Our first stop: Phoenix, AZ.
We aren’t in LA anymore. That’s for sure.
The first thing Viktor and I noticed are the homeless are much more difficult to find. In Los Angeles, we have the infamous skid row along with the panhandlers on most corners and the wandering cart-pusher, just to name a few of the stereotypical homeless. So we started off at a park in the middle of downtown Phoenix. After wandering around a bit in the ridiculous heat that was trying to peel our skin off, we still had no direction and hadn’t spoken to anyone. We stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and prayed that God would point us in the right direction. It was then that we saw a man walking our direction with a backpack and a cane. We offered him a water bottle and he gladly took it, offering us a toothless grin behind his ragged dreadlocks. His name was Ronald and he came to Phoenix from Missouri following the promise of a job, only to be left homeless and wandering the streets. In talking with him, he randomly began telling us to “stay away from the shelter because that’s where the crazy people are. Don’t go to Maddison. That’s where the shelter is.” Viktor and I just exchanged a glance that said, “Well we got our direction.”
We showed up at the shelter, and were shocked to find an entire homeless community center, with ragged men and women coming and going from the gate entrance. We’ve never seen anything like it in California. There were multiple buildings behind the gates that were open for the day but obviously were locked up at night. The buildings consisted of a dental clinic, a laundry room a huge cafeteria, a children’s room, a health and wellness center and more. These are just the rooms we saw there.
I know that we are here on the road to serve, but I fully prefer to go into the poor communities not flaunting the fact that I am there to help them because my life is better. I’ve approached these situations in that way before, and I’ve surely made friends, but it’s on a different level. So there in Phoenix, when we walked into that homeless community, Viktor and I knew we were leaving our yuppie California identity at the door. A woman, well dressed with a hint of a weathered-life on her face noticed our rather lost expressions and pointed us in the direction of the cafeteria with a calloused, “Food’s that way.” I offered her my hand and said, “Thanks! I’m Andi. What was your name?” “Lisa. Food’s that way.” She nodded her head once more and we took that as our cue to move on our way.
Walking into the cafeteria, we were greeted by a stoic sheriff very friendly man dressed in a priest outfit with a ball cap that read “Jesus Christ saves all.” He slapped hand sanitizer into our hands and herded us on our way down the line. We were handed our food on trays from smiling people all dressed in red shirts. I realized that I appreciated their smiles but not one of them attempted to talk to us. I thanked them and they just nodded, so we went on to find our table.
Viktor and I sat down and ate, mostly observing the people. Everyone mostly kept to themselves. There were a few who knew each other who would offer nods or fist pumps in their general direction, but it seemed that everyone preferred their anonymity among the hundreds crammed into that dining hall.
When we finished, we walked out into the pavilion. The sidewalk was emanating heat and most of the people in the yard were lounging in what little shade they could find. After walking around a bit, we stumbled on a paper on the ground. I normally would’ve just stepped over it because there was nothing very special about it, but something caught my eye. I could see written across the top of it, “MT MK LK JN.” I quickly grabbed it and unfolded it to find someone’s extensive notes on the resurrection of Christ according to the four gospels. There were verses written under each of the four gospels’ names, comparing the parallel details in each of the different accounts. Viktor and I quickly hunted down shade under a little overhang at a picnic table and brought out our bibles from a backpack. We began looking up the verses and going through the notes on the paper when a man walked up, showing obvious interest in what we were doing.
“Those bibles? You guys reading the bible?” he asked.
We proceeded to explain to him how we had found the paper and what was on it. He promptly sat down at the table with us and began telling us about how he was going to be a director in a church at one time. He was hispanic, with “La Vida Loca” tattooed across the side of his neck and other tattoos of women and other various icons stretched all over his arms. He introduced himself to us as Sleepy. Sleepy then went on to begin talking about his faith and feeding us spiritual tid bits from his repertoire of advice. “You have to get rid of pride. That’s what keeps people from really having a strong, sincere faith. Pride will knock you down until you hit your teeth on the hard groundâ¦ And you can’t blame the church. It’s you and what’s inside of you.” He went on to talk about this other homeless center down the road and the amazing things they did for people. He thought we were homeless and was referring us to go there, since we were Christian. He said that they took you in and made sure you were sincere about wanting help. “You can’t go around saying you are, and then not live it. You gotta keep your heart right,” he kept saying.
At the time, we had no idea how much God was using Sleepy to point us towards yet another direction there in Phoenix. I’ll have to tell about that later.
It still amazes me how every time I go out to serve in God’s name, God uses those I’m serving to teach me. Here we were in the homeless center, prepared to help others, and this man came to us and shared his heart and really blessed us with his words. God has a funny way of doing things, even here in Phoenix, and every day Viktor are learning to lean fully on God’s will for this trip rather than our own.
“The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:14
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