Discovering Jesus in the Least
In “Discovering Jesus in the Least,” you’ll walk alongside veteran outreach worker, Chris Ramsey, as he uncovers the depths of God’s love not only for the “most overlooked and ignored” folks in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood…but also for himself.
Ramsey welcomes the reader into his world through a wide variety of short, poignant observations amassed over 25 years. What he discovers will undoubtedly challenge you to examine your own views regarding the poor and the homeless of our 21st century American society.
Chris Ramsey’s Blog
Ah, Yeah, I guess that would be me!
I was just walking into our Food Pantry when “Granny Ira” greeted me with “Hey, Chris, you’re my rock star. Now I understand you a lot better.”
I was taken a back for a moment, but then I smiled and said, “Well, thanks, that means a lot to me.”
Now what was that all about? It was simply Granny’s way of sharing with me that she had been reading my book and she had recently finished a segment entitled, “The Rock Concert.”
And now I invite you to check this short piece written so long ago…. but still applies to how I try to view and carry out my work even to this day.
The Rock Concert
I always wanted to be rock star. I grew up (like so many my age) loving the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Led Zeppelin. I was the kind of guy who would jump around and lip sync in front of the mirror. (I still do it now and then.)
Well, I’d just like to you to know that I finally made it. I’ve just become a rock star of a different kind. I now realize that our dinner guest meals are a type of performance.
Before each dinner guest time, we’re busy setting up tables and chairs, bringing out food, utensils, bowls, plates, getting the drinks ready, cutting up bread, looking for back-up food. It’s like we’re setting up for a concert. Everything needs to be in place and ready for when we come out on stage.
Once everything is mostly set-up, we usually take a break and eat lunch ourselves. I try to relax a bit, read the paper, offer a few prayers. This is my way of preparing for the “concert” to come.
When I walk out of my office to oversee the final phases of our set-up I feel a little nervous tension. I know that in about a half-hour’s time we’ll be opening up the doors, and there will be about 200 hungry people—my fans!—filing in, expecting a decent meal.
At present, a majority of the food is cooked at our JPUSA community site (aka the Friendly Towers) about three blocks away. One of our drivers must transport the food to our CCO serving location. We at CCO are also heating up what I call our “back-up” food.
Meanwhile, whatever volunteers God has assembled on any given day are finishing up the cutting of the bread, putting out margarine on the tables, making the drinks, and doing any necessary clean-up. (Our CCO women and children, those who stay at our shelter, have just finished their lunch.)
When the food arrives we open the doors so folks can start making their way in. We spread the food out on our serving tables, and place each volunteer behind the food item they will be serving. The line begins to form, and quickly curls throughout our entire dining area.
When everything is set I ask for everyone’s attention so that I can read a verse or two, and then offer about a one-minute sermonette. Many times I introduce our dinner guests to the volunteer church group (if there is one), and encourage them to talk to each other. I finish with a brief prayer asking for strength and guidance for everyone, as well as giving thanks to God for the food he has provided.
Now the curtain has drawn, and the show is ready to begin. Our guests gather their trays and begin working their way down the serving line ending at our drink table. From then on, I’m almost constantly on the move— prancing around on my stage.
I’m talking and joking with my friends. I’m getting hygiene kits for needy individuals. I’m checking our “back-up” food in the kitchen. I’m making sure everything is “flowing well” on our serving line.
I might be checking for some clothes in our back free store. Or I might have to “settle down” a couple of guys who are threatening each other. (If anyone gets too out of control they are asked to leave. By God’s grace, most do willingly, but some have to be escorted. Many times the guests who are near-by will assist me if the particular situation warrants their intervention.)
Or I might be offering a tip to any one of our volunteers on how to serve in the most efficient manner. I’m like a coach who is trying to get the most out of his team.
Our afternoon soup-kitchen’s hours are 1:30PM-3:00PM. When it is nearing closing time, I begin directing the clean-up process. The tables are cleared, wiped off, broken down and stacked. The chairs are stacked and pushed along the wall. The pans are collected and taken to the dish room. The garbage is “escorted” to the dumpsters. The f loors are swept and mopped.
And in the midst of all this, our last guests—some of my most adoring fans—are slowly making their way out the door. They might be talking with our volunteers or joking with their friends. They might be waiting to ask me for an extra sandwich or two to take with them.
When our final guest has exited, our “show” is done, and I can begin to unwind. Now I haven’t been asked for any autographs, but I have been thanked for putting on a pretty good show quite often.
To God be the glory! And to his supporting cast that he assembles each and every show-time.
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2 Non-profits Do a Great Job!
I’m visiting my son, Jonathan, and his wife, Ola, and their daughter Frania in Warsaw, Poland… and we’re having a great time.
And during our visit I had heard that there was this group called “Warsaw Seva” that served a hot, vegetarian meal to the homeless in the main plaza in central downtown Warsaw, right below the Palace of Culture, each and every Sunday afternoon, so I was interested in observing and volunteering where I could. So I headed on downtown, a little earlier than the serving time began and ran into a few folks who were friendly and talkative.
First, I ran into Barbara and Barjena.
Barbara was quick to explain her view of the whole homeless situation in Warsaw. “They come from all over Poland,” she said. “When you’re out of work and you have no family to help you, it’s very hard.”
I then asked where they sleep at night? “Oh, sometimes we sleep under the Palace of Culture… sometimes in the park, ” she said. And then I asked if the police ever demanded that they “move on?”
She replied, “Sometimes they do… and sometimes they don’t.”
A little while later I ran into Mark and Wanda. They told me that they were from Moldova, and that they had been in Warsaw for the last 2 weeks looking for work. But they had had no such luck. And they said they were headed back to their homeland the next day. They were disappointed, but not discouraged. I then asked them if they had a faith in God. “Oh yes, God helps us all the time,” she said.
A while later, I noticed the Warsaw Seva folks were setting up shop. And I also observed the long line of “hungry” folks beginning to form, and waiting patiently until the food was ready to be served.
I went over to ask the “head server” if there was any way to volunteer my services. He quickly responded, “You want to help? Follow me. I will show what to do.”
He then brought me over to where “the drinks” were being distributed. He then filled a pitcher of “gatorade” and grabbed a small stack of paper cups, and handed them to me. “Now, you just go down the line and give anyone who wants a drink a cupful,” he said. And so I was off and running (walking), eager to play a small part in their service to the homeless. Though I don’t know hardly any Polish, I was warmly received by most folks.
And then just as Warsaw Seva folks were winding down, another group, entitled “Smile Warsaw” began to set up “shop” about 50 yards away from where Warsaw Seva had been serving. Smile Warsaw, I soon learned, was a group of ex-pats from so many different countries, religions, and worldviews. The one thing that bound them together was a united sense of the need for caring for those less fortunate.
This group was able to offer more services such as free clothing, free haircuts, a hot meal, minor medical services, and even someone to “cut nails.” The way I would describe these folks and their “gifts” to the homeless would be that… “These folks really just loved “loving on people.”
So I had a great time mingling and talking (where I could!) and observing both of these groups reaching out to Warsaw’s homeless in very simple, but practical ways.
Toward the end of my time, I ran into Gregory, who didn’t want his picture to be taken. We talked for a bit, when I inquired if he had ever “tried” God out?
He looked at me with a wry smile and said, “I don’t want to try sex with men, and I don’t want to try God.” He went on to explain that “God” is just not for him. He said his mother was a believer and a few of his friends but that “God” is not for me.”
I told him that I would pray for him. And he smiled, once again, and said, “If you want to pray for me, you can. Who knows, maybe sometime in the future “God” will be for me.”
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