Early in my friendship with John-Mark, he invited me on a camping trip to Ft. Davis with a group of people. We now joke that this was technically our first date. John-Mark was testing me to see how I did in an outdoor environment. Anyone who knows my husband knows that he loves to be outdoors hiking and camping. I had always wanted to camp and adventure, but I was raised mostly with a single mother and we just didn’t do those things - at least not for pleasure. So when John-Mark invited me, I said yes. I’ll admit I did have a crush on him and was hoping this trip might give me an opportunity to get closer to him. Thankfully, John-Mark had the gear, so I just brought myself, one of my dogs, and the warmest clothing I had. Little did I know, the temperature would get down to 27 degrees that night. I remember laying in my sleeping bag, shaking uncontrollably and praying for the sun to come up so I could get warm. Now, let me defend my dear husband here and tell you that he got up in the middle of the night and stayed up drinking coffee so he could give me his sleeping bag (swoon, right ladies?). Sleep did come for me after I got that second sleeping bag, but it was not the most enjoyable situation for me.
Since that first date, my husband has equipped me with the proper sleeping bag and cold weather gear to sleep comfortably, but I honestly still don’t find much enjoyment sleeping in a tent in freezing temperatures… even with the top of the line gear.
Last Thursday we had cold weather blow into west Texas. Around 2am on Thursday morning, temperatures dropped to the upper 20s, accompanied by snow and freezing wind. I awoke at 6:00am, warm and cozy in my bed, to a missed call and message from a friend of ours on the streets. She had called me at 4:30am asking for “Marco” (she always makes up her own names for John-Mark) to come and set up her tent. I tried calling her when we woke up, but she didn’t answer, so we dropped Truma off at school and then went to see what had happened. This woman sleeps in a tent between two buildings near the downtown area of Midland. When we drove up she wasn’t there, but we found that the door of her tent was ripped open and her tent was filled with snow. All of her clothes and blankets inside were wet. She had another tent next to hers - probably donated by Church Under the Bridge at some point - but she did not know how to assemble it. We quickly went to work. Because she wasn’t there we didn’t want to move all of her belongings out of her tent, so we simply pulled the whole tent aside and set up her new dwelling. We were not able to get a hold of her, so all we could do was hope that she had found a warm and dry place to stay the night before. Being cold and wet in those temperatures overnight can be life threatening.
That night, I finally had the opportunity to go on my first Night Strike with John-Mark. In the years past I was either pregnant with Truma or home caring for her, so I sat behind waiting and praying for John-Mark’s safe return as he would be out searching alleys, abandoned buildings and open fields for people that needed cold weather gear. It is impossible for me to imagine what it feels like for our friends on the streets to live in a tent for months or even years at a time, but I was given the opportunity to see with my own eyes what it looks like.
We drove by the Salvation Army to search for some of our friends and learned that they had opened the emergency shelter due to the extremely low temps, so a lot of people had sought refuge inside. We then drove around checking different “usual spots” for people that needed some warmth. Fortunately, we did not find anyone that was completely without shelter. We then went to a couple of camps where several people lived in tents. They would have tents lined up along a trail through a field. Some of them have lived in the same place for months or even years. One couple we spoke to has been living in their tent for two years with their two little dogs. They have made it as comfortable as possible, even putting up a tie out for their dogs to play safely on leash. Most camps have some sort of “boobie trap” to slow down intruders and let them know someone is nearby. We entered some camps where people may have been awake, but they silently hid and waited for us to leave. I saw a sea of beer cans outside one tent, John-Mark pointed out some drug paraphernalia outside another.
A few years ago I would have asked why those people won’t stop drinking and doing drugs and make something of themselves… but now, my heart breaks for them. A couple of years back, we had a friend that was struggling with addiction. John-Mark had seen this a lot with friends throughout his life, but I was never directly affected by an addictive situation until this person. I remember having a discussion with his wife after she had gone to visit him in rehab and learned about what addiction truly is. She told me that your brain begins to believe that you need this chemical more than life- more than family, food or shelter. This sickness grips you and will not let go. This is not something you can just quit. This is not something anyone can force you to quit. It takes time, hard work, commitment, but most of all it takes support. When I see these people gripped by addiction, I now just want to bring them into our lives, be their family, and pour the love and redemptive power of Christ into their lives. I am thankful that we may one day be able to do that.
Our friend and documentarian Matt joined us with his camera for our night strike. I look forward to seeing the footage he captured.
On Saturday morning we went to Church Under the Bridge to worship with our friends on the streets. As we were sitting down to prepare for worship, I noticed a woman I hadn’t seen before. She looked heartbroken and afraid. I introduced myself and asked if this was her first time attending CUTB. Rita immediately broke down and told me that she had spent the night in the Salvation Army. Rita had left her home in Florida to come and help care for her new grand baby. Her sons live here and had flown to Florida to drive back here with her. She and her son had butted heads and he kicked her out. She had recently spent the last of her money getting her car fixed and now that was all that she had. I asked her to join us for church the next day and she excitedly agreed. The next day when we picked Rita up, she was overjoyed. She was so kind and made fast friends with several people in our church. Rita has a desire to work and pull herself back up, so we are excited to do what we can to support her as she searches for work and hopefully mends relationships with her family.
This week is a difficult one as we are having our garage sale on Friday and Saturday. We are trying to clean out our house and sell the majority of our possessions to prepare for our move into the RV. We were feeling incredibly overwhelmed and exhausted yesterday, but those are always the times when the Lord comes to meet us and show us that He has this under control.
Last night we had the opportunity to meet with a couple from our church. We first met them when our Sunday school classes were combined for a brunch to encourage community and mentorship among the different age groups in our church. We told them our story and they contacted us soon after requesting a meeting. Last night we sat in their home and poured our hearts out to them, while they listened intently. They feel led to walk alongside us in this journey. They want to partner with us in prayer and hopefully help us find some land. We left our meeting feeling encouraged and overwhelmed yet again by the fulfillment of God’s promise that He goes before us.
We know without a shadow of a doubt that we are where God wants us at this moment. For some reason He has chosen us to start this village - this movement in our city, but as we journey forward we are constantly reminded that we are not alone. Christ is walking with us, our church is walking with us, our new friends and mentors are walking with us, and you are walking with us. Thank you all for your support. Please continue to pray for us this week:
- Rita: for faithfulness, work, safety, shelter, and healed relationships with her family.
- For us to find housing options for a friend that we are trying to lift up from the streets.
- For a renewed energy and health as we push toward our departure date. There is much to do.
- For success in selling our belongings and our home.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. -Mark 10:45