance abuse, and I can understand why. Maybe if I were on the street, I would too. I know that Joe does not abuse alcohol or drugs; neither do many on the street. If Joe were an alcoholic or abused drugs, a variety of programs – and housing – would be available.But he has fallen through the cracks of the social safety net. I wonder if I were to lose everything and forced to be homeless, would I meet the criteria for assistance?
As we think about those experiencing homelessness in East County, I wonder – are we working for people, or are we working to help people? Or are we working with them?Let’s work with them.
There but for the grace of God, go I.
A NEW FRONTIER FOR TABLE TALK – GROUP VIDEO CHATS!
May 21, 2020
Just as Welcome Ministry’s Table Talk twice-weekly English Conversation Coffee Hour was beginning its third year, everything changed. Things were going well. We’d added more native English speakers as discussion leaders. The number of English learners at each session had been gradually swelling to as much 18 participants some weeks. And, most encouraging of all, the women, many who had been with us from the start, were showing remarkable progress, both in their English conversation skills, and in their confidence to use them.
An added gift, one that we’d not expected when we first started just after Easter 2018, was the deep and loving relationships that had been forged among our English learners and our English speakers, and between the women themselves. Women from different countries: Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, the U.S., Hong Kong; and women of different faith traditions: Chaldean Catholics, Muslims, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and no church affiliation. We had become sisters, in the deepest sense of the word. We all looked forward to gathering each week, sharing our special dishes, playing our silly word games, reading fairy tales together, sharing our lives.
Then the pandemic, the stay at home order. Things ground to a halt. A few phone calls, which were always precious, always beginning with,“I miss you!” Then after Easter the idea of small group video chats started to take hold. Using Google Duo and Face Time we could gather two, three, or four at a time to not just talk, but see one another. What a blessing! The “ladies” were all in.
We’re novices with this technology, but we keep learning. And we’re growing again. People who had been interested in Table Talk, but who cannot come to St. Albans physically on a Wednesday or Friday morning, can now join a virtual chat – new English-speaking leaders and English learners alike. Not without the occasional glitch, but we cheerfully muddle through. And we are so happy to be together again. Let us know if you think you might like to join us – we’re always looking for new partners. Send us an email expressing your interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOOD FOR THE SOUL
(Reflections on Food through our Bilingual English/Arabic Mass) January 29, 2020
Food is a gateway to the soul. If people are hungry, they will come. And, when they come it provides the opportunity to share “food from heaven”. About three years ago, I opened the sanctuary on a hot day. People were standing in the hot sun, and I invited them into the church, which is air conditioned. The Chaldean community can be very loud, but when they walked into the church, they became very and respectful. They did not realize that the church was connected to the food pantry. Whoops!
Folks started hanging around inside, praying or sitting quietly. Then they asked if I could do a service for them. I explained that I am not Roman Catholic. They wanted to know what the difference was. I told them that for one thing I am married. They told me that their priests get married in Iraq. Then I told them that we do not have a pope, but we do have a presiding bishop and local bishops. They explained that they too had their own priests, deacons, bishops and arch deacon’s, all Chaldean.
The Chaldeans we serve are mostly Roman Catholic, and they are also Eastern Rite in tradition. So, I asked a Chaldean priest about serving communion. He said for him it was perfectly fine. I told them that I would do communion, but I am not Roman Catholic. I now know that not all of them are RC either. They use the word Chaldean because that means Christian. Chaldean’s prefer not to be called Iraqi because that in their minds means Muslim. Since that first Holy Communion service we have held the service before the pantry opens every first and third Tuesday. We do a bilingual English/Arabic service and we average between 25-50 people in service. After communion we invite anyone that wants to come forward for anointing oil and a prayer of healing or blessing, and everyone lines up. It’s amazing to experience and be a part of. During communion they sing songs in Aramaic.
Kind of cool, huh?
Welcome Church Offering Time Liturgy
January 1, 2020
It’s Welcome Church ‘offering time’, but we have a slightly different focus. Please think about what you have to offer; offer to God, to the community, to the world, maybe to yourself? Take time to really think about this, and ask yourself: What is it I can offer? Who can I offer it to? Am I willing to offer it? If you are willing, when the basket of stones comes around, please take one. Use it as a reminder of what you have committed to do; to make an ‘offering’ of what has been given to you. Put it where you will see it, or put it where you will feel it, in the pocket of your jeans, jacket or special secure place that you view often. When you see it, or touch it, let it remind you that you are special, you have something to offer. And then, do it. If you’d like to share out loud what you have decided to give as your ‘offering’, please feel free to say it. If you would rather not share out loud, feel free not too. Let’s take a minute or 2 to identify our ‘offering’, either aloud or silently.
(after a minute of sharing or silence) ‘Thank you, God, for all the gifts and offerings that have been given those here today in our gathering. Thank you that each of us has something special to offer. Help us to share these gifts and offerings freely. Amen’