TruckofLove

Truck of Love Ministries Pete's Corner

2015 - 2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009 - 2008 - 2007- 2006- 2005 - 2004 - 2003 - 2002

For those who have been following Pete's stories about the woodland community, we have posted some of Pete's drawings of the community members. Take a look here.
PeteBike
Pete and his grandson delivering a bicycle.

Old Men Dream by Pete Fullerton on Amazon.com
"Old Men Dream" by Pete Fullerton - Truck of Love Ministries | One man's story of following God's call. His journey from the comfort of his home and family to living on the streets of America. How his dreams guided him and how God's blessings unfolded along the way.
Old Men Dream
by Pete Fullerton

One man's story of following God's call. His journey from the comfort of his home and family to living on the streets of America. How his dreams guided him and how God's blessings unfolded along the way.

Available on Amazon.com

Comments and reviews

Read the Introduction

View some of Pete's drawings from the book

October 2016

We are home from our five week sabbatical. We drove 8,432 miles and saw a lot of beautiful country. We visited with our children in Chicago, Kirkland, and the San Francisco Bay area. 
Now it is time to get back to work. I am not one to let any grass grow under my feet, so as I said goodbye to the last of my woodland friends in July, I was already meeting people who live very near me here in Rock Hill.

Between keeping my eyes open to people I see on the road and answering my phone, I am finding tremendous needs close to home. My days are shorter because I do not commute the 45 minutes to an hour each way to the woods south of Rock Hill, but they are no less filled with human suffering.
Days before we left on our trip I had a phone call from a friend alerting me to a mother and three children who were trying to escape an abusive husband/father. They had an old broken down car that they wanted to use to get to the mother’s family in Georgia. Investigating local shops, I was able to get four used tires and replace hoses and spark plugs to send this family to safety.

This week I purchased two bikes. There is a family nearby whose twin sons work at Mc Donalds. They are eager to work, but cannot depend on rides from friends. I asked about the distance to their work – about eight miles – they said they could do it on a bike.

This morning I received a call from a woman I have been helping. She gave me the number of another lady with two children who are friends of her daughter. She said she was calling me because when they called other agencies the response they got was “We’ll get back to you.” She said I am the only one who does anything.

I don’t know yet what this woman needs, but I will call and interview her to see how we can help.
Thank you for making this possible. Your donations are helping hardworking people whose only offence is poverty.

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July 2016

When we settled in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 2009 we had no idea what was ahead. We moved in and began to look around.

It was because of a random stop to help a couple whose moped had broken down that I began working with the community in the woods in 2010. Lots of people live off the grid here in South Carolina and this was one small group that maintained a population of around 40 people for several years. I helped them find jobs, subsidized their meager earnings by purchasing food, tarps, ropes, bikes, and bike parts. I saw them through some bad illnesses and injuries. Babies were born and three people died. Over the years they learned to pray, work, and play together. They became a model of a Christian community. If one of the group was in greater need, they all pitched in to help. They rejoiced with success and supported each other in times of great trials.

Last summer I started the long process of encouraging the remaining members to reconnect with family and past jobs with the hope of moving them on to a better life. The group phone was used to connect each person with parents, siblings, or friends. Inquiries were made about former or prospective jobs and living opportunities. One by one they packed their few belongings. I escorted each one to a nearby motel to shower. They donned new used clothing  and I gave them bus tickets and a few dollars for food before they each boarded the bus to their new lives. Each person left with the promise of a place to stay and a job.

This spring the community numbered in the twenties and then the teens. When there were just four left, I thought that was all that could be done. I settled for the fact that these four really had no place to go.
Then one day Cinamin, who has washed windows for the past six years, was in Lancaster and saw her brother.

I was dumbfounded because she had never talked of family. She loved washing windows and after I bought her a bucket and a squeegee, she had been happy working and living in the woods. But when she talked with her brother, she learned that her family had been looking for her. Her aging parents were ready to forget the past and welcome her home. The next day she was gone. 

The three remaining: Lester, Lilly (who is blind), and Scout held the regular Friday morning prayer service with me the next day. Lester chose a scripture reading and started the reflection by saying how difficult it is to say goodbye. It was a powerful time for the four of us to share this transition for the group. I finished my morning with them and said I would see them on Monday. They had been working diligently picking up garbage on the roads and I owed them over $200 for their work.

