The rain was only just starting to spatter on the windshield as we drove down old highway 90 looking for the local shelter. We had a truck full of supplies, and we were hungry, so we called them that morning and asked about lunch. “You have to be here before 12:30 or you don’t get served…” Shane repeated when he got off the phone. I raised an eyebrow. Why is it so strict?
As the road wound its way through an industrial complex I glanced at the clock on my phone. It was 12:34… and even though I knew that we didn’t do it on purpose, I thought it was kind of funny that we would be late. I had been wondering if the man on the phone meant what he said, and I was about to find out.
We hadn’t planned it that way, but Shane had noticed 3 guys camped out in a parking lot across from a Jack in the Box. We hooked everybody up with dry socks and hygiene supplies, doled out the rest of our granola bars and snack food, and got lost in conversation before we realized we were going to be late for lunch.
The road brought us to a dead end, and I was so fascinated with the scene at the end of the line that we missed the turn. I was staring at a gigantic wall of fencing that draped from the street to the overpass, high above our truck. The rescue mission was directly to our left. “Does this seem weird to you?” Shane asked. I nodded. “Creepy.” We drove through another wall of fencing and managed to find our way to the office. I read the sign that was posted high above the windows on the side of the building. “Food. Bed. Gospel.”
I could go on rants about Survival Christianity and the harm we do by mandatory religion, I could talk about the idiotic assumption that the poor are ‘unsaved’ and that the wealthy are ‘righteous.’ I could even pick a fight or two about exactly what part of the Gospel that was the Good News. I could point out that the Kingdom is pretty hard to find these days, considering that we were commanded to manifest it. But that would be preaching… and we have enough preachers. I want to SEE it.
So we parked the truck and stepped out of the truck into the spitting rain. I could see a security guard through the slats in the blinds of a large window next to the office door. He had been watching us since we pulled around to the front. He sat staring through the blinds as we stepped out of the truck. The feeling that I had in my stomach was the same one that I had in grade school when I went to the principal’s office. What is with this vibe?
We didn’t even get under the awning and out of the rain when a young man stepped out the front door and right up to Shane. “Can I help you?” he asked. Shane explained that we had come to see about lunch. “Oh, well the women have already eaten, and the men are eating right now. It’s too late…” he said in a dismissive tone. First, I fought back the urge to comment on making men and women eat separately. Shane and I don’t like being split up any more than anyone else does, but we deal with it, because sometimes it’s the only way we’ll eat that day. I didn’t try to stop the next comment that slipped from my mouth as I stared at this young man. “So…? Where can I get food?” I asked him.
Surely… they won’t let us go hungry because we are a few minutes late. Would they? The men are eating right now… so that means there is food in the kitchen and people serving it. I stared at him intently, in the manner that I’ve learned must be native to Oregon, because everyone here seems to stare intently. He stuck out his bottom lip for a second and looked down as he nodded slightly. He turned on his heels and headed back through the open door of the mission as he waved his hand behind his head, instructing us to follow him.
A quick walk straight down the hallway took us to a small desk with a gigantic binder. He flipped it open and pulled out a sheet of paper. After handing it to me, he took a step back toward the front door. But Shane has a habit of standing right in people’s way until I start moving. I think he does it subconsciously, but it has come in handy a few times. So I was holding the paper and looking at, taking a moment to figure out how this was supposed to substitute as a meal, when the young man said “You can take that with you.”
Well thank you! How nice… I looked up from my paper to see his eyebrow raised and an expectant look on his face. Oh, wait. That means you want me to leave.
I looked at Shane and we both nodded. We turned around and headed back toward the front door. Our chaperone followed closely on our heels all the way back out to the awning. When he didn’t stop there, I realized he wasn’t following, he was leading from the back, but I wasn’t playing along. I stopped dead at the end of the awning. The sky had unleashed the storm, and the rain was pouring down in buckets. No way. I wondered if I would be allowed to stand here, or if the man was going to tell me that I need to move along. I was startled that I believed it to be in his capacity to send us out into the rain. I thought of my friend Joseph, who was recently told to go back out into the rain after he tried to seek shelter under the awning of a church.
Strange… I am a houseless person, and this shelter was designed and designated to make me feel as though I have a “home”… just as the church building was designed and designated to be the home of all God’s children. I don’t remember the story of Christ sending someone off into the rain…
I heard the door shut and lock behind me and realized that the security guard was staring at me again. He seemed intent on giving me the death glare until I started moving. I showed Shane the piece of paper and we tried to find another place that would provide lunch.
If it had been Saturday, we would have had our choice of four or five locations. But on a Wednesday, the only thing I saw was a line that said “sack lunches” with an address. Sounds good to me! After a few minutes, the rain slowed down enough for us to run to our truck, just as a woman driving a blue van pulled up next to us. She stepped out, and the man who had greeted us, also greeted her. He arrived immediately, holding an umbrella over her head, and they walked to the back of her van to unload her donation. Shane said what I was thinking. “Oh, you’ll hold an umbrella for her, because she brings you stuff.” But your guests leave with nothing more than a piece of paper. Very nice.
Maybe things would have gone differently if we had approached it from the other angle. Actually, I know they would have. It’s obvious that they would have treated us differently if we told them that we had 65 hygiene kits and 400 bottles of lotion and shampoo to donate. We probably would have gotten to eat with the whole dining room to ourselves. And that’s just one more reason why we headed toward the address on the piece of paper marked “sack lunches.”
To be continued…