20 July 2009

Missionary Man

Note: photo and post are unrelated, aside from the "missionary" part.

I have a friend that I've known over thirty years. Growing up, he was the voice of caution, and a model of patience: the perfect counterbalance to my half-crazed youthful exuberance. I am sure that about 90% of the trouble he was called to account for as a child was a direct result of my involvement. Even to this day, I believe his parents must think of me with some trepidation. The two times I've seen them in the past five years, they still seem a bit leery of me; as if at any moment I might start shouting profanities while flinging feces and starting fires.

But they came by their apprehensions honestly. I was (for lack of a better phrase) a total shit when I was younger: headstrong, impulsive, naïve, and shameless. I literally have the scars to prove it. I often did brainless things like removing the rubber suction cups from the end of darts and (with the help of tape and glue) replacing them with hat pins.

Like this, only extremely pointy and dangerous.

And once I learned that blow-molded plastic could be easily altered with the judicious application of heat, I set about negating the earnest safety efforts of manufacturers and parental watchdog groups while simultaneously equipping my neighborhood friends with the finest eye-removing toys I could create.

It's a miracle no one was seriously hurt.

But perhaps the greater miracle is that I was never banned from seeing any of my childhood and neighborhood friends, and to this day remain on good terms with many of them. The aforementioned friend is no exception. In the thirty years since we first met, my friend has managed to become a minister/pastor/reverend of a popular denomination, and I've managed not to shoot out one or both of my eyes. So things have worked out well for both of us.

Three or four times a year we get together and do lunch, and our conversations are always fun, even if our interests and lifestyles aren't quite in synchronization.

Typical conversation:

Rev. Friend: We're expanding the church and adding a "cry room" to the sanctuary.

Me: Hmm. Cool. I ate bacon off my counter that had been sitting out for two days.

Rev. Friend: Hmm. Cool. They're bringing in another pastor to help with the visitation of the hospitalized and the shut ins.

Me: Hmm. Cool. I keep noticing weird bones amongst the piles of dogshit in my backyard.

Rev. Friend: Hmm. Cool. Blah blah blah.

Me: Hmm Cool. Blah blah blah.

And so things have gone for the past five years since he's been back in town. It's not awkward or uncomfortable; we know each other well enough by now that we aren't unsettled by each other. Plus we're both over thirty, and therefore as about as exciting as the Helen Keller Simulator. Our lives have become models of predictable banality and routine, and I think we are both thankful for the stability.

But throughout our conversations that are carried out through a series of disinterested grunts, he keeps mentioning his (and his church's) in-town missionary work. Every time he brings it up, he sees my eyes light up, and finds me listening with rapt attention (a opposed to "rapped attention," which is just Chuck D repeating the word 'attention' to a cheesy backbeat). Also, every time he brings it up, I offer to go with and help out the next time the spirit moves them to help others.

A few Wednesdays gone, he finally took me up on my offer, and I found myself leaving work a bit early, so that I might tend to my dogs before racing across town to the local John 3:16 Mission. I arrived with time to spare; time that I subsequently wasted trying to get my car alarm to engage. Up to that very moment, my car alarm had never given me a moments trouble, and it had apparently decided to wait until it was parked in the roughest area it had ever seen to leave itself vulnerable. Fine. Whatever. Now I'm late. I hurried off to find my friend.

Turns out he had been watching me from across the street, trying to figure out what the hell I was doing, what with my opening and closing my car doors multiple times. After a brief explanation, he introduced me to one of his parishioners we headed off down the block towards the Mission.

Me: Hmm. Cool. Anybody else gonna show? Or is it just the three of us?

Rev. Friend: Hmm. Cool. Well, it's summer, so most people are away on break. But we should be able to keep up with just the three of us.

Me: Hmm. Cool. What will they have us doing?

He explained that we'd be helping serve dinner to everyone, or anything else they needed. And then he clarified: The church member and I would be serving dinner - my friend would be taking prayer requests and praying with the people gathered there. I quickly realized that he had the harder of the two jobs, as I was in NO way prepared to hear about the hardships of those gathered there. Serving food should be a snap compared to that. I'd be able to keep smiling the entire time if I wanted to.

