Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Extending a Helping Hand

Image Attribution Tile Mosaic at God's Extended Hand, designed by Jeremy Wright, 16th and Island, Downtown San Diego

It's a long drive to downtown San Diego from our humble mountain home. On this first Friday of December, it was nearly dark when we pulled into the metered parking spot less than a block from our destination. In the van were our four kids, plus Father Acker and his wife Alice, and their neighbor Martha, from Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity. We were joining our evangelical church, Lake Murray Community Church at our monthly dinner and worship service at God's Extended Hand, the oldest homeless mission in San Diego.

Father Acker unpacked his guitar while the boys unloaded my wheelchair, and this motley assortment of priest, women (one in a wheelchair), and kids entered the mission building on the corner of 16th and Island near the new Petco Park, home to the San Diego Padres baseball team.

Alice and Martha were quickly assimilated into the kitchen, helping to cook the dinner that would feed several hundred hungry souls this cold December night. Guitar in hand, Father Acker disappeared into the worship team practice at the front of the room, and the older three kids were given various tasks to do to get dinner ready. The blankets and jackets that had been collected all month, along with toothbrushes and toothpaste in small "goody bags," were lined up by the door for the end of the service, after the meal.

Our youngest clung to me in the large room with rows of long tables already filling an hour before the service was scheduled to start. He clambered onto my lap as I wheeled my chair out of everyone's busy way in the small kitchen/serving area. Soon I was given a job: to read the Scripture passage before the sermon--a job I could do, and gladly.

Men, and a very few women, ambled in, found a seat at a table in the warm room, and listened to the worship team practice Christmas favorites. Some chatted with neighbors at their tables; others remained locked in their own worlds. Some sang along with the practice songs. Several smiled at me, and I shyly returned their smiles; others looked right through me as I attempted to remain out of everyone's way.

At six the service began in earnest. It was strange and so very wonderful to see Father Acker playing with Lake Murray's worship team: a melding of the two churches I have attended each week for the past few years. We sang the Christmas standards, most of the mission's guests joining in with gusto. As the songs ended, I wheeled myself forward (having divested myself of our youngest for a short while) to read the verses from Isaiah the Prophet:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
After the sermon on the coming of the Christ Child, the retelling of the Story that never loses its power, our four children, along with children of other Lake Murray families, served the guests with trays of food piled high: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, vegetables, rolls, fruit, Christmas cookies. As the adults filled each tray down an assembly-line (I added the fruit), the kids took them to each person, serving them with a smile.

The servers and workers gulped down a little dinner after all the guests were fed, and we sat amongst the guests, chatting with them, getting to know them. My kids were a little shy but soon stepped out to talk while our youngest remained close to me.

As eight o'clock chimed from a nearby church tower, we were loading up guitar and wheelchair and heading back up the mountain. Somehow the Christmas Spirit had infected all of us, even this early in December...the Spirit who loves and serves, who feeds not just food but the Word and a listening ear.

Listening for His still, small voice,

holy experience


Lisa notes... said...

So thankful that He feeds us so graciously when we feed others, and even when we don't. I appreciate you sharing your story. I visited San Diego 2 years ago and found it so beautiful.

paper roads said...

what a lovely story :-)

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