I drove to the camp area on Monday and found it completely cleaned out. There was a sign that read: “We moved.” I tried calling their cell phone and got no answer. I drove to places they frequented, but I found no trace.

Two days later I finally got a call from Scout. We set up a meeting so I could give them the money I owed them for cleaning the roads. When I arrived, Lester, Lilly, and Scout were there. They didn’t say much, but they eagerly took the money. When I asked where they were staying, they said they had found a new place nearer town.

I drove home and wandered around the house, kind of lost without the constant demands of the souls I’d been shepherding for so many years.

It’s been a couple of weeks now and life is filling in the gaps.  I am working with a family whose trailer is in such bad condition that they had been sleeping underneath it on wet moldy mattresses. Due to the death of the mother and wife, life took a downward spiral in this household. The father and sons who live in the trailer have now cleaned it up and we are helping them get used appliances and beds. They are already looking happier and more hopeful.

We also live one mile from the Catawba Reservation. I went to the community center last week to see what services they offer to the people who live on this land. I discovered a whole world of need. It’s amazing what happens when we stop and look around.

More to come…

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March 2016

We haven’t written much of late because: 1. We have been very busy and 2. It’s been peaceful in the woods.

Unfortunately that peace has been broken – once again.

There are now nineteen adults left living among the trees. Five of them have work outside the community. Three wash windows and two women work in a motel cleaning rooms.

Joyce and Marie ride their bikes seven miles to the motel each morning where they spend their days cleaning up after the customers. They have been in this job for some time and have managed to save and buy some items that make their outdoor lives a bit easier. Marie bought a shiny new bike that made her ride almost effortless.

Last Wednesday Marie had been paid her two weeks wages in cash – more than $300. She went to the store to purchase a few necessary items and she was carrying the bags and pushing her bike along the side of the road. She was about a mile from her woodland home when she saw a man walking toward her on the same side of the deserted lane. He got close enough to speak, but as she greeted him he grabbed her bike and her bags that contained her purchases as well as the cash that was left. Once he had everything she owned, he hit her hard and pushed her to the ground. He rode off on her bike and she was left to lumber home in pain.

Pete saw her the next day with her black eye and swollen lip. She was devastated that the bike and her two weeks of wages were gone, but she was ready to go with Pete to get a used bike that would not attract any attention. She wanted to get back to work. Pete told her he didn’t think it would be wise to go to the police and she agreed.

Today, Monday, Pete returned to the woods to help with the daily chores only to hear the rest of the story.

Marie said: “Ah went to ma boss at the motel and told him why ah was late and he said ah otta go to the police. I went ther on Satiday. When I tol the man ma story he ask fer ma address an ah tol him ah was livin in the woods. He got real angry an ah thought he was gonna arrest me. He say ah kint live in the woods – its agin the law. Ah jes ran outta there before he could lock me up!”

“Then whin ah wint inta work this morning and tol ma boss what’d happened, he fired me an Joyce. He says he don want no trouble. Now what am ah gonna do? Ah still got some money save, but it won las very long.”

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October 2015

The miracle of a Christian community is just what Pope Francis is talking about these days. It is a place where people care about each other, where they freely share what they acquire, where they have compassion for those who are hurt, where they encourage each other to develop their God-given gifts; and where, when it is time, they know how to let go when one of the group needs to be free.

This is the community in the woods south of our home in Rock Hill, South Carolina. In the frigid winter of 2013 they welcomed a young boy into their midst. He said he was seventeen and that his parents had left him at a highway rest stop. He had walked for several days before Pete found him shivering in ragged pants and a thin t-shirt, hungry, and shoeless.

Taking him to the community in the woods seemed in the best interests of this young man who said his name was Edgar. He was welcomed, fed, clothed, and quickly became an integral part of this woodland group. He had never been to school and so one of the women, Verna, who tutored the children began to teach him the alphabet. He learned very quickly and within a few short months he was reading at a sixth grade level. Verna kept telling Pete that he was learning so fast that she didn’t know if she could keep up with him.

