Friday, March 13, 2009

The Snowball Effect in Savannah

Hinshaw: What would Wesley do?
creede hinshaw Friday, March 13, 2009 at 12:30 am

(Photo: Savannah Morning News)



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This is a true story about two metal outstretched hands on Reynolds Square.
I basked in the sunshine last Friday morning on a park bench in Reynolds Square (the northernmost square on Abercorn Street), having pedaled my bike downtown in the glorious weather. Azaleas were already abloom there. A mockingbird graced the square with song and a honeybee perched on my blue jeans enjoying the sunshine with me.

A bronze John Wesley presides over Reynolds Square, standing atop a pedestal and garbed in his English vestments, his left hand holding a bible and his other arm outstretched in the direction of the Lucas Theatre. The nearby historical marker quotes the sculptor as saying, "Wesley's right hand is stretched out in love."

On a bench across the way sat a woman with a hooded sweatshirt and a plastic bag stuffed with her possessions. Soon a lanky blue jeans-clad man, carrying a bedroll sat on the bench next to mine. He lights a cigarette and we strike up a conversation.

He is in his early 50s, he says, an ex-con twice over having spent 10 years "paying his debt to society" as he describes it. He's been in Savannah six months and wants to find a full-time job as a roofer or a carpenter, but nobody's hiring... especially ex-cons.

He gets odd jobs, but never enough to afford a room for the night. And so he sleeps in ditches and homeless shelters. We talk about the twists and turns of life. He says he would never have imagined 30 years ago that he'd in his present situation. I ask him about his parents. Could he stay with them? They are in their late 70s, he says, and it's all they can do to care for themselves, so he doesn't burden them.

He's come to Reynolds Square because Christ Church serves a free sack lunch later in the morning and he's going to wait in line soon. I must look trustworthy to him because he asks me if I'll watch his bedroll while he finds a bathroom.

Returning to the square he moves to "my" bench and spotting my newspaper asks if he can read the sports section. He reads while I write in my journal. We talk some more and he is on his way.

Later, as I leave the square, I notice the depiction of another outstretched hand, this one emblazoned on a metal sign affixed to a post at about eye level. The open palm of the hand has 40 cents falling into it, dropping as if from heaven. But the hand is encircled in bright red with a red slash running diagonally across the palm. Beneath this symbol are the words:
NO PANHANDLING
City Code 9-1001

I am glad this warning stands at John Wesley's back where he cannot gaze upon it. I believe he would disapprove.

The benches in the square are not church pews, but they could be. And the people sitting on these benches, many of them poor, are not Wesley's parishioners, but they probably would have been.

It may be against the law to beg for food or money in Savannah. But it's not against the law to give voluntarily, and I'm glad churches are freely doing so.

Rev. Creede Hinshaw is pastor at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah.

_________________________________________________________________
One of my friends who is also passionate about ministering to the homeless called me up to tell me about this story. The Divine love of our Heavenly Father is causing a snowball to take effect concerning the story of the man featured in this article, for it is the story of my Flower In The Ditch told through the eyes of one of the most influential figures in Savannah, the Reverend Creede Hinshaw.

My flower in the ditch text messages me constantly. I just got off the phone with him after shooting him a message in response to the article. He told me that the entire conversation he had with the Reverend happened the MORNING AFTER we took him his replacement blankets. The most humbling part of this entire situation, is that earlier on in that week I took my flower to breakfast at Panera Bread and we prayed for Divine Appointments to start happening in his life.

I have goosebumps at the moment. There is no doubt in my mind that our Heavenly Father has stepped in and is moving on his behalf. Keep praying people. This is no mere coincidence. This man needs something to happen in his life and soon. What is even more challenging is the fact that he loves God so much that he will often stay up the entire night just to read his precious scriptures and more often than not, a few of us will wake up in the morning to find a bunch of text messages from our flower challenging us to look up a certain passage and talk to him later about it.

I for one am humbled by this entire situation and will not back down from the task of serving my Heavenly Father. After all, if you do anything to the least of these, you do it as unto our Lord Jesus. How are you taking care of your own flower gardens?

Friday, March 6, 2009

No Room At the Inn

My flower in the ditch called Rhonda and I last night around 8pm. Somebody had stolen his blankets and he had nothing to wrap himself up for the night. When I saw him Monday morning, I asked him if he needed a blanket and he said no. Now his situation had changed and last night's call was a cry for help. He told us that he had tried to get a spot on the floor at the local mission, but there was no room for him at the inn. He had no other choice but to walk around downtown Savannah all night or call us for help.

