My friend Larry Trent shared this story. I re-tell it here with a couple shameless morals. First, this kind of simple ministry is so easy to do and, in fact, it gives folks who might have limited mobility a way to get out on streets they may not have seen for years and make a difference in people’s lives in a way that is far more meaningful than money. The other “preachy-bit” might seem to be the opposite. It’s also a ministry that invites people to have a face-to-face encounter with folks who may make them feel awkward. Church folks take these blessing bags with them out rather than delegating the gift to a community organizer, street minister, shelter staff person. This invites true sharing and dialogue.
Frail elders and nervous thirty-somethings alike will find grace. So Larry’s story:
My church (Westwood UCC in Los Angeles) put together bags of toiletries, socks and snacks to be given to homeless folks we encounter. Here is what happened to me.
“I picked up 10 of the blessing bags a while back to put in my car. I gave out several to folks at freeway ramps. That’s probably what we all do, right?
However, I was in Echo Park taking a day of Sabbath. I enjoyed walking around the lake watching the people as well as the various water fowl. It was HOT. I sat on a bench in the shade looking at goslings following their mother when a man approached asking if I would buy him a soda. I said,”sure”. I realized right away the man was homeless.
We walked over to where the street vendor was selling cold sodas. I bought myself a bottle of water and him a Coke. I told him I had bags of hygiene items and snacks in my car, if he were interested. “Yes”, he responded. We walked the block to my car and I retrieved the remaining two bags and gave them to him. I told him they were from my church. He said, ” God bless your Church”.’ I smiled as I told him we were calling them “Blessing Bags”.
I tell you this, not for a pat on the back. Rather, because I want you and the Justice and Service Board to know that the bags are indeed a blessing to the folks we give them to. In this case, I was able to spend about 30 minutes with Kevin. I know he grew up in multiple foster care homes. When he turned 18 he was out in the street turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. I take him at his word that he has been clean and sober for over a year; however, unable to get off the streets in LA.
I know that the bags made a difference in his day. And, I assure you, the bags and Kevin, made a difference in mine.