Edgar and Verna did school work every day for a year and a half until she suddenly decided it was time to go home. She had been saving money and she asked Pete if he would take her to the bus station. She and her parents had reconciled and they were willing to have her live with them until she could get her job back as a teacher’s aide.

Before she left, she assured Edgar she would not forget him.

The months went by. Edgar, devastated by Verna’s departure, kept reading everything he could find and asking unending questions about anything that came into his mind. He is a curious, smart boy.

We worried what would become of him. He is the only minor left in the woodland community since all the families with children have been sent back where they came from to homes and jobs.

Edgar has no documentation. He doesn’t know where he was born or what his last name is. He was always told by his parents that he would never amount to anything. He chose to believe Pete and Verna when they praised him for the fine young man he is.

We prayed for a resolution to his situation. We asked anyone who would listen to pray for Edgar. We didn’t want to see him spend the rest of his life hiding in the woods and scrounging in dumpsters for food without any hope of a better future.

A few days ago the community phone rang and Scout called to Edgar that someone wanted to talk to him. Verna was calling to ask Edgar if he wanted to come live with her and her parents. She had been talking all year with her folks about this kid with all the potential and they were willing to open their home to take him in.

Edgar and Pete have been preparing all week for his journey to Iowa. He has new used clothes, a cheap cell phone, snacks, and a backpack in which to carry his belongings. Pete has been coaching him about how to stash the money Pete will give him, how to keep his backpack, bus ticket, and phone close to him at all times. He knows to talk only to the personnel in the bus stations. Now it is time to pray for his safe trip and joyful reunion with Verna.

God bless you for your continued prayers and donations for these people served by Truck of Love. Join us in prayers of thanksgiving for this overwhelming gift of hope from our God.

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August 2015

Because of my many encounters with the sheriff, I am understandably on the alert when I am approaching the community in the woods. Last week when I reached the turnoff where I usually make my short trek into the woods I could see in my rear view mirror two police cars a few car lengths behind me and in back of another car. Something just wasn’t right.

I thought it wise to make a right turn onto a busy intersection rather than make my usual left. One of the two cars turned with me while the other took a different route. I went into a school parking lot while the car following me went into the drive way of a private home. Still there were no flashing lights…

I made a turn from the school parking lot and went the opposite direction where I was immediately followed by a state vehicle unlike the local police cars following just before.
“I’m just being paranoid.” I thought to myself.

The state police picked up another vehicle and they were both following me from behind. I could see them looking intently, now quite unconcerned whether or not I saw them.

There was a moment where I thought of turning around into the Bi-Lo Market and to do some shopping just to let them stay in the parking lot and wait for my shopping to end, but instead I kept going to where I knew a quaint little dead-end country road. There was no sign saying “Dead End”, but I thought “Why bother, they’ll know this is a dead-end road with or without the sign being up.”

I made another turn and watched them pull right up behind me, still no lights. I could see the walkie-talkie attached to the young officer’s shoulder. He seemed to be talking to someone.

I went into the Burger King drive through for a cup of coffee then waited for the silliness to end. They finally lost interest and disappeared.

Too many times the sheriffs have told me they know my truck and they are watching and it is just a matter of time until they find out where the people are. I consider it part of my obligation to the people I serve to protect them from this kind of harassment – thus the little cat-and-mouse games.

I wish the Sheriff and the police could know how much good is going on with the people in the woods. They live there because they have nowhere else to go at this moment. They work incredibly hard to survive.

Two of the men just got jobs shoveling manure for a composting company. They ride their bikes seven miles each way three days a week to shovel manure for two hours each day. They are excited and happy to be working and earning $6.00 an hour which translates to $36 for each man each week.

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January 2015

In the woods it was the end of the school kid's Christmas Vacation and time for the Friday morning prayer service. Lester and I were discussing the format for the service when we heard ear splitting screams coming from the area where Edgar and his friend, Mila, had been playing. I'd seen Edgar holding little Mila by her arms and swinging her around in a circle. Even though Mila is fourteen, she is only about four feet eleven inches. She seems like a little girl because she likes to wear ruffles and puffy sleeves. She has a huge crush on Edgar and he likes to show off a bit being the big man of seventeen.

