Dear Friends and Family, Spring 2018
Two years ago, Trisha was living underneath a bridge. It was cold, damp, and landscaped with sharp, uneven rocks. She owned a tent with a tower of blankets inside. Trisha is an Air Force veteran, and she was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. She was not standing on street corners asking for change, and she was not a drug addict or an alcoholic. Trisha was part of the homeless population who need the most help, but they don’t receive it because they flat-out reject it. After Simple House missionaries found Trisha, it became our goal to get her into suitable housing. Trisha was hesitant to trust others, and she experienced mental instability that inhibited her from functioning in society. I slowly built up her trust by picking her up from under the bridge and getting to know her better, usually over coffee at McDonald’s. If she seemed willing and open, I promoted getting assistance.
With Trisha’s growing readiness, we worked with her to obtain her birth certificate, social security card, state ID card, and honorable discharge papers. Eventually, Trisha got accepted into a housing program through the VA Medical Center and was able to get into her very own apartment! We held a house-warming party for her to help her get some necessities and fun gifts, too. Trisha has always had joy for the little things in life. When she was homeless, she talked about getting a toaster. She was ecstatic when we surprised her with one. Trisha made her place more homey overtime. She collected decorations and hung art on the walls. In her bathroom, she hung a shower curtain with palm trees on it. She said it reminded her of being outside. She would go so far to say that she actually wanted to sleep outside again, “just one more time.” These comments threw me for a loop. They showed me how mysterious and complex the struggles of the homeless can be. Trisha sought out support groups through the VA that helped her integrate back into society by learning how to socialize with others. Over time, Trisha began going to apartment socials, doing crafts with other residents, and leading her own Bible study.
Today, two years after living under a bridge, Trisha is leading others out on homeless ministry. A couple seminarians stayed at A Simple House in January as part of their poverty immersion. For their formation, we wanted them to interact with the homeless on a personal level. Who better to ask than our friend, Trisha? Without hesitation, Trisha took them to find the homeless on the same streets where she used to live. For the seminarians, the goal was to get out of their comfort zone and engage with the poor. Trisha gave them a perspective that I could never have given them myself. She showed them the homeless through the eyes of someone once homeless. She told them what it was like and revealed practical survival tricks, like how the homeless stay warm.
When Trisha got her own place, I thought her problems would be next to nothing in comparison to her “old life.” However, Trisha is now dealing with a whole new world of problems. When she was outside, she didn’t have to interact with anyone if she didn’t want to, but now she is learning how to face everyday problems like gossip and drama in her apartment building. She also slips back into depression at times. We pray together, and I try to be there for her as best as I can. We have a close friendship. Trisha is a good listener and helps me when I’m going through my own struggles. Her friendship is a true blessing, and she inspires me in my own life.
At A Simple House, our hope is to maintain friendships with people through all stages of life. We want to offer friendship to the homeless even if they are unwilling to receive material help or work on life skills. We also want to continue friendships long after our friends have “made it” in the eyes of society. Through our journey with Trisha, we have experienced both of these seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum. She has taught me a lot about genuine friendship: to be kind, loving, and accepting of a person regardless of progress or success.
It went over so well that Trisha took out our spring break group in March. It was a truly special experience for one of our spring breakers, Courtney. She first met Trisha on spring break two years ago. At that time, we visited Trisha underneath the bridge where she lived. We took her some of Courtney’s homemade gumbo for dinner and sat and chatted with her for a while. The next year on spring break, we visited Trisha in her new apartment, and she hosted us for a women’s Bible study. This year, Trisha got to lead Courtney and a few other students on her own homeless ministry. Trisha shines when witnessing to young people. She asks questions about their future and how they want to witness to the world. Courtney was beaming the whole time; she couldn’t believe how everything had come full circle.
Courtney, Trisha, and Margo: dinner at A Simple House
Thank you for your support,
Dear Friends and Family,
Merry Christmas! Thank you for making this holiday season special for so many families.
The following story is about the struggles and victories of our friend Darrell. He is doing great this
Christmas because your support has helped him through this trying time!
