CitySquare is all about people. People are the thought that rifles throughout our values. Community - for people; Stewardship - to adequately serve people; Faith - in God certainly, but faith in people, their capacity to transcend their circumstance through friendship and love and finally Justice - for people. These values make us somewhat different, but they determine the services we provide people. They are values person needs...
A story in the Dallas Morning News is a story about how those values are lived out on the street, among those people catagorized as poor. And its about Rev. Jonathan Grace, a CitySquare servant whose commitment to the value of faith and justice should never be in doubt...
Pastor Jonathan Grace felt a calling: Take the Good News to the streets.
Since January, with the help of volunteers, the resident pastor at CitySquare, a nonprofit that focuses on poverty, has led weekly Bible study sessions for the rootless who roam the raggedy terrain off Malcolm X Boulevard, just south of Interstate 30.
He wanted to meet people where they were, both physically and figuratively. But what did good news look like to people on the fringe? Was it Scripture — or a hand to keep them from falling off the edge?
Sometimes it’s been as simple as lending an ear.
The Thursday sessions unfold on desolate corners and lots between the Austin Street Center and CitySquare’s new social service center, where the tall, ponytailed Grace and his team offer coffee and Bibles to people with belongings in backpacks, tote bags, purses and loaded carts.
A man with a leg brace approached one recent morning. “See that big gray building?” Grace told him. “If you ever need anything, I’m there all the time. Just come knock on my door.”
People spilled their tales: I lost my job. I got addicted to drugs. I went to the penitentiary. I came to Dallas without any money. My brother didn’t pay taxes on the house and we lost it.
Then Grace directed those who would stay for the session to the Gospel of John.
“I am the bread of life,” he read, as pigeon wings fluttered near a tree whose branches reached skyward like an outstretched hand. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never go thirsty.”
Some people come just for the coffee. Some come once and never show up again. Then there’s people like Stacey Dudley, a former financial planner who hit hard times but now carries herself with a peaceful, self-satisfied air, even as she goes through rehab.
She sang a hymn softly to herself as she waited for discussion to resume: I’ve got joy in my heart.
“Jonathan is my mentor,” Dudley said. “He breathed life back into me.”
She held up her Bible, on whose inside covers she’s scrawled important phone numbers, a beaded bracelet reading “STACEY” dangling from her wrist.
“This is my sword,” she said. “And I read it.”
Nothing in her life had come easy, Dudley said. Circumstances led to wreck after wreck — until she realized she needed to let God do the driving.
Look at her now: She’s happy, far from the girl who lost several loved ones in her youth and let despair get the best of her.
Oh, Satan, Dudley says sometimes, you should have taken me when you had the chance.
“A lot of people don’t know that God is all you need,” she says, “until he’s all you got.”
The goal at the Thursday sessions is to listen, to be a resource when people are ready to move on in their lives. With shelters not open for check-in until afternoon, daytime is idle time for those without jobs or transportation.
But sometimes the needs are immediate and obvious.
For volunteer Elisabeth Jordan, one such moment came a few weeks ago, when a man in his 60s showed up barefoot, one long half of a foot somehow gone, the result of an accident decades earlier.
He grabbed a coffee and doughnut from CitySquare’s mobile cart and sat on the ground nearby, where Jordan joined him. He said he had been robbed the night before, soon after coming to the area to find shelter.
“I need shoes,” he said.
For Jordan, her mission suddenly became very real. She recalled Jesus’ words: Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.
She’d joined the Bible study sessions, open to anyone, soon after they’d started in January. At 8, growing up in Highland Park, she’d wanted to be a missionary in Africa, but those thoughts fell away in college as she pursued a business career.
Two years ago, losing her job prompted a period of redirection.
It wasn’t enough to see faith as a Get Out of Hell Free card. It wasn’t enough to talk about what she believed; it had to define how she lived.
She would start with the impoverished in her own community.
Jordan, a member of All Saints Dallas, eventually discovered CitySquare president Larry James’ weekly hangouts on Malcolm X, passing out water on hot days and coffee on cold ones for homeless en route to nearby shelters.
For someone who’d ventured little beyond Highland Park, it was at first uncomfortable and a little scary. Now she fills in for Grace on days when he can’t be there.
“A lot of people come in with preconceived notions about what people need, instead of just entering into the mess of life,” Jordan said. “There has to be a humility.”
It’s changed her life, to realize that such conditions existed just beyond a life where she had all she needed, to think that all that might have separated her from this world was the privilege of different parents, circumstances and life events.
Take my shoes, she told the man who’d been robbed. You need them more than I do.
Within minutes, he was wearing her gray Nikes, and she was barefoot. “It was a transformative experience for me,” she said.
For Grace and the volunteers who often come from tonier settings, the outdoor sessions are a reminder that out here, you are fated to receive whatever nature wields, whether sheets of rain, bone-chilling cold or unrelenting sun.
“It gives people a tiny glimpse into the world that our neighbors are experiencing every day,” Grace said. “Sometimes it rains. When we started, it was cold, and it’s going to get really hot real soon.
“The discomfort we experience for a short time should remind us that people all over the world are experiencing this every day.”
A skinny older woman dropped in and launched on a riff about how her life has improved — she has a new job, and “I’m doing positive things with my income now,” she said. She wants to help others.
“I think it’s great you’re inspired to give back,” Grace said.
“The madness has gotta stop,” she continued. “Look at me. I’m living.”
Prayer time follows to close the session. The remaining join hands — a hodgepodge of humans cobbled through disparate circumstances, bound only by their attachment to the streets.
“We’re all the same,” Jordan said. “We’re all the same. Just because we have a home or don’t have a home doesn’t make us different.”