Remembering how much fun I used to have swinging my own children, I thought nothing of Edgar going around and around, faster and faster. But when Lester and I heard the shrieks and ran to Mila she was curled up screaming, holding her arm and I recalled how dangerous this could be. Edgar was panicked saying he'd broken her arm. Chaos reigned as everyone gathered around. I couldn't get a good look at the arm because of Mila's yelps and protective instincts. Immediately her mother was there and we decided we'd put them in my truck and I would take her to the emergency room in Pineville, North Carolina. I knew the doctors would treat her there for free. She and her parents have no health insurance. Her Dad works at the brickyard when it is open and her mom picks up trash along the highway for a few dollars each week.

Mila and her mom got into my truck. Mila was still screaming and crying and her mother was trying to comfort her as I drove. We got about halfway to the hospital when Mila fainted, presumably from the pain. As she sat quietly unconscious between us I took the opportunity to pull over to the side of the road. I asked Mila's mom if I could take a look at the arm. When I pulled back her shirt I could see an indentation at the joint where the arm bone enters the shoulder. It was a classic dislocation like I'd seen many times when I was a football trainer in high school. I explained to the mom what I saw and asked if she would trust me to pull the arm back into place. The mom gave me permission and so I took the shoe off my foot and placed my foot in her armpit. While she was still unconscious, I pulled on her arm and twisted it back into the socket. About that time she woke up screeching in agony, but then she quieted down as she realized the pain had changed. I could see that the socket looked more normal. She was now able to move her arm in all directions and so we turned around to head back to the woods.

I picked up some ibuprofen and a sling to help her rest the arm.

The next day she was up and about – almost as good as new except for some nasty bruises in her shoulder and back.

Edgar swore he'd never do that again. Lester declared it was a miracle. Mila went back to school with all the other kids on Monday with a great story to tell about her Christmas vacation.

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October 2014

I've written about Verna several times. She is the woman in the woods who teaches the kids to read. She also acts as nurse and kind of "general manager" next to Lester. In the past year and a half she has taught Edgar how to read and write and he is now at about a sixth grade level. She nursed River in the days before he died of the brain tumor. She has been a rock in the community – someone they could count on.

I've never known much about Verna. She has kept a pretty low profile. Her talents have been revealed very gradually as she helps each person.

Last week we were talking and she commented to me that she would never want anyone from outside the community to see the way they all live. She doesn't want me to bring anyone in – not even my wife.

This week she approached me and asked me to take her to the bus station. She said she had saved some money and she was going to visit her parents in Iowa. I drove her to Charlotte and dropped her off at the bus station and told her to let me know when she was coming back.

At our regular Friday prayer service after I read from Corinthians about us being many parts, but all one body, Lester stood up and said: "Wait, I have a note from Verna that she wanted me to read to everyone. Revr'n Pete will you read it? Verna's not coming back."

There was an audible gasp of the whole group and then silence settled in as I read. Her note told her story of being part of her home community in Iowa where she was a high school teacher. About five years ago she was wrongly accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student and the whole community turned against her. Even her parents didn't believe in her innocence.

With such rejection, she decided it was best to leave. She found a job in South Carolina and travelled east. Upon reaching this area, the promised job fell through because of the accusations that had been made in Iowa. Without money or any resources she ended up in the woods. Providentially she landed with Lester and this community.

She went on to say that it was here in the woods with these people that she found what true community is all about. Because of the love and support of each person, she has again begun to believe in herself.

She was ready to face her family and the people in Iowa. She called her parents about two weeks ago and they told her that things had changed in the town. The accusations were no longer a factor and they wanted her to return.

She credits her woodland community for giving her the confidence and strength to go home. She ended her note with a message to all of you, our donors: "Living has been made so much easier with the help of Rev. Pete and each of you. You are a blessing and I thank God for you every day."

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August 2014

It has been a week since I wrote about Jasper and his Mom, Laura. (See July Pete's Corner.) Several hundred people have read that story and many have sent donations. We are thankful to you all.

