Today is Tuesday, April 28, 2020. I wrote the following article a month ago for the newsletter of First Baptist Church, Abilene, Texas. I wrote it to celebrate the people of City Light Community Ministries. Some of you may have read that version of the article, but most would not have seen it, so I decided to post this somewhat expanded version.
I learned yesterday that apparently some of the restrictions designed to protect Abilene citizens from Coronavirus COVID-19 are going to be lifted, others modified. I can appreciate our city leaders wanting to begin opening businesses, working toward returning our city, its economy, to what only a few months ago we considered normalcy, not the “new normal” of today, what we fear may become the “normal.” Because of the unseen but real dangers of the beast Coronavirus COVID-19, I’m concerned that the eased restrictions may, at this time, pose possible risks to Abilene citizens, including my friends–the City Light staff and volunteers who are continuing to serve those in need in our city.
I’m the new guy at City Light, having been volunteering a little less than a year. I am offering this Post to express my admiration for the City Light veterans, faithful caretakers of its beacon of shelter and hope.
City Light Community Ministries
“City of Light.” Words printed in large Marks-A-Lot letters on one of the cardboard boxes of cookies, cans of beef stew, and chicken stew fork-lifted off the Food Pantry truck last Friday. Whoever wrote the words got it right. City Light Community Ministries is the City of Light, a lighthouse beacon flashing across the neighborhood, the city: Here Is Your Safe Harbor.
Last May, having retired from Hardin-Simmons University, how could I have known what was waiting for me at City Light: my new friends, their joyful bond, the staff and volunteers, serving; and the patrons, many homeless, queued-up for the sit-down meal MWF noondays, Sunday breakfast, giving and receiving, more than half laughing at their fate, knowing they have each other four meals each week, knowing the other half will be comforted or at least allowed to be sad and hurting together.
Ms. Lynn Martin, Associate Director of City Light, begins each mealtime asking for prayer requests, calling each raised hand by name, shortening the needs to: Jobs, Health Issues, An Apartment, Rent, Chemo, A Child Lost, and lately, anxiety over Coronavirus COVID-19. And praises: A Bus Pass, A Friend Recovering, A Child Returned. The Deacon of the day lifts these petitions and blessings to the Lord.
Here is the salvation of strangers become friends gathered around the tables, filling their bellies, even heaping seconds, and on Wednesdays a sack of selected groceries. Here is the right place for respite, for laughter and teasing: Big David, preacher of the Word, shouting across the room at me: “Bob, don’t worry; I’ve got connections with Saint Peter. At the Pearly Gates, if he won’t let you in, then I’m not coming either.” Clara and Charmaine who want my Jesus sandals. Tall Wilbur, his voice the thrum of a bass fiddle. Matthew and Tricia, young married couple, caretakers of Fred, Matthew’s friend, his broken neck, the devotion of his small dog Jill. Moses in the Homburg hat. Tiger. Cowboy and Ant and Frank-the-Desperado. Mark with the three-year braided beard. Daniel-the-lion, his dreadlocks. Jerita and Elaine. Cecilia, never enough sugar in her tea. And Lil, her smile.
The staff and volunteers: Maura, Associate Director, and Olga, her son John, his wife Dustin. Collin. Monty and Angela. Pearl. Wanda, Deanne, and Louise. Katrina. Mary. Era Jo. Barbara and Debbie. Tom, Jerry, Ronnie, and Dr. Lockhart. Terry. Ken and Martha. Keith. Katherine. Kayleen. Jessica’s Robert. Wes. And my friend Robert, struck by lightning, an exploded appendix in a wasteland of prickly pear and rattlesnakes, gangrene, weeks in a coma, a derelict with a limp he can’t recall deserving, now a staff member at City Light. All of these companions proclaiming with Jesus, “I have drunk the cup of anguish. I have died and risen from the tomb. Laugh with us. We know the worst. Let go.”
“What if,” the City Light fellowship asks, “we all joined our wildernesses together?”* Especially now in the time of COVID-19, the Coronavirus separating us at the door, restrictions for now, no sit-down meals and devotionals, but still, the hot meals, the bread, the vegetables and fruit, the salad, cake or cookies, Coke or bottled water in a grocery bag, handed out at the door by John Moore, Pastor for Missions, the good shepherd, cautious for us, the hour of sorrow and joy conjoined, Bless You and Thank You, delight and darkness balanced for now, no tipping in that direction we know all too well; but still, joy piled high, carry-out communion, each wilderness tamed as a garden tendered toward blossom. Toward light. City of Light.
* Ross Gay. “‘Joy Is Such a Human Madness.'” Algonquin Books Of Chapel Hill, 2019, pp. 43-50.