Just down-wind from the sewage treatment plant in Port Hueneme, the last fence on the road marks a demolished factory. The concrete pads still roll back from the entrance, and a long brick wall runs perhaps a tenth of a mile, as though trying to hold back the dunes and the sea.
The city council members bitch about the need to force the vagrants out of town, but the owner of the property pays for a chemical toilet and allows the homeless to stay. The leaders of my Monday Bible study group have been coming there for nine months now. With my video blog at Love Returns completed, I’ve joined them the last two Saturday mornings. Camp residents can receive Christian teaching and encouragement, lunch, and as much clothing and food as they can carry.
My role is pretty passive – standing watch to ensure no arguments break out. I’ve not seen evidence of such behavior, but yesterday even less so: Pastor Sammie’s church brought out a service team, and we outnumbered the camp attendees by at least two-to-one. My concern was actually that the wall of men standing at the edge of the pad would be a barrier to the less assertive.
I do my work quietly, offering to the beaten-down couple “Have some food and take some strength of heart as well.” Offering to guard a bicycle and new bedding while the owner was occupied.
But the real heart of the camp was revealed to me at the end of the service. An older woman was carrying an eight-pack of muffins away with her, and I asked if she didn’t need anything else. She said that she was cooking that night, and sure might. She had started with six, and two more heard and asked to come, and then they invited friends and she was expecting as many as sixteen.
“God bless you for your service.”
That struck her. She said that she was good with God, but he was challenging her. There were times, when the guns and violence got out of hand, that she spoke to him with words that weren’t so respectful. She didn’t know if that was allowed.
“That’s just fine. He needs to know what you need.”
She was one of the original camp members, having brought almost her entire neighborhood there. Her fiancé had been a boxer back on the East Coast, and then got mixed up doing work for a couple of crime families. She had seen him change his heart, taking pride in cooking and caring for others. But the doctors had loaded him up on psych meds. That morning, it was almost like he was on heroin, he was so dopey. She was going to call his lawyer and the doctors, because she had been in the industry for forty years, and knew what the proper doses and combinations were, and what they were giving him made no sense. They said that he was a violent man, and needed to be kept sedated, but she knew differently.
Sammie called the prayer circle, and we stood just outside the edge. I rubbed her back gently, asking her heart to soften. With the closing complete, I asked if I could pray for her.
I took her hands and invoked the Father. When clarity had filled the air between us, I prayed that the doctors would have the courage to see her man as she did, and allow him to continue to shine his redeemed light into the camp. I prayed that others would honor her charity and wisdom, and work together to solve their common problems, rather than taking for themselves.
When I finished, she held on, and exclaimed that her angels had been working overtime, and God had sent her me. There was no doubt that I had seen into her life, or that those that troubled her mind would be confronted with her hope. She had faith that the Father had spoken through me.
And as she left, I looked up and realized that the rest of the gathering had been frozen by the power of the love that we had honored between us.