We are still unable to resume our schedule of compensating the group for cleaning up the roads. We are unable to get any extras – no soap, no bike parts, no fruits, no vegetables, no meat, no toilet paper. We are still buying just the basic rice and beans. We did wash the clothes for the community last week and hope to do so again this week. But times remain very hard. In good times we need at least $1000 each week to supplement what the people in the community bring home from scraping bricks, washing windows, cleaning motel rooms, and any other work they might get.

The community is trying to stay together and support each other. They are praying for guidance and everyone who can do so is out looking for more work.

Last week when Laura did not return, the ladies in the community approached me to say they really could not look after Jasper and also do the work they needed to do. He is six years old and probably developmentally disabled. He is slow to understand things and still is not potty trained. We talked about what to do and one of the women and I ended up taking him to Child Protective Services. He was distraught and screamed and fought, but the woman told us that they would care for him and he would be ok. We had to believe that.

For several days last week I lived with the dread that Laura would come back and that she would be inconsolable at having lost Jasper. He was the light of her life. But the week passed and she did not appear.

Lester and I went into the Sherriff's office again this morning to inquire about Laura. Once again, I described her to the officer at the desk and he said there had been a woman's body found about an hour south of us near Columbia. I told him about some tattoos Laura had. He looked at his information and said it looked like the body was hers. She had been found in a ditch at the side of the road. She was just 18 years old.

I keep going back in my mind to the $18 that she had been getting each week from Truck of Love for her work in cleaning up the roadsides with Jasper at her side. That's all she needed to stay off the streets.

I pray that she is in the arms of her God. I pray that Jasper will live in a good, new world where his first six years of life are but a fleeting dream.

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July 2014

This has been a long hard summer in the woods for our 43 people who struggle to make a life together.

I help them as much as I can and they also have Oli and Ogi who have been a great support.

Oli and Ogi live in a trailer on a piece of land that they bought many years ago from their meager earnings. They have invited the community to use their hose to refill the five 5 gallon jugs used for the drinking water the community so desperately needs each day. Oli (the wife) and Ogi (the husband) have been married 52 years. This past year they have each had major health problems. On July 5 Ogi woke up to find that Oli had died during the night. We had a prayer service for her on Monday the 7th. Ogi left last week with her ashes saying the group can continue to use his hose, but he doesn't know how long he will be gone.

The timing of his announcement came at about the same time that I had to tell the community that I could no longer give them the $1 for each bag of garbage that they had been collecting along the side of the roads. I also told them that there would be no more fruits and vegetables, and no more meat of any kind.

Over the past few years I have been encouraging people to work. Several men and women scrap mortar off used bricks and receive 9 cents for each brick – in a good day they might come home with $24 in cash. Three women work in a local motel cleaning rooms. Then there is Cinnamin who washes windows and has hired two others to work with her. And I was "employing" people to pick up the trash left on the roads. I would buy bags so they could get not only the trash, but also the metal cans which they would take (with my truck) to the recycling center. Everyone in the community had a job. Everyone benefitted from those who worked and shared a small percentage of their earnings with the community. The cook was being given twenty-five cents for each meal she provided. The woman who teaches the kids and nurses the sick was given money to buy books and bandages.

I have had to cut back on the amount I am spending because we just don't have any money in the bank to spend. It's summer and people are on vacation and donations are not covering the luxuries of plastic bags, clothes washing, bike parts, fruit, and vegetables. I usually get a monthly paycheck of $502 from Truck of Love, but for the past four months I have been donating that check back to Truck of Love. Even with that we cannot cover the extras. So this week all I could do was to get the beans and rice and that came to $720. It takes a lots of beans and rice to feed 43 people.

My heart has been very heavy and we are all trying to make this work. But one of the side effects of our new austerity program has directly affected a sweet little six year old boy named Jasper. He and his now 18 year old mother, Laura, had arrived in the community about a year and a half ago. She'd been a prostitute and had been brutalized by men since she was 11. When Lester heard her story, he knew that the community would be a good, loving, and healing place for her to be. When she saw that we had regular Friday prayer services she knew she could trust the people. She began her new life and through the "profit sharing" set-up that the group had formed she was able to receive $18 a week to keep her off the streets and able to care for Jasper. In return for the $18 she and Jasper would pick up trash along the road.

