Union Rescue Mission.

It was a day filled with humbling and reflection.  I woke up at 7 am (on a weekend – that’s gotta be a record) to go train at Checkmat La Habra at 8 am, and I began my day with some good old butt-kicking.  And by butt-kicking, I mean my butt was being kicked (figuratively, because it’s a grappling sport) by pretty much every training partner I sparred with.  However, I’m grateful to my teammates for teaching me things here and there to help me improve my game; they really do a good job of making me feel like we’re not fighting with one another, but fighting for one another.  After six or seven sparring sessions, I rushed home, showered, and raced off to Union Rescue Mission.

When I got there – in a surprisingly quick twenty-eight minutes – I immediately began noticing the streets were more and more populated with the homeless, and I began to realize that this wasn’t just some walk-in-the-park, go-home-and-never-think-about-it-again type of outreach event.  There are actually lives that are depending on URM to get by day to day.  I saw Andrew in the underground parking, and we eventually found our way to the kitchen (after much confusion about where the other folks were and where we were actually serving), and we began to put on our gloves, hairnets, and aprons.  The first thing we were asked to do was to remove bags of taco meat or enchilada meat from steaming water and empty out the contents into metal trays.  Bag after bag was dumped in as we were helped by a resident whom we’ll call Denny (just in case there are legal issues with putting his real name).  Denny told us about how he enrolled himself in the rehab program at URM and said that they were giving him really good help with it, suggesting that if we knew anyone who needed help with addiction, this was a good place to bring them; I let him know that we didn’t know anyone who’d need the service at the moment.  Eventually, we looked up and saw the others had arrived, and we said hi to them.  Once we finished emptying the meat into the trays, they had us crack eggs into buckets, and Daniel and Andrew and I joked around a little as we were doing so – they’d later use the eggs for fried rice.  After that, I left Andrew and Daniel and went over to Denny to ask him if I could help with anything, and we got to making pizzas that they would be serving the next day.  I mainly sprinkled the beef sausage on top of the pizzas, and then Denny would pass me another pizza to cover – we must have made about fifty pizzas that were to be frozen before we were finished! Once the pizzas were taken care of, one of the main chefs motioned for me to ask another chef how I could help, and I found myself deep frying potstickers.  He demonstrated once, gave me some tips on how to know when to remove them and how to alternate sides of the deep fryer, and then he left for a little bit.  When he came back, he said, “You already got the hang of it!” and I laughed, thinking, “This is practically in my blood.”  I kept frying up potstickers until 1 pm, which was when our break started.

During break, Daniel, Alan, and Caleb found a basketball court, so naturally, we all got to hooping.  After a while, some of the residents at the URM center came in, and we got some three-on-threes going.  Daniel, Alan, and a resident we’ll call Russ were on one team, and Andrew, a resident we’ll call Kenyon, and I were on the other.  It was nice because we didn’t really have a chance to interact with the people being served by URM from the kitchen, and so even just being united by “ball is life” was an opportunity to learn about them a little bit and to just spend time with them.  We didn’t keep count, but Russ definitely torched our team.

After the break, we got back to the kitchen, and Alan, Daniel, and I were asked to shovel some chicken fried rice into metal trays which would be used for dinner.  Eventually, we plastic-wrapped the containers and then put a sheet of foil on top to keep them warm for dinner.  From here, I went back to opening up bags of enchilada meat, and Daniel and Alan were helping to wrap up enchiladas and label them.  When the clock hit the three o’ clock mark, we left.

