On the street, literally, with Mobile Loaves & Fishes

John McNamara experiencing Street Retreat

Blogs can be powerful. I’m amazed how useful they are for connecting with others and telling stories. Something about the honesty and clarity of the first-person narrative makes any story more moving and inspiring….

Two days ago, Armando Rayo from Hands on Central Texas, sent an email about his blog, and among the replies was one from Alan Graham, president of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a social outreach ministry to the homeless and indigent working poor. The nonprofit uses a fleet of catering trucks and dozens of devoted volunteers to deliver “food, clothing, and dignity” to homeless people all over Austin. Their success has inspired other churches and communities – as far away as Nashville and New Orleans – to raise money for a catering truck and serve homeless people in their communities. Since starting the mission in 1998, Mobile Loaves & Fishes has delivered 1,000,000 meals.

In his response to Mando’s email, Alan sent a link to the MLF blog, which has been live since June. I was drawn to an entry titled, “Got Homeless” … and it blew me away.

In the entry, Alan describes a recent “Street Retreat” in which 25 people chose to spend two nights on the street. Alan writes, “We are not here to learn about homelessness but instead to encounter Christ through this particularly powerful retreat process.” When you read the blog – and just as compelling, the comments after the blog – you’ll understand. Check out “Got Homeless” here.

I emailed Alan to ask a few more questions about the retreat, and he was kind enough to respond.

Q. Is the Street Retreat only open to deacon aspirants? What makes having the experience so important for their ministry?

Alan: Open to anyone who wishes to attend. This was special for the deacon aspirants but others attended as well. For the Deacon aspirants I think it was special because they got to put the theology to the concrete; to experience first hand what it might be like to be homeless and poor and to experience the true presence of Christ in the poor.

Q. Do you think this is an experience more people should have? If so, how would that help with your mission?

Alan: We have been doing these for 5 years now. It is the most powerful retreat experience I have ever had and others echo that sentiment. Just understanding the plight of the homeless and working poor in real time is of benefit to what we do.

Q. For lots of people, homeless people are a threat. How scary is it to go out and spend two nights among them?

Alan: No longer scary for those of us that have been there and done that. For those that are about to go for the first time there is tremendous fear but that dissipates in about 15 seconds or so once you are on the street. You realize that homeless people actually are not a threat.

Q. What are some of the most common things first-time retreatants say or learn? What surprises them?

Alan: How difficult it must be to live on the streets. They feel in solidarity with the homeless and poor. They are surprised most by how they have nothing to fear but fear itself. One very common behavior of post retreatants is to return back to the streets to find friends they met and hang out with them. Mostly though it is very difficult to talk about the experience with those who have not been there.

Q. The story makes me want to hand out sleeping bags, blankets, and 10-dollar bills to homeless people who hold up signs at the stoplights. Is that an appropriate way or the best way to respond?

Alan: I believe that is appropriate. Just know that many times your money will go for things that perhaps you did not intend your money to go to. Bottom line is not the money and the stuff but that you rolled down your window and cared. Many times a simple God bless or peace changes their day…and yours.

Q. I think when people read about your experience, they will feel compelled to help and/or volunteer. What are three ways they can help?

Get on a truck team and hit the streets.
Get on a make ready team and empower others to hit the streets.
Send $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

You can learn more about Mobile Loaves and Fishes – and how you can support their mission, including an innovative project to provide travel-trailer housing for the homeless in a safe, supportive new community – at their Web site. Sign the petition and watch the project video here.


One Response

  1. […] anniversary – Today! Posted on October 13, 2008 by givingcityaustin About a year ago, I blogged about MLF’s Street Retreats, in which they invite aspiring deacons – and anyone else really – to spend two nights on the […]

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