We walked in the front door and I was struck by the diversity of the people at this shelter. Racially, the shelter's occupants were more varied than this Dove ad, although not quite as female or unclothed. And even though I suspected they likely weren't, they appeared economically striated as well: some looked like they had walked straight out of a Bumfights clip, while others looked like they just finished off the back nine. All types and kinds. Even a few families.

We made our way to the back of the building, washed up, and started preparing everything for the evening meal. Apparently, we had pulled a "lucky" meal for our shift: pizza. Not much to do in the way of preparation. Load 96 trays with pizza, mixed veggies, and peaches. Place them at one of many tables, along with tea, napkins, and utensils. Pretty easy, and made even easier by the help of the mission's "students"; at-risk youth that John 3:16 was mentoring. One of the students started singing "Basketball" by Kurtis Blow, and it was all of ten seconds before I was singing harmony on the chorus (the only part I could remember). The prep and distribution flew by.

Then, as people were filing into the dining room, I was asked to serve seconds to anyone that wanted them. As it turned out, almost everyone wanted seconds. It also turned out that I had exactly 5.2 boxes of medium pizza left. Now, I've never been a crackerjack at math, but I could tell pretty fast that fifty slices of pizza wouldn't split well between 96 people, especially when the first ten or so people through the line specifically requested more than one slice. Being new to the whole "hand out second helpings at the shelter" routine and having no staff member nearby for guidance, I obliged every individual in line as best I could as I got closer and closer to the last box of slices. When I hit that last box, I just started giving out one slice at a time.

Shit, I'm going to run out and there will be an irate mob accusing me of giving out too many slices to the first people... I set my jaw and handed out the last of the pizza. Then I turned and addressed the rest of the line.

"Sorry, we're out of pizza. We still have some mixed vegetables and peaches left," I said while mentally bracing myself for a chorus of angry shouts.

They peppered me with furious shouts of "Ok, sir," or "That's all right," or "I'd love some more peaches," or "God bless you anyway."

"Uh....Sorry again," I stammered when I realized they were in NO ways angry or upset. And then I proceeded to feel like a total dick for even imagining that they would be.


Later, as I was mopping the floor, my pastor friend caught up to me. He'd been busy too, seeing that anyone with a prayer request was heard. His list wasn't 96 names long, but the names and prayers on the list once again drove home how well I have things, and how I need to get up off my dead ass more often and give something back, even if it is something as simple as volunteering.

Byron – for his family in New Orleans

Derek – for his family (keep them healthy)

Bobby – for his brother, Tim, to get out of prison, and that he himself would get an apartment

Joseh – that he would find a job with work for him 5 days a week, not just 1 or 2 days at a time

Gary – lung infection

Robert – offers a prayer of thanks to God for sending His Son Jesus for our salvation

Filip – he asks for financial security, and that he would be closer to God

Larry – for his daughters (unsettled marriages), and for his son who is living with a woman though not married (that he would realize this isn’t right in God’s eyes)

Elmer – that he would find work, and that God would protect his home and family

Eric – that he would find work

Tiffany – that God would help in her relationship with her boyfriend, that He would be with her family, and that she would find a job

Brian – that he would find a job, and that he would have good health

Justin – that his doctor appointment on July 29th would go well so that he is able to get into his apartment on August 1st (the doctor visit is required for the type of housing he is trying to get)

My "unprotected" car was completely unharmed, and my alarm has worked perfectly ever since. Maybe my car was trying to set an example. You know, letting down its guard.


Annie Lennox - Missionary Man
Missionary Man on YouTube
I'm pretty sure her outfit in that video is the reason Annie Lennox was featured in most of my adolescent bondage fantasies. That and her riding crop from Sweet Dreams.

Here's a far less sexy video included in the "Mission" theme:


Something Happened Somewhere Turning said...

This is one of your finest post. I especially enjoyed the Helen Keller simulator (Did I ever mention that Lois' parents were both blind?); I must have looked at the web page for 40 seconds before I finally moved on.

tjames said...

Loud applause for that one....

Bj in Dallas said...

Wow. I thought something was wrong with my computer, because of the simulator. thanks Kreg, that is a COOL post and I love things we resist that really end up opening our eyes...

good job.

Lo said...

Funny the things that teach us. A car alarm? Why not.
Great post.