By Emily M.
Real people. Living in cars. Living in a tent by the river. Carrying all their worldly belongings with them in a backpack.
A Blessing Bag seems like such a small thing to give. Physically it is small. It is filled with “small” things, travel-sized items because homeless people are on the move so frequently. Thankfully this world is more than physical. Spiritually, the Blessing Bag is a big deal.
I always laughed – and not politely – at corporate America’s buzzword lingo of “synergy” – theoretically this is the concept that one product (or team) can add up to more than the sum of it’s parts. I’ve always objected to this from a mathematical perspective. There’s no way 1+1 > 2. I still think that is true in all matters physical, but with the Blessing Bags I can see that synergy applies. Each bag represents so much more than just shampoo + soap + toothbrush + toothpaste + tissues + snacks + a handwritten note.
A Blessing Bag is a hand stretched out to help a person stand up when they’ve just fallen down. It is a life raft thrown into an ocean that seems overwhelming and discouraging. The homeless person might fall again, might be thrown back into the ocean. And that might happen as soon as we leave their presence. But in that instant that they see the care put into each bag, they are loved in a way they can’t ignore.
We de-briefed our park experience at today’s devotions at the ranch. Rather than try to share just my story, or create some mega-post weaving together everyone’s experiences, I’ve included the notes I took at the meeting. Please read and pray for the situation of these individual people and the homeless community as a whole.
Notes from our first experience engaging with the homeless of Fort Collins (August 9, 2016):
- Selfless prayer requests: Mark the homeless guy Meredith and I talked to asked for “God’s will to be done.” And the lady in the park with a Blessing Bag asked for “a place for all of us.”
- There was a really large group at the park in Fort Collins – there is a whole community of homeless (Tricia)
- Genuine “thank you’s” for the Blessing Bags – strikingly different than typical “thanks” (Hannah)
- The note is the best thing in the bag. He would have been happy with just the note. (Emily D./Dianna/Jim)
- Note contained “Hi, I’m from New Hampshire and I’m here on a mission trip. I am praying for you. Jesus loves you.”
- Sometimes we think we can’t help the homeless, because we don’t have time or money. But a simple note will make a big impact on them. Don’t be afraid to send in a little note. (Meredith)
- Steve (in a wheelchair) and Dan spent a lot of time together. Steve’s left leg is not working well and his mind is a bit jumbled. He is an Air Force vet from Vietnam. He feels that the system has failed him as a person in a wheelchair, especially with shelters. He saw Dan’s TBC shirt and said his experience was that church people inside are not the same as church people outside. He refused the blessing bag because he still had one in his backpack. He has access to three meals a day but tries not to eat three meals because he doesn’t have a restroom facility to use. He said of all the things he needs, the top things is toilet paper because he is using the park as his bathroom (no business or shelter is able to accommodate him during the day). He just wanted to be listened to.
- If I became homeless, I would be changed. Homeless people can’t depend on anything except for God. (Emily D.)
- Tank from SLC moved here because Salt Lake was pushing people out. He and his wife moved here together, but the winter is so cold his wife died of exposure. He had a warped sense of Biblical history – he talked about the fourth wise man visiting Jesus. He referenced the “pick up your cross and follow me” frequently, but he interpreted it to mean that the Christian life is a life of pain. “These guys around here pray because they still have hope. That’s not me. I know the reality is there is no hope.” He’s got nothing else to do and no hope – that was the saddest way to end the conversation (Jon had to leave because we were all leaving). (Jon H.)
- We see a number of people who are at different stages of their homelessness – some are new and some have been homeless for a long time. Some are still looking for services and are trying to get something going for themselves. The saddest ones to see are the homeless who have given up and won’t try any more for themselves. (Ed)
- Some of the people the people who have lost hope seem to be “gray” – literally and figuratively (Anita)
- We chose “Hope in Action” as the motto for Soaring Wings Ministries because it is so critical to have hope.
- Elie Wiesel – “Man can survive a week without food, two days without water, and an hour without hope”
- One man was worried about what would happen without the park there (it is closing to build another restaurant) – he was concerned about the affects of drugs and alcohol on the homeless community. (Jim)
- The majority of the homeless people you’ll see are people who have been taken from. They rarely are given anything. They are surrounded by family and “friends” who are happy to take from them time, money, space to sleep, material items… That’s why Blessing Bags are so important. (Anita)
- Meredith’s story of her calling to officially come on staff full time: After a “donuts with friends” event in the park, Meredith saw a family living in a dumpster. Not around it. In it. The family was terrified that Meredith, Ed, and Anita were there to evict them. When Meredith brought them Blessing Bags, the little girl broke down and cried. It was the first kindness done to the family in quite a while. That’s when Meredith knew she was meant to do this work – no child in America (or the world) should be living in a dumpster.
- I was surprised by how migratory the homeless were. (Jim)
- They get tickets for camping in the park, and if they get four tickets they go to jail. At three tickets, they will migrate. Fort Collins and Colorado Springs typically swap around homeless populations.
- How can you escape a system that will put you in prison for being too poor to afford a home? Then you can’t get a job to afford a home, because you have a record.
- Is it better to go to prison so you can get a roof over your head and meals? So you can get job training that isn’t available to the homeless (who have a hard time getting to training without a car or a predictable place to stay).
- Anita: I think back to the family in the dumpster that Meredith mentioned. I have this vision of a mom and her daughter preparing breakfast in the room that you (the team) are building. Then the mom will walk her daughter down Trinity Lane to the school bus stop. Rather than dumpster diving, this little girl will walk to school and come home at the end of the day, knowing she has a roof over her head and a “place” in this world.