When Marcos walked through the doors of the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center the first day, we knew it was temporary. His position was for 6 months and a chance to learn Social Work in a hands-on way.
Betty, the founder, is a personal hero of mine. Born in China she was homeless for a time as a child. Her story is so incredible, it could be a movie or a book! It’s not my story to tell, but her heart goes out to the broken and lost because she’s been there. She comes from a place of complete understanding. The center is a safe place for people who are homeless, displaced, underprivileged & hurting.
Working for her, Marcos is able to have a hands-on approach to ministry. Meeting these hurting people right where they’re at and meeting immediate needs. They provide an address and mail service for people who need it on resumes or to get mail or for job applications. They help people who’ve lost everything get new copies of birth certificates, ID & Social Security cards so they can even START trying to connect with agencies that can help them re-train, find jobs, find housing & really give them a hand up into a new life.
They offer parenting classes, resume assistance, mock interviews, hire attire where they can get an outfit to wear to an interview, Coach to Career, GED help, computers for job & housing search, an after-school program for children that are vulnerably housed where they get homework help, love, attention and a healthy dinner. You cannot walk through the center without becoming emotional at the support they offer people.
Clients that come in are at their complete lowest and end of their rope.
As Marcos began to learn more and more what the center offered and how everything worked, it began to open opportunities for me to get involved as well. It started off small, helping every now and then with the kids, making a video for an end of the school year dinner for the kids & their parents & lending a hand at fundraisers for the center.
We started to get sad that his 6 months as a WEX were almost up, but grateful for the time and confident that his work there was a huge stepping stone to a new life and job opportunities within our community.
As the time came to a close, Betty pulled Marcos aside and told him (paraphrasing here) “I’m going to do everything I can to keep you here. This is more than a job for you. This is a calling and a ministry. And your heart for God & people is so clear.”
Through Marcos humbling himself, going on welfare and accepting the help they offered, he had found his calling. Betty was able to pull some strings – because no one says no to Betty – and they were able to make Marcos’s position permanent.
It came with a huge raise! Things were finally looking up. So much happened in that time, but the biggest changes were us resigning from the church we were at, we were able to move out of my Gramma’s house, God blessed us BIG with the most amazing house, my job became full-time, we worked so hard and were able to completely get off the system, we saved enough money to FINALLY buy a car. One thing after another began falling into place, but we never wanted to forget where God brought us from and out of. We kept praying for an opportunity to give back in some way.
This year, there has been a lot of unrest in our little community. Homelessness is a HUGE issue & it has caused our town to be divided. There was a huge homeless camp behind our mall that was nicknamed “Devil’s Playground.” And that’s exactly what it was. Drugs, violence, human trafficking, you name it, it was happening. People didn’t want to go back there out of fear. There were 200 people living back there, including children. Everyone was afraid-everyone except Betty. She knew the people back there. She had relationships with them. She knew their stories. She checked on them, she fed them everyday, she stood up for them & fought for them.
Through a whole series of events, the city announced a plan to evict everyone from the camp. Believe me when I say, our entire community was in an uproar. No one wanted them to stay behind the mall, but no one wanted them in their neighborhood. People wanted them to “just get jobs” but no one was willing to hire them. They wanted them to clean up first, but they had nowhere TO clean up because they couldn’t afford homes with no jobs. It was a vicious cycle.
Betty to the rescue.
3 weeks before the evictions, a plan fell into place to open a temporary shelter made out of shipping containers they converted into rooms. Everything started moving full speed ahead.
Marcos and I spent HOURS down at the new site. Building cots, making beds, putting together toiletry kits & cleaning. It was finally a way for us to give back.
The day the shelter opened was amazing. We were able to help people move in and go over their paperwork, let them into the showers and get cleaned up, find new clothes and just begin to get to know them. For so many, they had been homeless for years. And as odd as it sounds, they were used to it, they were comfortable and moving into a place with a roof over their head was scary.
I kept having to walk away and gather my composure again & again. The stories I heard brought tears to my eyes time and time again. These people who have been judged and shut out by society were so broken. Many of them HAD jobs, they HAD homes, families & children. Changes in the economy, deaths in the family, running & hiding from abusive situations…these were their stories. They had nowhere to go and found a new family in Devil’s Playground.
As the shelter took off, the staff there were able to teach them again about healthy community, being a good neighbor, working their way back in to society, paying bills, they take them for medical and dental appointments, haircuts. They do movie nights, grow gardens. Things that are so normal to you and I, and something they forgot how to do.
Betty was also working on opening a family shelter next door to the Day Center and she was overworked.
Marcos and I prayed all the time that we would be able to give back more & more. That we would be able to enlarge our outreach and do more hands-on ministry, that we would be able to serve others and take the stress off Betty and open her time to do other things.
One morning our prayers were answered. I got a text from Marcos that Betty needed our help serving meals and he told her yes because he knew there was no way I’d say no. It made sense for her to ask us. Marcos is a staff member, I’m already fingerprinted, the residents of the shelter were comfortable with me because they had known me from Day 1.
So, that day at 4:30 I showed up to the center to help Marcos load up Betty’s truck full of trays and trays of food. We prayed on the way over to the shelter that we would shine bright the love of Jesus to everyone we came in contract with. That we would make a difference. That our territory of ministry would continue to increase.
When we arrived we unloaded the food and began to serve dinner to the residents. We began to greet them by name with a smile. We asked how their day was going, regular things you talk about with friends. We laughed and joked with them and it was turning into the best day ever.
