This will be a monthly transforming article by Jan Vazquez so look for them in the future.
“Jane” was a homeless woman. She needed food and shelter and got it overnight, in the cold months, from the Marin County churches that nine years ago formed the Rotating Emergency Shelter Team – REST. Jane did everything she could to literally work her way out of homelessness. Ultimately, she held three jobs at once and that allowed her to make a rent payment and secure permanent housing. Then, a surprising thing happened. She was offered a job through REST as a staff member staying overnight with the homeless women’s group. She could be the one with firsthand experience of homelessness who could offer hope to other women. She resigned from one job and took the REST job. Today, several years later, she runs the men’s and women’s programs and her life is stable.
Jane’s story comes to us from Carlene Searway who has had the pleasure of working with her at the REST shelter, currently an office building in central San Rafael. Christ Presbyterian Church joined the REST program eight years ago and Carlene has organized the CPC volunteers for many of those years. CPC rotates with two other churches to provide dinner for 17 to 20 women on Monday nights for five months of the year.
So why does Carlene keep coming back year after year? There is more to REST than food on a plate. It’s the women in need, a prayer before dinner, and conversations that flow over those Monday evening meals. Carlene says that anyone who volunteers to bring food and share dinner with these women soon understands their need, and volunteers again. It reminds her of the small farming community she grew up in. If anyone was in need, the community provided and Carlene was inspired by the example of her aunt and uncle’s response. Now it’s Carlene and her husband, Walt’s turn to play their part. Walt has been supplying logistical support from the beginning.
A measure of the program’s success is the few women, if any, that return to REST from one year to the next. Each woman is assigned a social worker through Ritter House to assist them in finding stable housing. REST feeds the stomach and the soul. With the exception of Jane, Carlene and Walt never hear the life stores of the women who move on from REST. But, from time to time they do see a woman they know from REST and stop to say hello and ask how she is doing – as they would do with any friend.
Thank you to all the people who support the ministry of Christ Presbyterian Church and specifically the many volunteers who have supplied dinner for the last eight years to women in the REST program. More volunteers are always welcome. Join the transformation.
The following speech was given by Khanh Tran, a member and Deacon of Christ Presbyterian Church, as she left for her first semester of college.
This I Believe
I believe that wakeup calls exist.
I had been a Catholic all my life, but was never raised as one. My mother never really forced me to go to church, and because of certain circumstances, my younger days were never involved around any kind of churches. I just knew, because I had been told, that I was a Catholic. Those words had meant nothing to me.
It was not until I turned twelve and met a new friend, who is now my best friend, that I became “interested” in Christ. It was a boring summer between seventh and eighth grade when I received the phone call from my friend. I remember myself answering the phone, conscientiously, for at the time, I was not speaking English fluently yet. She greeted me quickly, asked how my summer was going, and if I’d like to go to a music camp with her. I, who was bored out of my mind and could not wait to get out of the house, of course agreed excitedly. Little did I know that my faith in God would soon change forever.
The music camp happened at a Presbyterian church, the same one that I now religiously attend every single Sunday. I can still remember walking in with an uneasy and dubious mind. I was a “Catholic” after all and it was forbidden for me to join any other types of churches. But despite my inability to speak their language, I was overwhelmed with all the love and kindness I had received from day one from the congregation. They talked to me, laughed at my silly jokes, hugged me when I’m sad, read me stories, took me under their wings, gave me rides, taught me singing lessons, and drove me to all the places that I’d never been to before. They did everything out of unconditional love. What better way is there to demonstrate Christ’s love than to actually perform it?
Though I was born a Catholic, it was at a Presbyterian church where I began to learn about God and Jesus. It was at a Presbyterian church where I was nurtured into the person I am today, and turned me into a believer of Christ. It was the place where I sought comfort when I ran into troubles; in other words, it was my escape place. I always had these conflicting ideas inside my head that would prevent me from ever believing in God. It was like waking up from a dream; everything gradually became so clear to me. How could I have been blind to all this love before?
I believe that everyone has a wakeup call, and I received mine the day my best friend invited me to go to a summer music camp.
Each month Sue Anderson leads a group of church members to The Rafael convalescent home to provide a worship service for the residents. The group usually consists of Kathy Barrass, Doug and Patti McGeehon, Bill Mixsell, Margaret Veneman, Paul Burks, Sarah Mollison and most recently Sean Lane-Bortell who plays piano for the service.
Before starting the service, the church members greet each person individually with a warm handshake, smile, and welcoming words. The service is a brief version of the regular service at Christ Presbyterian Church that morning, but easy, familiar hymns are substituted. For some of the residents suffering dementia, they may not understand that they are attending a worship service, but they enjoy the fellowship. Some residents sing along with the hymns and some may not be able to, but all are sensitive to the emotions of others and are touched by it. The church group tries to create an environment of enveloping love, joy, and acceptance around each and every resident.
On one memorable occasion, one of the resident women who has dementia, and is usually quiet, unexpectedly burst forth singing the refrain, “someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah…” There were quick, questioning looks between church members. What was happening? Clearly, this was not part of the planned service. Something had stirred a deep memory of a happy song from long ago. When she got to the last “…strummin’ on the old banjo”, Sue called out, “One more time!” Then everyone joined her singing the song. When they finished, the energy in the room was higher and the mood brighter. Now when Sue prepares the service program, she mentally includes a place for this resident to sing the folk song refrain if she wants to. This is how she communicates best, and the church members are there to support her. It makes her happy and the other residents too!
Thank you to all the people who support the ministry of Christ Presbyterian Church and to those volunteers who extended the ministry to those who are sick and disabled at The Rafael. More volunteers are always welcome. Join the transformation.