Fruit Packer Evangelism

This is a story of how God breaks down stereotypes, restores faith in humanity and gives you what you need.

Recently I had an early flight out from a conference in Portland, OR. I was taking the cities public transit (light rail) to the airport. The stop was an above-ground, outdoor platform across the street from my hotel, which was in a slightly gritty part of town. I found myself at 4:45 am, in this mostly dark and quiet place, at the automated ticketing booth failing to get the machine to print the ticket for me. As I am sitting there waving my credit card around with one hand and clutching my luggage with the other in frustration (an obvious tourist), this young disheveled man comes up from behind me. I was already nervous at being out that early and now my fear meter started going off the charts. I assumed that he was going to mug me. I new I wasn’t being rational so I pretended nothing was wrong

The young man saw thru my ruse, walked right up to me and…. helped me get my ticket. Apparently I don’t speak Portlandese and missed the “print here” button. He was kind and polite and made some joke about how the machine even confused him sometimes. My fear meter dropped significantly, enough so that I could get a good look at him. He had messy dirty hair, dirty clothes, old sneakers but a nice pair of headphones. Now my stereotyping judging side kicked in. I assumed the guy was one of those drug addicted urban campers (as my brother-in-law calls homeless people) and was buttering me up to ask for money. Oh, I like to help people in need just not at 4:45 am in a strange town (very Christian I know).

He started a conversation with me. We talked about Star Wars for a little while. For those of you in the know apparently the newest movie is terrible because it rewrites years of Star Wars lore. Though I liked the movie I pretended to agree with this guy, I really didn’t want to be in the conversation. No request for money ever came by the way. He finally asked what I was doing in Portland. When I told him I was here for a church conference he revealed to me that he was a preachers kid, but not one of the good ones because he had run afoul of the law. This was the first chip in my well-laid wall of protection and separation. A wall I too often find myself behind. I started, well sort of started, to see him as more than the homeless kid/young adult stereotype with which I had labeled him.

We then started talking about the bible. He very excitedly explained to me that dragons were real and proved by the bible as evidenced by the leviathan. It is amazing how fast my walls can go back up. Now I was thinking, not only is this dude homeless, he is several cards shy of a full deck! I hadn’t had the best time the night before and was down on myself because I perceived some of my work to be lower quality than I demand of myself. So, now I was feeling beat up upon, not only do I feel cruddy but I also have to deal with a crazy guy. Thanks God. I was hoping that the train would show up real soon. No luck.

At about this time a second person showed up at the train station. He looked slightly more put together and seemed to know the first guy I was talking to. They ended up introducing themselves and I learned that the first guy I had been talking to was named Jason. Jason began telling us his favorite story in the bible, “Job.” We ended up having a long conversation that lasted onto the train and all the way to their stop. We talked about how power and money corrupts and the true message Jesus was trying to share with the world. This was God’s one two punch to my wall of protection and separation, these guys were speaking my language and my walls crumbled.

Both of these guys were very spiritual and religious. They talked about having to give, in order to receive, but not give in a way that you expect something in return. The second guy talked about how his faith saved him from alcoholism and how he now “focuses on the man upstairs and not money.” We talked about having to live in the world but not be of it. We even discussed gay marriage and both of these guys expressed that they had no right to judge anyone.

It turns out Jason was not a crook, not homeless and not mentally ill. Jason and this other guy were just getting off the graveyard shift from a fruit packing company. They were dirty and tired from work yet they had no problem helping a stranger and sharing their faith and their love for God. The second guy was on his way to church and Jason was at the start of his three-hour commute home.

Upon reflecting on this afterwards I was reminded of the poor widow and her two copper coins. I was so caught up in protecting myself, like the rich only putting money in from their excess, that I almost missed God’s grace unfolding in front of me. I was mired in self-pity and God drew me out of it with an energizing and life giving conversation. I was afraid and God turned that upside down by showing me the kindness of others. I was judgmental and God reminded me of the complexity of every human person. God gave me just what I needed that morning, some good old fruit packer evangelism. Thanks God.