When we finished serving in the shelter, we drove the truck around to the alley outside where there was a line of people like I had never seen. Most of them waiting on the ground for Betty’s Blue Angel. As we pulled around the corner I heard people yell something and found out later that when they see her truck they yell, “Betty up!” And everyone knows it’s time to line up for dinner.
These are the homeless that are camping out. They have nowhere to go. They have nowhere to shower. They have nowhere to keep their belongings. All they have is each other.
Some days the line is short…20-30 people. Some days it seems never ending as we serve hundreds of meals. We’ve seen it all. Mom’s, dad’s, children, old, young, clean, filthy, high, drunk, fights, depressed…you name it.
We sat in the truck one night and watched a man hold his food in one hand and shoot up with the other. Weed is abundant. And you know what? Who cares? If I was camping on the street with no hope and no end in sight, I’d probably numb myself with drugs, too. I get it. But it breaks my heart. It makes me want to cry for the pain people are in.
One night we watched as a police officer show up with a county worker and took a child right out his mom’s arms because the child couldn’t be cared for properly. I broke down as we were serving. Watching a baby be taken from its mother and listening to the heart break was too much. Was it best for that baby? Yes. But what a terrible feeling as a parent. You’ve already lost everything, and now your child. It’s unimaginable.
As we’ve served, we’ve learned names and stories. Some days people tell us their victories ( a couple we’ve helped since Day 1 in the shelter is moving into their own home TODAY! For the first time in 6 years, they’ll have a home) some days people break down and cry and share how hopeless they feel.
One couple in particular touched our hearts. They had been staying at the mission and unfortunately, husbands and wives can’t stay together. One night he had a heart attack while he was there and thankfully survived and they chose to be together after that even though it meant sleeping on the street (literally). We learned their names, we saw them everyday. We always made sure they had enough to eat and gave them sandwiches to have for later on in the night. I don’t know what his job had been, but she had been in banking for years and was entitled to retirement & social security. As was he. Fighting for back pay when you have nowhere to live and nowhere to get mail is impossible.
Through a whole series of events, Marcos was able to sign them up at the center and get their mail sent there and help them try to sort out the mess.
I looked forward to seeing them everyday and just talking about life with them. Marcos and I felt honored to be able to pray for them by name everyday. As a result of fighting the cold and the depression, they had begun heavy drinking. I prayed for a quick resolution to their money issues and for them to be able to get back on their feet and find happiness withOUT alcohol.
The best text I EVER received was the day she received her Social Securty check that was all of her back pay. They had a plan to go back home and reconnect with family and get sober.
It’s been months since we’ve seen them. We had fingers crossed and prayers up that they were doing well.
2 weeks ago Marcos got a call at the Center from the husband. I can’t even type the words without tears.
They are settled by family,they detoxed, they found a 2 bedroom mobile home. Then he said amazing things.
“Thank you. Thank you for all you and your wife did for us. For always treating us well. I believe in God again because you gave us hope. You provided help when we needed it most. I’ll always pray for you, your wife and Betty. Thank you for taking care of us.”
And this is our ministry.
It doesn’t happen at church.
It’s not even related to church.
We never preach.
We don’t say, “God bless.”
We never once said the name of Jesus to that couple.
We SHOWED Jesus.
We LOVED like Jesus.
We preached a message with our actions.
And he was glorified and faith was restored in a family who had lost their hope & faith.
So many times people pour their hearts out to us and then say, “I don’t know why I told you all that.”
And that’s when we tell them:
it’s because we care. We’re their friends. It’s because we’ve been in their shoes. We understand their struggle. We have walked through their pain. We’ve stood in lines for food boxes. We’ve had nowhere to go. We’ve lost it all. So we know.
When people are at their lowest, darkest times and hurting so deeply, they don’t want to be preached at. They don’t want to hear us quote scriptures. It’s counterproductive and insulting. They need something tangible. They have immediate needs to be met and they need them met with no judgement and no strings attached.
So here we are. We are in full-time ministry and we never preach. We never say the name of Jesus. We never read a bible to our people. But they are encountering the love of Jesus every single day.
Our mission is to make them feel safe. To make them feel loved, heard, HUMAN again. To feel needed & wanted in a society that has told them they’re useless and a waste of space. We hug them even when they smell bad. We find one thing we can compliment them on. We tease them. We encourage them. We listen. We give godly advice when asked without taking about God.
We are so in love with what we are doing.
God allowed us to go through hell and we allowed him to soften our hearts and be opened up in a new way to people that I never could have connected with on the level we do now.
You can empathize with people all day, but something changes when you’ve walked the same road. An instant connection and understanding.
I’m forever grateful for this road 3 years in the making.
Last night as we were leaving dinner and I said goodbye to the wife of the couple moving out today, she hugged me so tight and I felt like neither of us wanted to let go. I will miss them so much! But I am so proud of their hard work and hopeful that this is the beginning of something amazing in their lives.
I’m thankful that Betty saw a calling on our life that we were too broken to see at the time and that she has always believed in us. That she’s pushed us to do more and more and shown us how to love well.
I’m thankful for my husband who walked this road so graciously and humbly and never let anyone distract him from doing what was best for us and seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
I don’t see myself as loving and gracious, but God did and it took brokenness to pull it out of me. A love for people that I’ve never had. A humbleness that could only come from him.
I can’t wait to see what’s coming.