Friday, December 16, 2011

Love is the reason for the season

12/14/11 Chatterbox        
Betty Kaiser

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35

Shortly after we moved to Oregon I began hearing about the Eugene Mission. This organization practices what the above scripture preaches—the Mission is love in action.  A small donation one year at Thanksgiving put me on their monthly newsletter list and I quickly gained respect for a place that really does respect, feed, clothe and shelter homeless men and women (and now their children).

This May, several ladies in my Bible Study Group (mostly from C.G. Presbyterian Church) were welcomed on a tour of the Mission. I am happy to report that none of us were disappointed with the quality of the ministry that we witnessed. In fact, I don’t know what I was expecting but I’ll tell you this—the reality of their loving care far exceeded my expectations.

On any given night the Mission has about 400 guests sleeping on the premises in warm comfort. About 200 use the day services that are available. All of this started over 50 years ago by a band of men who just wanted to love their neighbors as themselves—specifically the homeless population. They had faith but only $5 in the bank and no property or buildings. That changed.

Longtime director Ernie Unger and his praying board saw the ministry grow exponentially over the decades. This May he handed over an established work with a dozen buildings, nearly 7 acres of land, a staff of 20 and a bank account based on contributions and other income to Executive director Jack Tripp.

My notes from that visit fill me with awe. It’s like a small city—busy and bustling with hope. It’s a place where people come as a last resort. They’re out of money, they have no place to go and they certainly have nothing to eat or anywhere to sleep. But they’re in the right place. Food, Bed, Gospel and Restoration has been the mission’s mantra for over 50 years.

So on this cold December day, I’d like to share with you a few snippets of things that I saw and learned that warmed my heart.

All of the homeless guests that come into the Mission are hurting in some way. Some lost their jobs and homes in the economic turndown; some are newly divorced or their spouse has died; others suffer from lack of direction and addictions. All need hope and love.

Some of the Mission employees have lived on the streets and they know the dynamics of homelessness. They can relate to the need. Or, as our guide Lloyd said, “Basically, we just love them.” He also said that most guests come by word of mouth: “I’ve been down there. They’re good people. They will help.”

One of the Mission’s largest sources of revenue is picking up and recycling newspapers from collection boxes. The original 1954 Chevy pickup that started this project is proudly on display. Today seven large trucks pick up 3,000 to 4,000 tons of paper per month. Men participating in a rehab program tie them in bundles along with recycled mail, books and magazines and they are sent to Portland in a 40-foot semi-truck.

After three nights, a bed ticket for men costs $2 or they can work in lieu of payment. Lloyd stressed that most men don’t want a free ride. They want to help and do something. Individuals will be barred from the mission for repeated drinking or drugs. They are asked to leave for seven days to get their act together and then return.

The men’s Day Room was very impressive. The guests can read a book, play a game, receive mail, get a haircut, do laundry, take a shower or come and go as they please until evening. It was a nice place. But the expression of fear and hopelessness on faces was palpable. I wanted to give them a hug and say, “It’s going to be alright” but I didn’t know that.

Single women and women with children are the fastest growing numbers in the homeless population. At the Mission, these populations are separate from the men’s area. The women’s center is a 100-bed facility and has welcomed ladies up to 86 years of age.

Denise guided us through the women and children’s area. When the mission started welcoming children they soon learned the depth of hurt that children suffered with loss of home, pets, school and dad. Each child is assigned their very own set of pajamas, quilt/blanket and stuffed toy to take to bed with them and when they move on.

Residency at the Mission is 60 days. The first three nights are free or after that (for the women) a five minute chore around the building. The rooms are warm and homey. Not sterile and institutional. While they are there, Social Services tries to get them into housing and moms are encouraged to get their GED at Lane Community College.

And if you’re a quilter you’ll be happy to know that fresh, hand-made quilts adorn every bed—men’s, women’s and children.

The kitchen was an impressive place. Seventeen men on the Rehabilitation Program prep meals and clean up. The chef presides over four ovens, two grills, two French fryers and a 60-gallon soup pot. The day we were there he was serving lunch to about 150 transient men—vegetarian soup, rolls and ice cream (all donated).

There are rules: can’t leave the property after 5 p.m.; bedtime is 9 p.m. And the Mission openly shares the love of Jesus Christ in nightly services put on by local churches. The Mission newsletters are full of the good news that turning to God has changed lives.

The “Mission News” writes that this Christmas their guests will enjoy “a delicious homemade dinner, a hot shower, a change of clothing, a warm dry bed, a special gift package and the Love of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that, my friends, is love—the reason for the season.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart 
and is published in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Old-fashioned Thanksgiving Poems

11/23/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

I have always loved the traditional songs and stories of Thanksgiving.  As a child, I remember being fascinated with the Pilgrims who crossed the stormy seas seeking religious tolerance. They landed at Plymouth Rock in December 1620 and would not have survived that first year without help from the Native Americans who taught them necessary survival skills: how to plant Indian corn and wheat; how to use fish as manure to grow crops plus hunting and fishing skills.

The following year, the first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, after a harsh winter. Governor William Bradford, in gratitude for the harvest reaped by the Plymouth Colony, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. In turn, the colonists invited the Wampanoag Indians who, it is believed, brought the majority of the food for the feast.

It’s been nearly 400 years since that first Thanksgiving but we are still gathering together and giving thanks for the harvest and the privilege to live in freedom. This quintessential American holiday is embodied in song, poetry and prose that speaks to our hearts and reminds us of our many blessings.

Today I’m sharing two poems in the Thanksgiving spirit. The first is by Indiana’s famous poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Riley (in a Hoosier dialect) liked to praise what he called the “olden, golden glory of the days gone by.” His poem and “The Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving” by the prolific poet Edgar-Albert Guest would make good reading for all ages at tomorrow’s dinner table.

Happy Thanksgiving—to one and all!

James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)

WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
and the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then's the times a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
 With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here--
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock--
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries--kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below--the clover over-head!--
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin' 's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! ...
I don't know how to tell it--but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me--
I'd want to 'commodate 'em--all the whole-indurin' flock--
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!

Edgar Albert Guest, (1881-1959)

It may be I am getting old and like too much to dwell
Upon the days of bygone years, the days I loved so well;
But thinking of them now I wish somehow that I could know
A simple old Thanksgiving Day, like those of long ago,
When all the family gathered round a table richly spread,
With little Jamie at the foot and grandpa at the head,
The youngest of us all to greet the oldest with a smile,
With mother running in and out and laughing all the while.

It may be I'm old-fashioned, but it seems to me to-day
We're too much bent on having fun to take the time to pray;
Each little family grows up with fashions of its own;
It lives within a world itself and wants to be alone.
It has its special pleasures, its circle, too, of friends;
There are no get-together days; each one his journey wends,
Pursuing what he likes the best in his particular way,
Letting the others do the same upon Thanksgiving Day.

I like the olden way the best, when relatives were glad
To meet the way they used to do when I was but a lad;
The old home was a rendezvous for all our kith and kin,
And whether living far or near they all came trooping in
With shouts of "Hello, daddy!" as they fairly stormed the place
And made a rush for mother, who would stop to wipe her face
Upon her gingham apron before she kissed them all,
Hugging them proudly to her breast, the grownups and the small.

Then laughter rang throughout the home…
All afternoon we chatted, telling what we hoped to do,
The struggles we were making and the hardships we'd gone through;
We gathered round the fireside. How fast the hours would fly—
It seemed before we'd settled down 'twas time to say good-bye.
Those were the glad Thanksgivings, the old-time families knew
When relatives could still be friends and every heart was true.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.