Denver Headlights 2022: Day 2
Today has been a long and tiring, yet beautiful day. We started the day with morning prayer at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. After prayer, I had the privilege to cook breakfast for the other retreatants and the missionaries hosting us. From the food donated this week we were able to make breakfast sandwiches, bacon and even had some strawberries which was a real treat. After breakfast, we all got ready and headed out to the streets to meet some of our homeless friends.
The first place my group visited was a set of tents located under a bridge. We stopped at each tent offering socks, gloves or water. There was a couple living in one of the tents and we were able to have a good conversation with them. Kim had a little dog she introduced us to named Diamond. After the tents, we walked down several streets where shelters, missions, and other services were located. We met several different people and talked to them about the weather and where they were from or if they liked certain things about the city. One encounter was particularly tough for my group today. A friend was sitting in a wheelchair outside of one of the missions. She had various items laying all around her on the sidewalk. She was talking to us but in a way that was mostly incoherent. The goal of street ministry is to try and make the homeless feel both seen and heard. It made me very sad to see this woman in her pain but be unable to communicate with her. Eventually we simply had to move on and engage other friends in the area.
The last place we stopped on the street walk was the St. Francis Center. Many friends were at the center today and were outside enjoying the sunshine. One person outside of the building was a long-time friend of Christ in the City. He was so happy and excited to share with us how he had recently received housing and would soon be able to start helping out some of his family members. My high point of the day came shortly after this encounter. A woman named Braids came over to us and she was playing some bluesy-jazz music. She had a big smile on her face and was dancing down the sidewalk saying hi to all of her friends. Soon after meeting, I found myself dancing with Braids as we started to get to know each other. She told me how all her friends hang out at the St. Francis Center and she gets to see them all the time. They recently had to move their hang out location from the parks but were still able to retain their community at this new spot. Braids told me she was the person who always brought the party; it wasn’t a party unless she was there. She also shared with me things about her family and friends and the ways she was able to care for them as we bopped and swayed along to the music together.
I know Christ was walking with me today, both in the highs and the lows. I could see His suffering in the woman we could not communicate with. But I also saw His joy when Braids came over to me dancing and we were able to enter in to a relationship through a common interest. The people I encountered today have shown me how positive and happy they can be, even in a state where they have seemingly nothing. They are able to share a simile with you and dance even in the stark face of adversity they wake up to each and every day. On top of it all, God showed me how those living on the street may be in physical poverty, but not spiritual poverty.
As we continue on this week, I am in joyful anticipation of what else Christ has to teach me and the ways He will call me to go deeper. I can only imagine what is in store. I am excited to go where Jesus calls me to and to continue encountering Him in our friends on the street.
Hi to everyone who’s reading!
Our second full day is coming to an end here at Christ in the City yet, in some ways, it feels like we’ve been here longer. Today, like every day here on out, started with a morning prayer at a near by church, breakfast, and chores. After that we headed out to the streets in groups for about three hours meeting at the Cathedral at noon. Then lunch, a short lecture on poverty, ‘debriefing’ in our street groups, some free time, dinner, and movie night – which I skipped since I saw the chosen movie just three weeks ago.
Heading to the streets, I tried not to have any expectations other than it being tough to see such harsh conditions up close: Living on the streets, in early March, in Denver Colorado. We started out just after 9 am by walking under a bridge surrounded by driveways, the 20th St. route. Though several tents were up, it was presumably a little early as only two answered our calls; “Hello there, do you need any gloves or water?” etc.
Before going into what I found impactful – experiences, thoughts, conversations – I’d like to name as many people as I can: Kim & Cash and Diamond-dog. Vaughn. Sierra. Adam. Frosty. Braids.
The mission at Christ in the City is to encounter the people without a home as persons, individuals. And while they do keep gloves, water, blankets, granola bars, and the like with them, the main goal is to engage in conversations: to acknowledge, serve, rather than fix. Even though I knew this before going out, even before signing up for the trip, it frustrated me a little more than I thought it would: Going up to someone who barely has enough to survive the day, let alone the cold nights, and starting up a conversation that you know will end in you leaving – how do you not feel useless? Luckily for me, one of the first people we talked to, Vaughn, thanked us for “just being nice to” him saying that even that helped a lot. Even though it was just one person without a home, I will hold onto the hope that others like him also find comfort in conversation alone.
Another encounter that stayed with me was Frosty. He talked a lot, about a lot, and in two different languages. He talked about religions and how they relate to each other, how essentially religions are a way for people to find meaning, purpose, in life. However, at one point Frosty said, “I’ve sinned, that’s why I’m here.”, referring to being on the streets, homeless. Though there is something admirable in taking responsibility for your own actions, I don’t believe any society is equal enough, in terms of opportunity or second chances, that the only one to blame is yourself. In other words: There are too many people who have, without a doubt, violated ethics and laws in worse ways than many of the homeless yet have immense monetary wealth, for me to fully believe that. Still, to end on a lighter note, there is community, joy, hope to be found in the streets as well: Whether its 50+ year old Braids saying they’re the “life of the party” in their family and dancing to bluesy-jazz music; or a puppy dog in a tent with Kim & Cash putting a smile on everyone’s face; or the shyest “thank you” for stopping and talking for a minute from Vaughn.