What I realized from my time at URM was how casually it could all be done, and how frequently I had to be mindful of how I approached serving the homeless.  It almost seemed too brutal to make it a one-and-done situation, and I have a strong desire to come back next week or another week and continue serving and building relationships with the people working in the kitchen.  In a place where we’re directly serving the homeless, it’s difficult to continue philosophizing about reasons why they’re homeless or making sure that the theology was right as we walked past verses posted on the walls – being in such direct service demands a complete focus on producing a thoughtfully prepared product and a complete removal of self.  I saw how much less privileged people on Skid Row were than me, and in serving at URM, I found that there was very little thought spared for myself and my own comfort – there’s just really no space for it.  When we serve out of the overflow of knowing God’s goodness in our lives, whatever pride or success or self-approval that might come in the way completely disappears because, in contrast with the hardships our neighbors have to endure, there’s no longer any value left in those things; in the meantime, compassion reigns.  Matthew 25:35-40 came to mind, which reads: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”  

There’s still so much to be done, and yes, we can sit back and ponder (usually judgmentally and with little compassion) how the homeless got into the situations that they’re in.  However, there’s far more to be learned just by serving them and investing bit by bit in their lives.

This song was playing as I was driving to URM, and I think it’s fitting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TCh31xg4vA


SAD Days, Mayne.

Tonight, I’d like to say that sisters of AACF, we really appreciate you.  Coming from me personally, I don’t think I’ll ever be that good at showing it because 1) I troll hard, 2) I am master of abhorring physical touch other than high fives or fist bumps, 3) it’s hard to really find the words to say sometimes when you show how precious you all are as members of the Body.  I really hope that today was a blessed day for you all, because all of the brothers here at AACF did put their hearts on their sleeves all day today; however, we didn’t merely provide rides, food, laughs, and hopefully memories, for nothing.  We all understand how blessed we all are to have sisters as unique, caring, sympathetic, encouraging, steadfast, faithful, hopeful, and Christ-centered as you.  We know that maybe at times, we might be awkwardly bromantic, and forget to really show our gratitude and simple appreciation of your very presences, but I guess today’s the day that we get to at least try and let you know that we’re not just a bunch of goons, goofing off willy-nilly.  It’s always cool to think about the fact that you sisters do really help your brothers grow in our faiths more by who you are and what you do, without needing the verbosity that I tend to have in my writing.  Personally, I struggle with showing grace, and I guess I’ve found myself constantly shaking my head, somewhat in frustration towards my own lack of grace, but more so in awe of how effortless you make it seem.  It’s really a gift of God that you all are the way you are, and I guess if you remember anything from tonight, may it be that God has made us as family with Christ as our head, and that all of the acts of appreciation and love that you all felt, it came from Christ first.  The theme verse last year (1 John 4:19) says we love because He first loved us.  And I guess I just wanted to continue pointing you sisters to Him and encouraging you to discover how much God appreciates you each day because your earthly brothers can only muster up one day to really be able to go all out for you.

Secondly, I’d like to thank my kitchen staff a bunch.  You know who you are.  It was so awesome to see all of you step up to the occasion, work together to create solutions, and really be able to keep it lighthearted in the kitchen.  Sisters, if you were to see these guys at work…man.  It wouldn’t even matter if your love language was the furthest away from acts of service; the way my brothers serving came together was really God’s mercy and God’s grace.  From the actual kitchen staff to the brothers serving as waiters, I’m real proud of how we all were able to keep a steady composure about us, perhaps showcasing our subtle faith that God would provide us with the way to appreciate our sisters.  For the people I somewhat threw out of the kitchen, I hope you know that there are no hard feelings, it just was necessary to keep the train going.  And what a ride it was.  If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t have changed my staff one bit, and I’m grateful that God put it in your hearts to step up and serve your sisters so that they might experience the love you have for all of them.

Finally, it’s got to go back to God.  I mean, the very fact that I’m serving at this fellowship alone was determined by God, and the fact that all of us were here, at UCSB, at this time, was all appointed by God way before.  His sovereignty in putting us all in each others’ lives is something we should all reflect on and rejoice in.  In our lives, may the actions we do, the words we speak, the thoughts we bear into existence bring glory to God, for who else is as deserving as He?  God loved us, and from that love, I really do feel like we learn to love one another.  I mean, to see how much some of us in the fellowship have changed since entering it should be testament enough to God’s amazing plan for us.  None of us is perfect to be sure, but we are all being sanctified, and conforming slowly into His image.  To God be the glory forever and ever, amen.