I am often the grateful recipient of Larry W. Trent, Minister to Migrants at Westwood Hills UCC Church in Los Angeles. Angie is one of the people he came to know in his ministry with people who are unhoused. He preached a sermon about her story last Sunday. He had asked me to write a prayer for the service. Here is that prayer, followed by a photograph of the place where Angie stays and his sermon.
Prayer for people who are unhoused
God, we pray for our hearts and minds
to be open to people
who are living with homelessness,
to see them not as vagrant or objects of pity
and never as “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I,”
but as … there she goes, there he goes,
surrounded by God’s grace,
help me learn from them.
God, we pray for the wisdom
to offer – there-with-the-grace-of-humans,
to find new ways to give friendship
and respectful assistance,
to reach out and surround with love
so many people who are unhoused
for so many different reasons.
For those newly without homes
in this year’s financial losses, we pray.
For those who circumstances
pull them into poverty
that becomes more poverty, we pray.
For those who need shelter
because they were rejected where they lived
or are fleeing domestic violence, we pray.
For those with untreated mental illnesses,
or choices that unsettle us, we pray.
For those who are couch surfing,
living on the shelter and meal circuit,
lifting cardboard requests for help,
gathering precious things in grocery carts,
tenting because they cannot bear
living in itinerant community, we pray,
in the name of Jesus,
who lived and ministered always,
as one unhoused. amen.
This is where I left Angie that day. I took the photo this morning.you can see the freeway at the top of photo and the edge of the park in front … Larry Trent
I first met Angie about three years ago. She was living in a park that runs along 170 between Oxnard and Sherman Way, Valley Plaza Park. There are probably as many as 100 people living in tents in that 2 mile stretch.
At that time I was regularly going to the area with boxes of items that homeless folks might need in the trunk of my car – toiletries, socks, snacks. I would fill up my backpack and walk along and give them out.
Angie was living in her own little world, her home. It was built alongside an office building of the Parks and Recreation Center. Her home was built out of tarps – some blue, some gray. When I came, Angie always wanted the socks, shampoo and whatever snacks I had brought with me that day. She called me “the nice man”.
One day she invited me into her home. I admit I was surprised to see a sofa, a chair, a bed, a rug, a table with a lamp (plugged into the outdoor outlet of the office) and even art leaning against the wall. All of the items had been retrieved from the trash. It was neat and clean. It was her home.
Some weeks later when I drove up expecting to see Angie, all of her belongings were on the street corner. Park rangers moved her things out there. There was no sign of Angie. That was the last time I saw Angie for at least 6 months.
I was out in the park doing my thing, when I spotted a man that I had seen with Angie many times. I asked Victor about her. He said, “she is living over by the railroad track”. “Where is that,” I asked? “I can take you there, if you want. You will never find it on your own.” Now, I had met Victor many times before. I had bought him something to eat a few times. But, I had never put him in my car.
Victor looks somewhat intimidating. His body is covered with tattoos and his body is bulging with muscles – the kind you get from life. I later learned he got them while in prison. That said, I didn’t hesitate to ask him to take me there.
Angie was living with 8 men in squalor. Victor said they were all “meth heads”. It certainly looked it. (Victor would know – he is a former addict). When we appeared, Angie recognized me and shouted, “it’s the nice man”. Victor laughed. I was glad she remembered. Everyone came over to see what I had to give them.
When I left I knew I would not be returning to that place. In spite of being with Victor, whom I trusted, I did not feel safe with a group of meth users. Over the next two years I asked others in the park about Angie, but no one seemed to know anything about her. Victor said, I heard she died. However, he did not know details.
That brings us to the recent encounter that I wrote about in a prayer request on September 14. I’ll read part of it to you now.
This happened today:
This morning, returning home from Trader Joe’s North Hollywood, there was a mentally ill women in the middle of the street on Laurel Canyon. She was screaming at the cars going by and pounding her fist in the air. She, also, was naked. The thing is, I recognized her as Angie that I had not seen in about two years. Someone there at the nearby park told me a while back that they though she had died.
I parked my car, stopped traffic and called her name. The moment I called her name, she calmed down. I said, “Angie, let’s get you out of the street”. She walked towards me and the sidewalk. “ Where are you clothes, Angie”? “I don’t know,” she replied“. The conversation continued. “Where are you living”? “ “over by the freeway”. “Let’s get you over there”.
The 170 freeway is right there. I walked with her to the hole in the fence. She crawled through and into a tent. When I asked are you ok, I got no reply.
A number of you wrote to me after reading this encounter. All of these responses were very affirming. I loved reading them. At least two of you mentioned the Good Samaritan story. I considered using that as the scripture today. I certainly see it as a modern day Good Samaritan story. But, I really wanted this to be Angie”s story, not Larry”s story. The Isaiah scripture Brad read is what the song you have heard me sing so many times, “You Are Mine”, by David Haas is based on.
That day as I was driving home, I found myself singing in the car.
I will come to you in the silence,
I will lift you from all your fears.
You will hear my voice,
I claim you as my choice,
Be still and know I am here.
I am hope for all who are hopeless,
I am eyes for all who long to see.
In the shadow of the night,
I will be your light,
Come, and rest in me.
Do not be afraid, I am with you.
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me,
I will bring you home;
I love you and
You are mine.
That morning when I called her name, Angie calmed down. It was as if she heard the calming voice of God calling her by name. Saying to her: “Angie, you are mine. Do not be afraid. I have redeemed you. When you walk through the waters, I will be with you. The rivers will not overwhelm you. You are precious in my sight and I love you. You are mine”.
This story is not just Angie”s story. We know it is the story of so many others who are living on the streets, in the parks, along the freeways and underpasses. For all of us living comfortable lives, it is easy to pass them by – to look the other way. The fact is I pass by most.
Last night when I was explaining to George why I was not using the Samaritan story as scripture today, he said that he saw the Samaritan story differently. He sees it as saying any of us could be the Samaritan and stop and help.
We can all do something to help. Here at Westwood Hills, under the great direction of Ellin Holden, we have the opportunity to participate in the Safe Parking Program by providing meals one day a week. Ellin has made it easy to participate. She is willing to help you with what to cook/buy and will even pick it up from you if need be. Talk to her. It is something we can do for the Angie”s out there. We pray for Angie. Our prayers are answered by the actions we take.
May it be so.