Last winter, Darrell’s girlfriend kicked him out, and he slept in the hallway of the apartment
building for three months. They had been living together since 2006, but their relationship became
toxic. Darrell has legal custody of his 13-year-old son Isaac, and during this time Isaac stayed with
his mother and barely attended school. At the end of the three months, Darrell received his housing
voucher. He had been on the waiting list for 10 years! We helped him through the housing process:
scouring rental listings; calling landlords; filling out applications; even facilitating communication
between landlords and the government housing office. While waiting for the long process to be
completed, we helped Darrell wash his clothes, eat regularly, and stay motivated. For those three
months, Darrell was cold, tired, and stressed out. I repeatedly counseled him to go to a shelter. He
always replied that it was too dangerous, and his things would get stolen.
Applying for apartments was especially difficult because Darrell didn’t have bad credit, he
had no credit! He had made it to age 45 without getting on corporate America’s radar! Nobody
could vouch for his ability to pay anything. His girlfriend paid the rent and cable bill, and he got a
free phone from a city program. This is common in the neighborhoods we help. Even when men
contribute, women are usually the head of the household. Getting his own apartment was a huge
step for Darrell. It meant a whole new world of budgeting and responsibility. Darrell is working
hard to make sure Isaac stays in school and follows a different path than he did as a young man.
For the past 9 months, he has succeeded. Recently, we helped Darrell get a job as a dishwasher.
He is happy and proud in his new home.
Over the past year, Darrell and I have spent a lot of time riding around accomplishing
errands. He has told me more about his past than ever before. He enjoyed riding dirt bikes and
ATV’s through the city streets with his friends. Groups like this still ride throughout the city when
the weather is nice. As many as 85 riders gather and fill up at the gas station across the street from
Simple House. They hold up traffic while the whole gang rides through an intersection, many of
them doing wheelies. They taunt the police, and sometimes the police chase them. Some of these
bikes have been stolen, and Darrell used to enlist the help of friends and family to store and hide
them. For many years, Darrell had outstanding warrants related to riding. In 2002, he was finally
sent to jail after a routine traffic stop and convicted of automobile theft.
Darrell’s stories have a lawless, “wild west” quality to them. The neighborhood he lives in
now is no different. The week he moved into his new neighborhood he was jumped and mugged
by some young men. Darrell thinks they beat him up because he was an unfamiliar face, and they
didn’t know he lived there.
The landscape Darrell paints with these stories reminds me of the Bible. Throughout the
Old Testament, people clustered together in familial clans and tribes to support each other. These
communities were vulnerable, and attacks happened frequently. As a result, communities
constantly had to decide whether outsiders were friendly or hostile. They had to make important
moral choices while protecting themselves from real danger. A convincing case could have been
made for arming oneself to the teeth and trusting nobody. Indeed, this is a prevalent attitude in
Surprisingly, welcoming strangers into your camp was an important virtue in the ancient
world. This code of behavior required a heroic degree of courage and charity. This code stands in
contrast to the code of the street, which is kill or be killed, look out for yourself first, and take
advantage of strangers. For years, I have worked to reorient people toward a Christian code. It
requires heroism to be a Christian when your neighborhood is the wild west.
By talking with Darrell, I realized that Christianity is not a code that will help you survive
encounters with strangers. It is a relationship with the Stranger! This relationship will save us, even
though it will not always remove us from danger.
God stepped into the dangerous world of the Bible as a stranger. He visited Abraham in the
desert as three men passing by (Genesis 18:1). When Abraham welcomed him, He promised him a
son. To the world expecting a wealthy king, God comes as a homeless child. To a society seeking
retribution, He says, “love your enemies.” By His teaching and presence, God shows Himself as a
stranger in our world, even though He created it.
Jesus’ very presence is a threat to our comfortable and secure way of life. This is a good
thing! The love that He shows us and asks of us is risky. We must decide whether to let this
Stranger into our camp, our homes, and our lives. If we do, we will be blessed in ways that we do
not foresee, and recreate that blessing in the lives of others.
Our long-time friend Lucy Harris passed away before Thanksgiving. She was 81. She
lived with our missionaries in DC from 2006 to 2011. We hope to tell her story in the next letter.
Peace and blessings to you this Christmas,
Dear Friends and Family, Thanksgiving 2017
Natasha’s youngest son is three and wears braces on his legs. Natasha pulls his wheelchair up and down the steps of her building and pushes him to all his appointments. She takes him to daily physical therapy and administers the medications he needs for his seizures. He doesn’t talk yet, but she hopes that through therapy, he will learn to communicate better. There is no dad in the picture. She does everything on her own. Her life is not easy, but she is always laughing during our visits.