Julien Goulet, Assistant to Communications and Administration, the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

“That’s God’s Work Right There” A One Church Story

Donny began “How you all doing today? Who has something they’re sorry for today?” And there it was.

The Holy Spirit was in the house. It was palpable. I just didn’t know it yet.

2015-09-12 17.41.28A little earlier on that chilly, wet afternoon, I parked the car and found my way up the stairway marked with yellow. It was oddly quiet inside. Finding our way through the back hall into the kitchen, my 2 friends and I discovered folks standing around a prep table donned in hairnets and aprons. They looked ready. But no one was doing anything just yet. I needed to get started.

One of my responses to nervousness is to let my tasky side take over. And unexpectedly, I was pretty nervous the afternoon I went to the Erie City Mission to participate in the first joint venture between St. Marks and St. Stephens for a Saturday dinner. I did not know the people from St. Marks well. I had never been to the Erie City Mission (ECM). And I had never worked in a commercial kitchen. So though I was excited about this outreach, I was antsy, too.

We spent a few moments in introductions and then the work got underway. A few plated desserts. Some sliced buns for the barbecue. Others rolled the silverware and napkins. Shortly, the amazing Jackie Krukowski arrived. She leads the kitchen efforts at ECM. The buzz in the kitchen grew. We were all eager to be a part of this ministry. With initiative, teamwork and Jackie’s supervision, we were ready to serve with time to spare.

I had volunteered to lead the blessing. You might think that was the source of my nerves, but it was really a very small factor. I’m a big ham. Donny, the greeter and coordinator out front, prepped me. He would talk first then I would start the prayers. To be honest, I was glad to have a warm-up act.

That’s when Donny began with his “How you all doing today? Who has something they’re sorry for today?” And I felt the Holy Spirit.

Every person in that cafeteria looked tired– a bit worn by life. Most of them were in jackets, wet from hoofing it in the cold rain. All but one of them were men. The singular young woman raised her hand to answer Donny’s question. She could not have been 20 years old. She started slowly.   She said how sorry she was for how she had hurt her family, particularly her father. She described her circumstances, which included drug use, the preterm loss of a child and homelessness. She was in so much pain that she couldn’t stop talking. I was unsure of how to move us along. Donny, at the ready, approached me and said “Can you go with her into another room? Can you spend some time with her? Listen?”

All I could think was “I don’t know what to say.” But wait. She needed someone to listen. I had to lead the prayer, so I turned to another volunteer and said “Can you go sit with her? Spend some time listening?” Her response told me that she was not a social worker, counselor or clergy. In fact, none of us were. But we could all listen. She said yes and Jackie showed them to a room where they could talk.

We said our prayers, then Donny organized the tray line. We began serving and, in no time, needed to start the dishes. The guests were so kind and gracious. One guest told me about a place where the young woman might find help. I shared it with Jackie, and she marched off with purpose. Another said, “How can that father turn his back on that girl? I have 2 daughters and I would do anything for them.” He winced and walked away with tears in his eyes.

Finally there was a break for Jackie and she asked me what was going on with that young girl. She had missed the opening. I briefly told her what had happened. And in a flash she responded with “That’s God’s work right there.” That’s when I knew it. That’s when I understood the palpable change in the air from earlier.

2015-09-12 15.13.01We were a group of people from 2 churches. We just wanted to do some outreach. We knew that the ECM still had some Saturdays where they needed meals. We came together not knowing much about each other. We laughed. We enjoyed each other. We got the work done. I’m guessing nobody expected the experience with that young woman. But I am pretty sure it’s safe to say that when we left, we knew it was God’s work. We had been given a chance to help a few folks feel better for a few hours. Lucky us.

I am a lowly student of human behavior. I continue to search for my path in life and what God’s plan is for me. And there is so much I do not know. But I believe that on that day we were each agents of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe that is what the nervousness was about.

Danielle Bane, St. Stephen’s, Fairview