Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Seeing the Face of Jesus During Advent

Every Advent I look for the coming of Christ, and I usually find him among the poor and the vulnerable. I have seen his wrinkled but radiant face in the elderly and sick when I have gone out caroling to shut-ins and at nursing homes and hospitals. I have found him at homeless meals, especially when I have sat down and talked to my brothers and sisters who live on the streets. I felt his presence tonight at All Saints Church in Pasadena when attending the memorial service for the homeless who died in our city. And I heard a chorus of angels sing along with him when Jill and I attended Handel's Messiah, sung by homeless folk and the best musicians in LA at the Midnight Rescue Mission on Skid Row (see http://streetsymphony.org/event/project-messiah/). 

This year I am looking forward with eager expectation to the hotmeal Christmas gathering at Walteria United Methodist Church. That's when I will celebrated Christmas with Melissa and Shaun, a homeless couple that I have written about many times in my blogs. See http://laquaker.blogspot.com/2010/12/best-christmas-gift.html

Kathleen, Melissa, Shaun and me at Walteria UMC in 2006
Since my wife Kathleen of blessed memory(a Methodist pastor) passed away of cancer seven years ago, I've been determined to help Melissa get housed.  Because of a congenital disease called endofibromitosis, Melissa is legally blind, moves about in a wheelchair, and receives $900 a month SSI. When Kathleen died, she and her boyfriend Shaun were living on the streets of Torrance because the $900 a month she receives from SSI isn't enough to pay for rent,  much less food and other necessities. 

Naively, I thought it would be easy to get Melissa housed.I figured all I need to do was pay the first and last month rent and supplement their income,  but no landlord in Torrance would take them in because of their low income and lack of employment.

Six years ago, they were able to move into a "cheap" motel that charged $40 a night--$1200 per month. This place rents some rooms by the hour, and is a haven for prostitutes , but it was all they could afford. I should add that Melissa and Shaun  are both Christians and don't drink or do drugs. They have lived by faith and panhandling.

In 2008 Melissa applied for  Section 8 housing and was placed on the waiting list, but it took seven years for them to get a voucher--which  is not an unusually long waiting period.

When  voucher  came through in October, 2014, we were overjoyed, Christians  from two local churches began working hard to help her to locate possible places to live., It was a frustrating experience due to lack of handicapped accessible Section 8 housing.  In March her voucher was about to expire.

We despaired, and then we prayed, Then a miracle happened.

Jee-hye (the spouse of a Korean pastor) and Roy Currence (elder in the Wateria United Methodist Church)  made an appointment to meet with Patrick Furey,  the Mayor of Torrance on March 2. (The voucher was due to expire on March 3, and Melissa would then have to reapply and wait another seven years.)  They brought a petition with over 100 signatures from two churches and asked the Mayor to help Melissa to get an extension on her voucher. 

The Mayor was very sympathetic and took a liking to Melissa, who is as sweet as her name ("honeybee" in Greek) implies. Sitting in her wheelchair and smiling with her big blue eyes, Melissa is hard to resist. 

"I'd like to help," said the Mayor, with genuine regret. "But Section 8 is a federal program and I am a city official. There's nothing I can do."

"There is something you can do, Mr Mayor," said Roy Currence calmly and firmly, Roy is a retired engineer and an elder in Walteria Methodist Church. "You have the power of your office. You can go to the Section 8 office and ask for help."

Roy's calmness is hard to resist, so the Mayor did as requested and found a sympathetic official who agreed to extend Melissa's voucher indefinitely. Yes, indefinitely. This almost never happens. We considered this a miracle.

Despite intervention by the Mayor and a Higher Power, it took five more months and a lot of work to find a handicapped accessible unit in Torrance that would accept Melissa.  Finally, on August 15, a blind man moved out of a first floor unit at an apartment complex, which then became available. On August 15  Melissa was finally able to move in and had a safe, affordable home for the first time in her life. 

What a difference this home has meant for her! She no longer has to panhandle. She no longer calls me in quiet desperation and says, "I'm going to be out on the street in five days. Will you pray for me?"  She can finally live a life with dignity!

To express our gratitude, we invited the Mayor to come to Walteria United Methodist Church, reconnect with Melissa and receive a certificate of appreciation from our Church this Saturday.

Jill and I are looking forward to this special day when, I'm sure, the angels in heaven will be rejoicing and Jesus will be smiling so big it will light up the room.

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