Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Church Under the Bridge

Some of you may have already seen this and are looking for the new entry I promised with the answer to how Jesus fed 5,000 people. I still intend to write that one but I can't get the words to line up in the right order. There's just a lot more to say than I expected. I'll be back next week with that story. In the meantime, here is what happened when I took Zach to help the homeless.

I also checked on the status of our own homeless guy, Mitchell, and he didn't show up at Garland last week. If you'd like to know more about Church Under the Bridge they have a website: churchunderthebridge.org. I'm also recommending a book this week, a must read for anyone who wants to know what the Kingdom of God looks like: The Irresistible Revoultion by Shane Claiborne.

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I picked up Zach and Austen in Garland at 3:30. We drove to the new Presbyterian Mission Center where the Presbytery’s office is. At the PMC we met a group that had about three or four adults with a whole group of kids. We then drove in a caravan to Arlington to get another group of people. All in all, we ended up with a caravan of five cars, six adults, and about 17 kids.

I do not recommend caravans as a relaxing way of travel. I’m convinced we drove on every single interstate highway in the state of Texas…..at about 70 mph. I finally figured out to get behind the biggest and brightest car (a white van) so I could find the rest when some idiot cut into our line of cars; because, you know, once the idiot cuts in ahead of you they immediately slow down and let another five cars cut in ahead of them and the next thing you know the group is in Waco and you’re still back in Hillsboro.

Once in Waco, we gathered at the Central Presbyterian Church, one of the largest facilities I’ve seen. We stayed in their gym. (I said it was big) We left our gear inside and immediately went out to eat. Another wild ride and did I think to get somebody’s cell phone number just so if I got separated I could find my way back? Yes, I thought of it but I didn’t do it. Our caravan by now had become a faith exercise and I wasn’t about to admit any uncertainty.

At Ci’s Ci’s Pizza the adults talked a little about what we should cook. John and Rick have that relaxed attitude that comes from either great experience or great faith, I’m not sure which. Whatever, they didn’t worry too much about details, just “What should we cook?” I was going nuts after a while and took a napkin to make some sort of grocery list. On this list we had: 20 pounds of potatoes, 15 pounds of sausage, 10 dozen eggs, about 30 dozen flour tortillas, ten loaves of bread, ham, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, six boxes of brownie mix, bananas, grapes, apples……..stuff like that. Inside the store I tore the napkin into 3 lists and the kids went off to get the grub.

The tab at the HEB ended up around $300 to feed between 150-200 people. We went back to the church. This is how big their kitchen is: They had four ovens, two four-burner stoves, an industrial refrigerator and a counter top that was about 15 by 20 feet.

We started cooking the sausage, potatoes and eggs. I discovered something kind of interesting: sausage is so lean nowadays that we couldn’t rustle up enough fat to use in the other skillets to keep the eggs and potatoes from burning. We made about 200 sandwiches (ham & cheese and Peanut butter & jelly). Another tidbit I discovered: sandwich bags are slippery. We couldn’t stack the sandwiches until I put them in a box so the sides would be supported. We put the box of ham and cheese in the fridge and left the PBJ out. Then started assembling the burritos: a spoon of sausage, another of egg, and another of potato. Wrap it up in aluminum foil. We filled the refrigerator with these shinny tubes.

By this time it was one am and I was beat. They split the gym floor into boys’ side and girls’ side with a divider of chairs………which did nothing to really separate them; a few boys got as close to the line as they could get and, likewise, a few girls. There was giggling into the wee hours of the morning.

Around seven am we turned on the coffee and started the four ovens. Three hundred degrees was about right because we managed to reheat the burritos in two batches, filling the ovens each batch. Then we put it all in ice chests to keep them warm. We also heated up three huge cans of pinto beans and after draining most of the water, filled a gallon zip-lock bag. I would never have tried this myself and predicted disaster but not one bean left the bag. Not only did things stay hot, I watched the steam rise as people opened up the foil. And the beans didn’t really need a serving bowl and we just threw the bag away when it was empty.

We left around 9am and got to the bridge about 10. Again, I did something I had never done before: We left the access road, drove over the curb and parked our cars in the No Man’s land under the bridge. I looked around and here’s what I saw: There was a platform trailer with 2 portapotties that I immediately used because I had a pretty good idea what they would be like an hour or two later. There was a platform trailer with a generator and zillions of wires leading to another trailer that served as the stage, holding speakers, amplifiers and microphones. Still another trailer stood empty because they had already put out chairs for 200 people. Afterwards, when they were cleaning up, it took only 15 minutes to get the chairs back into the trailer.

We found a pleasant woman from Waco Mission setting up the serving tables and getting out coffee, tea and water. The key to timing this is to wait until fifteen minutes before we open the serving line. Any sooner and the line will form early and they will get tired of waiting.

There was a huge circle of people sitting off in a corner discussing something in great earnest. Something told me this was an AA meeting but it could have been Sunday School because they have both on Sunday mornings.

We set the kids to serving while we stayed in the background. I found a lady in a wheelchair and got one of the kids to take her a plate of food.

From our initial planning on the napkin it looked like an incredible amount of food. But I realized we were actually providing about a full day’s food for them. The burrito and beans and brownie were breakfast and lunch but they picked up a sandwich and banana to eat for dinner later in the day. So if you think about it that way, we were feeding people for $2 a day.

They were thankful and polite. They joked and cajoled each other. Most of them came here regularly and even had on name tags. This, after all, is a church. Jimmy Dorrell is their pastor and he went through the crowd reminding people that they needed to get a ticket for a big party they were planning for that evening. It would include a meal, swimming and a dance. It was free but to make sure they didn’t have an uncontrollable crowd it would have to be limited to members of the Church Under the Bridge and tickets were the only way to do it.

They had fantastic music, a few gospel and charismatic tunes but also a couple of standards you can find in any main line high-steeple church. They played one rock and roll song and encouraged us to dance to practice for the party. The announcements for the day included congratulating somebody named only by their initials for celebrating six years of sobriety. The short sermon was based on James 2:1-13 which points out that God doesn’t play favorites. This made me feel better because, by this time I was positive that God loves the poor more than the rich.

By one of those God Incidences I’ve come to enjoy I had heard about a new book that’s out called “The Irresistible Revolution” written by Shane Claiborne. I bought the book immediately after hearing about it. The day the book was delivered I found out Shane is scheduled to speak at Church Under the Bridge on Sept 10. I’m thinking about going to hear him speak. And, of course, to worship God. I just have this feeling God is going to show up. He was probably there the same day we were. Maybe he was the lady in the wheelchair. Maybe he was the old guy who gave us the weather report for the next three days. Or he could have been the lady I danced with. But I’ll just bet he was there.

I hope he was the lady I danced with. I’d like to be able to say I’ve danced with God.

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