Tuesday, January 16, 2007
December in Gulf Port
Even the air seemed tense. It was 2:30 PM on Tuesday when the Gulfport City Council meeting was called to order, and far too late to get a seat as the restless crowd overflowed out the double doors and down the stairs.
Yesterday, December 4, the permit had expired for God’s Katrina Kitchen to continue in operation at our new site just off the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi. The day before, we had just completed two months of arduous and sometimes frustrating work to complete our move from our previous site six miles west in Pass Christian. But today we had no permit, and were again at the mercy of the city council. What would these seven councilpersons do? Would they listen to those voices complaining that three meals a day at the Kitchen was attracting “undesirable” transients?
The mayor presented his proposal. His plan was for us to move again, to a grassy site in a flood plain owned by the city, where no permanent structures were allowed to be built. We wondered whether, when the weather turned bad, the kitchen would be able to feed people in a tent pitched on a grassy flood plain. We wondered whether we would have to move all 24 cabins again, including the ones housing myself and the Church Army Gulf Coast volunteer relief workers—those men who are seeking so desperately to transform their lives.
Councilwoman Ella Holmes-Hines recognized her friends from the Kitchen that were present in the room, and made an impassioned plea to allow them to stay at our site. Other councilpersons indicated that they had already pledged to deny our request. Finally, they voted. The mayor’s proposal was defeated, 3 to 2. Those from the Kitchen were dismissed, and television interviews were being filmed on the stairway landings.
God gave us the victory! Or did he? The city administrator said that we no longer had to move. But the mayor pointed out that our permit to operate had expired. Still, we returned home, with the feeling that God had performed a miracle. James called it an exhausting spiritual battle.
Then at 6:00 the phone call came. It seemed that the mayor had pointed out the council’s unfinished business, and we were needed back at the council chambers. James, Greg Porter, and others returned as they sorted things out. Ella continued to defend us. Greg was asked, “What do you want us to do?” The answer: “Let us stay through the end of our year’s lease.” The vote was taken. The verdict: 4 to 3 for YES, we can remain where we are as requested—until July 31.
God is good. OUR GOD REIGNS!
God is beginning to reign in the lives of the three men He has given us to shepherd in Church Army. We had lost Dale, and then Barry left when the internet-ink was barely dry on last month’s report. But God already had in mind the two others he was ready to send us: “Nate”, a young man trying to sort out the direction for his life while battling recurring binges, and “Choo-Choo” (his street name), a veteran construction worker and addict who had been recycled from the streets to jail and back so many times he had lost count.
Nate was locked into deep withdrawal when he arrived, but now he has taken an interest in life around him and is getting used to the routine of spiritual disciplines and work. Choo-Choo has made it through his first rough week and is resisting the call of the drug-filled streets. And Jeff is well on his way through his second month, striving to put God’s will in control where once there was only Jeff’s will.
God is on the move, and may be getting us ready to expand the ministry here. Watch this space for exciting updates, and please continue to pray for us.
May the God of all peace richly bless you.
1: The poles are up! When we get the rest of this tent up, we'll be distributing Toys for Tots for the entire 3-county region.
2: The old brown tool shed is now the "blue room" where we hold AA meetings.
3: The apartment building has a new paint job, but we're still waiting for permission to hook up electricity to it.