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Feeling at Home in a Cramped Dining Room

Once a month several men from my church and I come to cook the dinner for 35-40 men, women, and children at the 8th Street Mission in West Memphis, Arkansas. We try to serve the same meal every month (spaghetti, meat sauce, French bread, green beans and bacon, salad, dessert, and lemonade). Once a week, I try to serve desert (fresh chocolate chip cookies and oranges) to the men and help with dishes.

The area of Memphis and West Memphis, Arkansas, where the 8th Street Mission (Mission) is located, is greatly impoverished. Homelessness is becoming a greater problem for men, women, and children as jobs become harder to find. The Mission is in great need of financial and volunteer help in these difficult economic times.

Often when I help serve at the Mission after work during the evening meal, I find many “guests” off the street coming for the free meal.Yet, the main focus of the Mission is to provide a residential shelter for 25-30 men who are in a six-month rehabilitation program for resolving issues concerning alcohol and drug addictions. For example, one of the men in the program (known as “Shaggy”) is dying from liver complications. He told me he needs a liver transplant and remarked, “But Ed, who will give me a liver transplant? I am unemployed and have no money and no health insurance. I’m ready to go to Heaven if my time is up.” Shaggy’s stomach is greatly distended because of fluid buildup that must be drained every week or so. My heart goes out to Shaggy and the other men in the program, and I feel at home there as I cook, serve the tables, and wash dishes.

I was first drawn to serve in Nebraska, where I helped serve food in Matt Talbot’s Kitchen. There I learned the joy of serving others. I also changed to a compressed work schedule off our 10-hour days, which left Mondays free to work with a wonderful man named Jim through an organization called Transfiguration, a social services firm. Jim had spinal meningitis as a baby, which left him mentally disabled. At 55-years-old, he decided (with the support of his family) to try to live on his own. On out Mondays together, I taught Jimhow to buy groceries, how to do laundry, and how to write his checks to pay his bills, one letter at a time. I helped Jim for two years.I had “Mondays with Jim,” much as the famous author Mitch Albom had with his former professor in his book Tuesdays with Morrie.

Last Sunday, 15-20 men from 8th Street Mission came to our church for the first time. I decided the next time they come to church, I will invite them over to the house for dinner. Everyone needs the gift of family, friendship, love, and acceptance. Our service to the Mission is helping one person at a time. Mother Teresa often said she served “the poorest of the poor.” She is one of my role models in the little I do at the Mission. As the Psalmist said many years ago, we must be concerned about the poor, the needy, and the oppressed (Psalm 74:21). Truly each of us needs the gift of compassion and kindness. If we do not help others, who will?

I am especially grateful my 12-year-old son comes to serve with me. In a cramped kitchen and dining room with no air conditioning, he cheerfully serves others. Looking ahead, we will continue to do what we are doing: we will go every Wednesday evening to the Mission and bring dessert; we will (with help from others at our church) provide a homemade spaghetti meal the first Monday of every month; and we will hopefully have a future dinner in our home for all the men at the Mission after church.

This is becoming more a part of my life. If anyone has a desire to serve, opportunities will come.

Join Ed at the 8th Street Mission by signing up to volunteer at http://www.8thstreetmission.org/help.html, or find a similar service opportunity in your area by searching keywords: “homeless shelter” “soup kitchen” “meal service."

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