This summer, Natasha called me and told me that she was making soap. She stumbled upon recipes for homemade soap on Pinterest, and she wanted to try it herself. I was astonished that she was making soap! Nobody we know does this. Hardly anyone in her neighborhood even has a hobby. We went to her house, and she showed us piles of soap on top of her refrigerator. She emptied some of her cabinets to make space for the soap that needed to cure. She showed us different batches she had made: yogurt, cucumber, and grapefruit. She was bursting with pride as she sent us home with the soap of our choice.
Natasha has a ‘do it yourself’ spirit. In addition to soap-making, she has begun knitting and has a list of other things she wants to try. We’ve started having craft days with her. One afternoon, we taught her and her daughter to make arm-knitted scarves at our house. The next time we visited, there was a whole arm-knitted blanket across her couch! She wanted to learn to can food, and on our next craft day, I taught her and Mary-Kate to make and can strawberry jam. Natasha is a fast learner with gumption. She experiments with different soap recipes and is always thinking about what she will make next. She works hard and figures things out on her own. Recently, she started selling the soap. She packed some boxes and walked down to her daughter’s school to sell it to other moms. In the winter, she is going to help us make over 200 bars of soap to give out in Easter baskets in her neighborhood.
There is something special in Natasha. She is motivated to try new things and run with them. Many people in her neighborhood are trapped by their own low expectations. This prevents them from trying to do things on their own. Somehow, Natasha has managed to transcend this mindset. It is easier to try something for the first time if you have the support of a group trying to do the same thing. Even without support, she decided to give soap-making a shot. She isn’t afraid of messing up and starting over. Through shared interests, our friendship is growing. We want to help her bloom, and we are exploring how she can use her talents to help her family. Our friendship is a mutual blessing.
In August, a long-time friend of the ministry overdosed and died. The night before the funeral, one of the family members called me. A friend was going to print the funeral programs, but she had just backed out. They wondered if I could help. I was put in touch with Sean, one of the sons of the man who had died. He was planning most of the funeral with his siblings. He did not know how to put together a program for the funeral.
The poor hold onto funeral programs like they are prayer cards. I visit people who have a stack of them in their living room. They have them displayed and want to show them to me after they attend a funeral. I have saved programs from funerals before, but the poor save the funeral programs with a different form of reverence.
Sean was distraught that they wouldn’t have a program for the funeral. He didn’t know how he was going to tell his mother that there wouldn’t be one. It was such a simple thing, but to their family, it was a significant part of the funeral. I offered to design the program for them, and Sean was audibly relieved. I studied design in college, and I was confident I could come up with something. He sent me a picture of his dad, a poem, the schedule, and the obituary he had written. I made it into a program, dressed it up, corrected some spelling, and sent it back to him for approval. He immediately called me. They loved it.
At the funeral, he would not stop thanking me for the program. Even some family members approached me to tell me how much they liked it. I kept saying, “oh it was nothing.” But it wasn’t nothing to them. Something small and simple to me was incredibly meaningful and important to them. Somehow, the small thing I could offer was enough.
The people we serve have ways of satisfying their basic material needs. Their greatest unmet need is friendship and a relationship with Jesus. You can’t request friendship at the social services office. Friendship is about the giving of ourselves to others. For Natasha and Sean, I couldn’t offer anything huge. I could only offer them the talents and gifts I already had. We can give ourselves to others as Jesus gave Himself for us. Our love, friendship, and talents are more than we realize.
Sometimes I feel unqualified to offer help. But again and again I am reminded that Jesus chose ordinary people to do his work. He chose fishermen to evangelize the world. We don’t need to be professionals to help people. Everyone can offer friendship. Jesus works through our simple acts of friendship and love. He uses our talents in unexpected ways. I am a missionary graphic designer, a missionary knitter, and a missionary jam-maker. Jesus has given me everything I need. When he sent the disciples to evangelize, he said, “take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money...” (Luke 9:3). He challenges us to trust in Him. Can we allow Him to work through us as we are?
You are in our prayers! God bless you!
Chelsea St. Peter with: Mary-Kate Burns, Mark and Lora Eckstine, Ryan Hehman,
Clark Massey, and Margo Wernel