Day Three Seeing Jesus Through the Eyes of the Poor

     Today our day started early at 5:30 AM and after a short breakfast we were split into two groups and sent to two different locations. The first was The Catholic Workers Group and the second was Union Rescue Mission. Both of these locations reside in the overpopulated Skid Row district located near downtown Los Angeles.
      At The Catholic Workers Group we were working at a soup kitchen that was affectionately named "The Hippie Kitchen" and we soon came to find out why. The majority of the workers that were involved in the sustaining of the Kitchen were a crowd of older folks who were probably well versed in the art of protesting and living in the Hippie era. The workers all had their own story to tell and a compassion for the work that they did, with an undescribable force that can only be fully understood watching it happen in real time. At one point during a prayer that was held before we started our work, we were informed of several workers who were not able to attend today, including a nun, because they were awaiting sentencing for protesting against the experimentation of nuclear weapons. This so blatenly shows how strong these heros stand to their convicitons. I am not sure if the workers knew it or not, but, the manner in which they serve this community the workers truely embrace and eminate the true passion and love that only Benedictine Hospitality can explain. There were several instances where I was so connected and could feel God's love and see his truely devine mercy in the eyes and the spirit of those that I was serving. The guests of the Hippie Kitchen are at a marvelous safe haven like atmosphere at this downtown location created by some of the most inspirational people I have been so honored to serve with.
       The second group showed up to Union Rescue Mission and were quickly transferred to the industrial-style kitchen designed to serve hundreds of the participants in the URM programs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From around 7:00 AM to about 10:30 AM, our group loaded trays upon trays of meatballs that would be used in a mushroom cream sauce we would later eat for lunch with noodles. The regular workers in the kitchen then assigned us to a very exciting and sometimes fragile project: cracking tens of dozens of eggs into buckets that would later be used for another dish later, perhaps for dinner. Even though it was slimy and slippery work, many of us greatly improved our egg-cracking skills, I certainly did. This took a long time, the eggs just kept coming. When we finally finished with that, we washed our hands and moved on to dicing up potatoes that were to be boiled later. We worked alongside a group of Notre Dame law students who we had a chance to talk to at lunch later. Without using more than three words, the chef of the kitchen taught us how to diced these massive potatoes like pros, removing any rough spots from the skin. We really had a system going, some of us would pass potatoes to each other like in the 'hot potatoe' game, and then we would dice them up. The final, most painstaking, yet most fulfilling part of our job in the kitchen was chopping up softball-sized white onions. After picking up demo by the quiet but wise chef, we were hacking away at the flaky vegetables, but very safely: no fingers were lost in the process. However, within five minuters we were all teary-eyed from the strong chemicals in the onion, it was quite a spectacle. But just as with everything else, we got used to our work and our proficiency at onion-chopping noticeably improved by the time the task was complete. I was privilegede enough to use my newfound vegetable-chopping skills when were returned to Santa Teresita that night to prepare a very healthy Mexican dish that included onions. We were all happy to be more confident with our cutlery as we chopped up a variety of vegetables for the snack. So, while in the moment at Union Rescue Mission our toils in the kitchen may have seemed like a hastle, it was preparing us for putting together that snack that night, perhaps it was just another part of God's great plan. Maybe the btter part though was that the seemingly small contribution that we made was receieved most graciously by the kitchen workers who would dish out our efforts to the UMR participants later on: we helped in an essential part of life: preparing a meal to share in, something that all humans take part in at some point.
       The next segement of our time at Union Rescue Mission was far more laid back. We were given a tour of the Mission from bottom floor all the way to the roof by a very kind lady. Honestly, we were exhausted from our time in the kitchen and the early start to the day, and the lady understood that extremely well. And for that reason, the tour went very well. She took us past the UCLA medical clinic and the USC dental clinic, where participants health is tended to. We peeped in on the men's living quarters, sufficient and yet humble. The roof was one of the most eye-opening parts of the day, from there we could see the streets of Skid Row lined with the destitute and homeless. Without moving our eyes, we could see the glimmering skyscrapers of the LA skyline. And behind that were the mountains which were hushed by the hazy smog created by that omnipresent LA pollution. Yet, in  the garden on the roof, tomatoes ripened and honey bees buzzed from the flowers of basil plants to other herbs nearby. Meanwhile, ravens croaked overhead. And with that, our time at UMR came to a close, and we returned to the ground floor. I was awestricken by the sheer magnitude and closeness of homelessness in Skid Row. It is a cycle of life ravaged by drugs and abuse, yet assisiance abounds fo those who search it out. It is the searching that maikes the difference.
      We spent our evening at the Midnight Mission that was located adjacent to Union Rescue Mission both of our groups met up there to complete our final task of the day. As we got up there we met up with Brother Skip Matthews where we found out that he was a regular and well known by the workers and the guests. We learned that there was only a 25% success rate for those homeless men that apply to stay at Midnight Mission to get back on their feet. Which is relatively high compared to the average rate of 9% success rate around the courtry. The tour guide of Midnight was relating how the guests gain knowledge and a sense of self worth is similar to that of a cell phone signal. At first the guests are at a one bar, or have no signal, however, with the help of Midnight they have the opportunity to gain the full four to five bars, which is to only to be gained after they leave Midnight with a successful career. After our tour of the facilities of Midnight Mission we finally got down to work and began to start serving their guests. We each had our own stations on the serving line for feeding the guests. We worked diligently and quickly making small converstation with those able to hold a converstation and with in no time were finished with our work. After we finished our work we had dinner with some the of workers from Midnight and began to learn about them and we got to understand them on a more intimate level. With each story we became spellbound in the amazing and awe inspiring lives that they have led and continue to lead. Once we got home we conducted a prayer service that included praying aloud what we were thankful for and what we have learned and for the people we have met. However, amongst the mix of all these blessed prayers we all realized that there was one single theme that was common: today no matter what the story, they face, the background, or the language spoken, we were able to see the grace of God through the eyes of the poor.

Martin and Peter


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