Coffee, Camps, and the Kingdom of God
Early Wednesday morning this week, we got up and went out on the streets of Portland to bring coffee, hot chocolate, and some simple snacks to our friends. This has been something we have done at HOMEpdx for a while. In most of the places our friends outside sleep, they get woken up around 7 am by the police, and told to get up and get moving. Even though some of the officers are nice about it, it is still not a fun wake up call (and not all of the officers are nice). So bringing coffee as they are waking up is a small way we can bless those sleeping outside as they wake up.
It was cold as we headed out with our supplies, colder than it has been since last Spring. With gloves, hats, and coats around us, Bruce and I headed up to a camp we knew about, with some folks Bruce had connected with the day before. Our friends inviting us to their camp takes some degree of trust. After all, this is their home. And while we are on the streets of Portland, and especially when we are at someones camp, we are guests.
So as guests this morning, we found their tent and gave them some hot coffee and food. But we didn’t just give them coffee and some food. We stayed for a while and talked. As we did so, I saw some beautiful things.
I saw hospitality. Here was a group of people that invited the two of us to their homes. They introduced us to their neighbors, who we also shared coffee and stories with. They were so welcoming to us, as two people who slept indoors the previous night. It was just a patch of sidewalk, but I felt blessed to be invited to stand their, and thankful for my new friends.
I saw community. I saw people who knew each other and stood up for each other. As we were talking with our friends, another neighbor came up and wanted to know if our friend had any pants, as he had torn a huge hole in the ones he had. Our friend said all he had were rain pants, but he could have those. Here was someone whose possessions could all fit inside a tent willing to help his neighbor. How many of us even know all our neighbors names? I am always amazed by the beauty of community I see amongst my friends living outside. I am pretty sure churches desiring to do community well could learn a lot from my friends.
And I saw something beautiful in myself. I saw myself forget where I was. As I stood there and listened to the stories and met new people and laughed, I forgot I was standing there at 7 am in the cold as a HOMEpdx staff member. As someone who spends a lot of time downtown with HOMEpdx related things, it is easy to be always “on.” Always in work mode or pastor mode or some other mode, depending on the situation. Sometimes a fun lunch, good conversations, and laughter are all a part of this, but there is still an element of being “on” as someone who does that stuff for “work.” But as I was standing there laughing, I forgot that stuff. These folks who just a minute ago were my friends who lived outside became, just, my friends.
As someone who follows Jesus, and tries to do my best to live in line with the story of God in the world, these are beautiful moments, when the walls that our society puts up break down, and the labels we use to qualify our friends fall away. I still have so much to learn, both as a leader at HOMEpdx and as a follower of Jesus, but I never want to forget how powerful a small thing like laughing over coffee in the freezing early morning can be to the Kingdom of God.