In college I worked at Starbucks. There was a large, clear bag kept in the milk refrigerator in the back room. In it, we placed leftover pastries and sandwiches, food no longer capable of selling. Once a pastry was put in the bag, it became only a step above trash. Sometimes, the bag sat for weeks in our fridge
There they were. Piled high for dessert and served with strawberry pie filling in large Styrofoam cups.
Scones and breads from Starbucks. The very ones we discarded weeks before they were picked up.
“All our food is donated… We get our meat from poachers, agriculture kills from animals who are destroying crops, and roadkill.”
We stand in line for lunch and dinner, five meals total over the three days with the mission. Men are happy to receive the food. A ladle of ranch dressing is poured over wilted lettuce and my chili has hair in it. Laughter and chatter and silence fill the room. The line grows and it fills with the men I see under bridges and on street corners with signs.
They eat the dregs.
They are considered the dregs.
Smiles from volunteers serve each guest their food. Food the rest of society deems unacceptable for consumption. There is no complaining. My stomach turns at the smell of my third meal at the homeless shelter. My nostrils fill with odor of something akin to strong ground beef cooked in an unventilated kitchen, and for a moment I think I might puke. Lama burgers.
Jesus is here.
The food is seasoned well and prepared well and guests in the program are taught to butcher deer and lama and make food to serve 500 in a day.
“I came one night because nothing else was working,” Chuck says. “In one night, my life changed.” He has been with the mission for 12 years and is our supervisor as we paint lines in a parking lot. He only smiles.
“I tell guys all the time. Yes you can quit smoking. When the time is right, Jesus will help you. Jesus helps us through our addictions.”
A man approached some of our group painting yellow on hot asphalt.
“Pray for me? I have an addiction.”
Boys pray for the ruddy man and proclaim with confidence that Jesus heals, Jesus makes us whole… Jesus will help him overcome addiction.
“Guys in the program are assessed for their needs, whether it’s a GED, resume skills, counseling, tutoring… and then we prepare them for life.”
I wonder what their stories are. The child in my womb kicks and I wonder who their mothers and fathers are. Someone has failed them. Somewhere along the way, they were wronged. And somehow, life wasn’t made right again.
Steve and Brandon and Chuck smile as we work. Offer us candy bars and chocolate chip cookies. They keep thanking us and we keep saying. “thank you.” They are a picture of Jesus making life right.
I came so that they may have life, and have it to the full, the Good Shepherd says.
Theirs is the story of transformation. Of broken being made whole. Their journey is long and hard but they know true joy and their grins proclaim the life Jesus brings. The good good life where even lama burgers are appreciated and stale chips are eaten hungrily.
We see Jesus in the least of these, in the poor and in the broken because they know joy deeper and wider than their circumstances. They are not numb to the desperation we all have for a Savior. May we become undone by the presence of Jesus in those who meet him in hunger and want and addiction and shame.
The Healer is here.