It is a big deal when a friend who is homeless reaches out and calls you. It means you have gained their trust and they know you have their best interest at heart. Most do not trust others since situations such as people stealing their bedding are common. Once I heard his cry for help, I kicked into high gear, grabbed two warm blankets and got Ben to drive Rhonda and I downtown to one of the squares to him.

He was shivering cold and pacing around when we found him. Little did he know that his night was about to turn for the better. Even though there was no room for him at the Inn, we had called en-route to the square, talked to the people who ran the mission and had them make an exception for our Flower. Getting in the truck, we made a quick pitstop at Starbucks, got him some coffee so he could warm up and drove him across town to the Inn. The look of relief on his face was amazing.

This situation humbles me and I am reminded of another person who slept in a manger since there was no room for Him at an inn. Think about it, the King of creation was born and forced to sleep in a feeding trough. His family probably experienced a ton of rejection since His virgin mother was pregnant and not married. I can't help but compare the situation between my Flower and my Savior and it is a beautiful metaphor on just how much God intends for us to take care of each other. We are all prodigal children and God loves to hear us cry out for help, for it is the basis and beauty of salvation. Move over, make some room and give our worn out kings, our flowers, a place to enter God's rest.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Flower in the Ditch

I love my Flowers in the Ditches....my homeless peeps...the ones who daily motivate me to step out of my own comfort zone and take a good, hard look at my life and measure my ability to love by putting others before myself. Well this week has been no exception. I have a friend who has had the roughest twenty years of his life. He loves God, but has spent the past 10 out of 11 years locked up behind bars for a couple of situations in his life that he is paying dearly for...he got out of prison roughly six months ago and has been struggling to find a job and restore his life back to God's purposes. His life is hard. The economy is hard. He has slept in a ditch for the past six months with nothing but a sleeping bag and a shower curtain to shield him from the ravages of Mother Nature.

He is my flower in the ditch because although the world has turned their back on him, he has bloomed where he has been planted. He lives in the most chaotic of circumstances, loves God and the uncertainty of his struggle brings God glory, for in that struggle he has turned his face towards heaven. My heart hurts for him, and I have made it a point of not only praying for him, but really reaching out to him and helping him out any way I can.

This past Sunday night he slept outside in one of the coldest nights we have experienced this winter after Ben and I dropped him off near his "condo". We didn't want to have him walk two hours in the cold and our flower insisted that his sleeping bag and two blankets would keep him warm.

About an hour after dropping him off, the magnitude of his situation really hit me in the center of my heart and I grieved. I had taken Mitzie outside for her final potty break of the night when I started to shiver and complain about how cold I was and told her to hurry up and finish doing her doody so we could get back inside. Instantly God convicted my heart as my mind flashed to the ditch where my flower had laid his head for the night . I sobbed for the next hour and a half while Ben sat there and held me. He understands my heart and comprehends just how bad things are out there for a lot of people.

I pray all the time that God will break my heart for what breaks His...now I think I have discovered what that is and I cannot turn my back on the situation. Even though many are homeless, addicts, felons, and desperate for help, my hope rests in God who created and loves them unconditionally...that means he sees past the stench of their lives and only sees a flower blossoming. I firmly believe he uses people to penetrate the darkness of this world and reach out with His love.

I don't feed or hang out with the homeless to make myself feel better, for isn't that why people party and carry on? I do it because it sharpens me as a follower of Christ and I am filled with compassion for people held captive by their situations. It throws me out of my comfort zone, challenges me to put on the mantle of love, traverse the dirtiest of ditches, reach out and love these people without expectation of anything in return. After all, this is somebody's son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister, friend, family member and fellow believer who has no idea how to shake the loose the chains that bind them.

The challenge is simple, next time you encounter a homeless person, even if you don't have any change, a simple smile sometimes makes the difference between a good day for them or a bad one...and you never know, God might change you in the process! We all need to bloom where we are planted....no matter how ugly the soil is around you. Even the biggest pile of garbage and crap is still fertile enough to nourish the tiniest of seeds. Our lives may just be a blip in the scale of eternity, but those little blip are paramount when starting a revolution of love. How are you making a difference? Are you uncomfortably comfortable or comfortably uncomfortable? The challenge is there.....

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