I walked out to the street Friday morning as my family loaded up to head to school. I picked up the paper and found an article at the bottom that got my attention. It began with Mark's name and mentioned how he lived under a tree in Cabazon. That story was all too familiar. I began to read on, with tears in my eyes, that a couple with so much compassion can reach out and touch the homeless and needy in such a way is amazing! You see, my mom has been addicted to drugs & alcohol in her life, as has my father. My father & his girlfriend were homeless, up until 2 weeks ago, when they came to my house and said, "Melissa, we want to thank you for your prayers. We are no longer homeless. We have a home, rent free and the landlord will be paying us to do maintenance on her rentals." I know this article, as I've lived the life through my parents.
Faith in the Pass: Compassion on the street corner
Special to the Record Gazette
Mark lives under a tree in Cabazon. Sometimes he’ll be on a corner, holding a sign that says, “Homeless and ugly. Anything will help.”
After the 10:30 a.m. Sunday service at Legacy Christian Center in Banning, Mark was saying goodbye, Bible in hand, smile on his face, ready to be dropped off by his tree. Hopping on the bus with Pastors Terry Gray and his wife Teri-Lynn, we were off in a whirl of chatter and laughs. Pastor Terry asked Mark, and an ex-homeless couple also aboard, what they thought of the service. He talked to them about God’s changing power, handing out apple juice.
But let’s back up.
Fifteen years ago, Pastor Terry and Teri-Lynn were homeless. Terry was a drug dealer, addict, alcoholic, and his life was on the verge of collapse. He came home one day and his wife was gone, her ring on the counter. She had said, “You’re supposed to be the leader. Where are you leading us?”
Terry clearly recalls this fork in the road and his agony. Would he lose his wife and five children, everything he cared about?
“I cried out to God to save me,” he said. “And he did.”
The drug dealing and addiction stopped immediately, the alcoholism lingered. Eventually that was gone, too. He was so thankful and wanted to give back.
A couple years later, Terry and Teri-Lynn started reaching out to drug addicts and the homeless. They felt it was their calling, their purpose.
Today StreetLife Ministry is a group of 15 workers, who drive around to find local homeless for church. In his three-piece suit, Terry has gotten in the dirt to literally pick up a homeless guy for church. Sometimes he goes into the trees to get them out. Teri-Lynn has equal spunk, and has told many an inebriated soul to “get up, we’re going to church.”
They go to parks, liquor stores and other hangouts where addicts and homeless loiter. They have no words of judgment. They know homeless by name. They hug the dirty and drunk. They cry with them, laugh with them. On Saturdays, they drive around handing out food, clothes and hygiene products. On Sundays they pick up the same people for church.
“If God can turn us around and use us, he can do it for anyone,” said Terry. “We are living examples of what God can do.”
Terry and his wife said they pray for the eyes of Christ, to see people as God sees them. They take Matthew 25:34-40 seriously, helping “the least of these.”
The reward is watching the homeless like Mark change. On the bus Sunday, Mark asked what he could do to get off the streets, and Terry said he’d put resources in his hands. Terry asked Mark if they’ve ever let him down in all these years. “No, no you haven’t,” Mark said.
As we dropped Mark off near his “tree house,” Terry grasped his hand and said, “You’re my brother. You know that, right? I’ll always come for you. If you call, night or day, I’ll always come.”
Mark got off the bus with a smile and wave, joy on his face. He’ll be back for church next week, for sure.
Mary Hilde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Hilde, a graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, has worked for newspapers in Oregon, Minnesota and California. This is the first of a twice-a-month column on faith and values in the Pass. Hilde, a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian, lives in Beaumont with her husband, a school teacher. Share your thoughts and ideas with her by writing to email@example.com.