Radical Hospitality: LA/Union Rescue Mission

one of my most vivid memories as a kid, where i was wholly consumed by play, was when i was a “tree healer.”  i would mix up a concoction of dirt and water in a little plastic skillet from my plastic kitchen.  not too runny because it wouldn’t stick, and not too thick that it couldn’t be spread.  then i would put said concoction into the holes of trees, assessing them in my scientific-tree-doctor sort of way.

Parker Palmer (author of Let Your Life Speak) suggests that these most innocent of childhood moments can point to the greater picture of our calling.  i’m not sure what this memory says about me, except that i know i am definitely wired to notice brokenness and desire it’s healing, wherever that may be found.

the first stretch of our journey last week found us without a leader, as Larry hung back to test us, see how well we would unite, etc. etc…we left for California at 7:30 Monday morning and landed in San Diego, 10:30 local time.  from there, we took a city bus to the Amtrak Station only to find ourselves with over an hour to wait.  some of us looked up the closest Jamba Juice (thank you iPhone!) and headed there for a smoothie, carrying all of our luggage on our backs.

crossing a street in San Diego

oh, sweet Jamba...

the train ride was awesome, but lasted almost three hours.  when we landed in LA, we still had a mile to walk to get to Union Rescue Mission, where we would be staying and serving for the 36 hours or so.  when all was said and done we traveled nearly 12 hours.

Union Rescue Mission is located on Skid Row.  they serve 200-250 men who are in an addiction recovery program, dozens of families who are in transition and then nearly 600 men and women from the streets.  we put our things down on the roof (yes, we slept beneath the stars with a view of the LA skyline–our “Penthouse view,” as Ashley called it), and immediately went to work in the kitchen.

i don’t think any of us were prepared for the hospitality we experienced there.

especially love the hair net on Nolan

we put on hair nets and plastic aprons and set to work making sandwiches and cutting up squash.  the men we were working with, all part of the recovery program, began loving on us.  they made coffee, fed us dinner, gave us treats and chocolates and pies, and let us quit when we said were tired, knowing that work would be double on them the next day.

we had gone in there completely prepared to work and serve, despite our exhaustion, and were instead served and loved on and welcomed with open arms.

we woke early the next morning to prepare and serve breakfast.  before the morning was up, we had served nearly 800 plates of food.  we cleaned up the trash, had about a 2 hour break, then were back for both lunch and dinner.  as i scooped eggs and mashed potatoes and watched the line of men, women and families stream through, i couldn’t help but think about Jesus feeding the 5,000, how he had compassion on them and simply met their needs.

often, we like to sit back and postulate on whether this way of doing things is the best, or if we are enabling people by providing food without no expectations, etc. etc.  but Union Rescue Mission does not have this luxury.  like Jesus, they have a pressing need: the masses are hungry.  to love them, we must feed them.  repeatedly, i found myself on the edge of tears, but especially as i realized that scooping mashed potatoes is probably exactly where Jesus would be as well.

over the course of 5 meals, we served nearly 2,000 meals.  needless to say, after breakfast on Wednesday, we were exhausted boarding the bus that would take us back to San Diego, and then on to Tijuana.


One thought on “Radical Hospitality: LA/Union Rescue Mission

  1. “we had gone in there completely prepared to work and serve, despite our exhaustion, and were instead served and loved on and welcomed with open arms”

    Isn’t that the way it is sometimes? Reminds me of my last day in Nashville, when a friend from the street handed me a flower. And I remembered how I had come to a city desiring one thing, to give myself away, and yet I was the one who was given so much from the experience. A beautiful exchange.

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