A New Direction
Eating at the soup kitchen, I was getting to know some people who were living in the streets. I had not thought much about homelessness before, but now I was curious to learn how to live outdoors in the city. I was sleeping at my mom’s in the meanwhile, so I made up a bedroll and headed to the woods. I could not believe how cold it was at night, although it was summer time and I had a blanket, I shivered all night. It is no wonder, I thought, that so many people die in the streets. In fact, the news had been reporting record deaths among the homeless that year. I caught sight of a newspaper that listed the count of deaths in the street and another article on the same page showing the police tearing down camps and hauling off the belongings. It was not hard to see the correlation of taking the tents and blankets from the very people who were dying at record rates. I began to wonder what could be done. Remembering the writing of James, “Faith without works is dead,” and the words of the prophet, “The direction you seek is in the book of James,” I decided to look into the matter further.
I headed down to the mayor’s office to talk to him about the situation. I was told that I would have to put in a request to meet with him, which I did, and was denied. I spoke to everyone in his office who would talk with me, and although everyone seemed concerned, they all agreed that the law must be followed and that these people were in violation of the law. Further, they said, the law is not easy to change and everything takes time. Not seeing any hope of help from the mayor’s office, I then approached some of the largest churches in Anchorage, including Abbot Loop, where I attended. I asked them to help to provide a place for people to camp so that they would not have to risk losing their gear. Again, I was met with all the reasons why that was not possible.
Finally after several weeks of talking with Josh Tanner, the pastor of Abbott Loop, with no headway, and asking God repeatedly for direction, I had an idea. With the help of a friend, I gathered a tent and some basic gear, which I brought to church with me that Sunday. I waited until after the service and approached Josh. He had preached a heartfelt message about David and Goliath, how one young man had taken on the giant. When I told him that I had a solution, that the homeless should camp in the parking lot where they could be reachable for ministry, and that I brought a tent and would be the first to set camp, he said, “You’re like David.” He gave me his blessing, saying, “Go for it.” Well apparently the idea did not go over well with others involved in this kind of decision, because it was not too long before Josh came back to where I had set camp, informing me that I must go.
At that point I did not know what to do. Buying some time, I began asking God for direction. Finally seeing no other option, I stepped off the property having a seat at the intersection in front of the church building. I continued sitting there; I did not know what to do. After several hours, a police officer stopped to see if everything was ok. I expressed my concerns for the homeless and told him of the events bringing me to the corner. He told me that it was ok for me to sit there as long as I wanted but just not to block traffic. He then got on his radio and informed dispatch that I was “protesting”. Later that night another police officer stopped at the corner, telling me that I could not be sitting there. I informed him that I was “protesting”, he was not dissuaded. Disappearing back inside of his squad car, I could hear him calling in to report to dispatch. When he told the lady that I was refusing to leave, I heard her respond that I was protesting, followed by a long pause. The next thing I heard was the sound of his squealing tires and he spun out leaving rubber as he left. I had discovered the magic word; I was “protesting”.
I continued sitting there, never leaving that spot for the next seven days. During that time, a lot of people stopped to ask me if I was ok, or why I was sitting there. It gave me a chance to express the need for more to be done to protect the lives of those at risk in the street. Some people suggested that I should hold a sign so that people would know why I was sitting there, but I could not think of just what to write, and it turned out that since I did not have a sign, many people stopped to ask me directly why I was sitting there. There was some mention of my protest in the newspaper and some discussion on the radio. As a result, some workers from different organizations came to see me. One of whom was the director of the homeless shelter, and she was none too pleased with me, feeling that I had insinuated that their efforts were lacking. However, to the contrary, I was calling for more people to take action. She handed me her business card, and then her attention was drawn to something on the sidewalk, her tone suddenly softening. It was another business card, identical to the one she had just handed me, However, that one had a bicycle track across it, having somehow proceeded her arrival.
I was really taken back by the acts of compassion that I experienced on the corner. Someone brought me a lawn chair with a foam pad, blankets were dropped off, and people continued to check on me the whole week I was there, one lady making regular trips to dry my blankets when the weather turned wet. There was a steady stream of hot food and coffee, which I appreciated the loving action, but since I was fasting, I declined the food and poured the hot beverages into a plastic bottle that I put under my blanket to help warm me. I had stated that I would not eat food or drink water until the church opened their parking lot to the homeless, a promise that I would break after seven days. The last night of my fast, a moist fog rolled in, I had lost a considerable amount of weight and my whole body was so dry that breathing in the moist air was the most amazing feeling of relief and comfort. I had started my fast a couple of days before arriving on the corner, so I broke fast slowly over the last two days drinking organic whole milk that my mother brought me.
Feeling defeated and wrung out, I returned to my mom’s house to recoup. Coming out of the shower, I was surprised to be met by two police officers. Being concerned for my wellbeing, no doubt not understanding my actions and fearing I may not survive such an extreme fast without water, a family member had made a report for intervention. Although already home, and no longer fasting, the ball was now rolling and the police took me to Alaska Psychiatric Institute to be monitored and evaluated for mental health. I was released after the mandatory hold, given a clean bill of health. They said I was mentally sound, however, perhaps a little overambitious.
Returning to church one Sunday, I found myself face to face with John Beier, one of the appointed elders. Not knowing what to say, I was relieved when he spoke. “Are you still looking for work?”, he asked. Well, the fact was that I was not looking for work, but I was seeking God for direction, and not wanting to miss the path that he had for me, I answered, “I can work.”, to which he told me to report to his auto body shop first thing Monday morning. Working for John was a wonderful experience. I had never seen anyone so bold for the kingdom of God, and I was blessed with the opportunity to emulate the example and began to walk in boldness myself. I moved onto his property, renting a small cabin, and could have continued there being content with my new job, if not for my concerns for the unchanged homeless situation. Winter was coming around and a year had passed since my first protest. I decided to go back to the corner in front of Abbott Loop church to raise awareness, and I would spend that time fasting and seeking God for direction. The following week went much like that of the previous year. A lot of people were stopping to show their support. I was again taken back by the generosity of those who would bring hot food and coffee. This year I simply thanked the people for the food, not mentioning that I was fasting. I then would set the food aside for a friend who was checking on me daily.
By the end of the week, still not having an answer for direction, the same police officer who had first approached me the previous year stopped by. He asked me what I was doing back, to which I told him that I was hoping to find a solution for homeless campers. At that time, he informed me that the courts had ordered the halt of the removal of camps until certain issues could be addressed, and he told me that in the meantime I could pitch a tent in the middle of the park and there was nothing anyone could do. It was the last hour of the last day of my fast and God had given me the direction I was seeking. I would set up a tent and welcome anyone in need. I said a simple prayer, telling God that I would set up a tent if he would provide it, and adding to that prayer, I continued… “and a wood stove.”
Back at work, I informed John Beier of my plans. Without hesitation, he told me that he had a tent for me. It was a 10ft x 14ft insulated tent with an 8ft ceiling. It was the type you would expect for a base camp at an Arctic expedition, heavy duty with a steel frame. It was brand new and had never even been set up, and now it was mine. God was answering my prayers. I was loading up the tent when a neighbor stopped to see what I was up to. Telling him my intention to erect it in the park, he asked me how I was going to heat it. Telling him that I did not know, he asked me to wait there and he went home, returning with a wood stove. It was brand new, still in the box, and just the right size for the tent I had acquired.
I had told God that I would set up a tent if he provided it; my only request was a wood stove. He provided both.