Jasper is just a sweet innocent child. He is a handsome boy with beautiful flowing blond hair. He's only about three feet tall and even at six years old he is not potty trained. He is mostly wandering the encampment in a shirt and no pants. Mentally he's a little slow. He used to follow River and Edgar everywhere before River died.

It was Jasper's birthday today. Yesterday I got a donated cake and gave it to him. He asked what it was – he'd never had a birthday cake. He asked if it was all for him and I explained that it was his, but he could share it with everyone. He said that was good because it looked like it was too much for him.

Today when I saw him, he was looking more forlorn than usual. It seems that because I cannot buy the plastic bags and pay the people for picking up the garbage, Laura has gone back to the streets to earn some money. Last Friday she left and told one of the ladies to make sure they looked after Jasper. They have not seen her since.

I went to the sheriff's office to file a missing persons report and the officer told me there wasn't much chance I'd find her. I got the underlying message that they wouldn't even try to look.

The ripple effects of such a simple thing as $18 a week has changed the course of life for Jasper and the whole community. Because I cannot buy $60 worth of bags and I cannot pay them $150 for the 150 bags they collect each week, Jasper has now become a motherless child.

We continue to pray on Fridays. The community is struggling to find any kind of work that pays anything. But when there is not the $180 each week to do laundry no one wants to get near them when they go anywhere looking for jobs.

Each day I go into their midst and try to be cheerful and hopeful, but life has been very hard this summer.

Keep praying for these wonderful hardworking people who continue to pray together to find solutions to their desperate dilemma. God is good.

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June 2014

Recently, I took Edgar to breakfast. I felt it was time for him to talk about losing his best friend, River. As we sat at the table, Edgar filled his mouth with the last bite of his waffle and then blurted out: " I wanna do what you do Mr. Pete!" He went on, "River an' me bin watchin you an' thought we could do this kind of work together, but now River's gone. Can you help me do it alone? My mother an' dad told me ev'ry day that I wasn no good 'tall, but I think I'm good an' that I kin help you with what you do – what d'ya think, Mr. Pete? I know you're no Revrin', Mr. Pete cuz me an' River talked about it all the time. It didn' matter what we wer doin' at the time, wether we was runnin' off to pick up stuff with Lester or helpin' Bernice cook, or when we run off to fish together we kep wondrin' who you was an' why you done what you do fer us here n the woods. Y'all do so much fer us, it seems all good to me. Why do you do what you do? Til I met up with you, Mr. Pete, I di'n know if I was gonna live to see another day. But you come along n picked me up. Why did you do that fer me?"

I was very happy to hear Edgar talk so openly and asked him to tell me a little more about his Mom and Dad.

"When my mother n dad dumped me at the rest stop, my life took a diffren path than it would have if I had been in their lives. It's funny ta think, but I don' miss them et all. All they ev'r did wuz make me feel like nobody. I walked and walked n I kept tellin myself I wasn't a nobody. It took you and Verna (Verna is one of the women in the community. She has been teaching Edgar to read.) to teach me how wrong it would have been to list'n to the two people in my life who hated me the most."

Edgar believes his parents really hated him. He recounted the last thing he remembers them saying before they drove off and left him at a rest stop on the highway: "My dad said to my mom we gotta do sumthin bout this kid. He aint gonna never be nothin but a no account trouble maker."

He told me a little more of his family history: "My dad was in the service during Desert Storm, and lost lots of friends on a patrol do'in somethin where he lost his reason to go on. Years later, when my mom got pregnan', she writ ta him ta tell him. All he said wuz: 'You gunna keep it?' "

I told Edgar that when I met him and heard a little of his story, I knew I wanted him to be safe and that is why I took him to Lester and Lilly in the woods. He has been so happy with the community. He is loved and accepted for who he is – a child of God. I explained to him that we are all works in progress and that our lives are continually growing as long as we live and Edgar gave me a look of understanding.

"You will never be a "nobody", Edgar. I love you, and so does everyone here in the woods. You will be as real as the love they have for you."

Edgar reiterated: " Yer tellin' me I'm as real as the love you and everyone has inside them for me? Right?"

I said "Yes!"

Edgar started to talk about his deep love for his best friend, River, and he began to cry. He went on: "I bin giv'n a loos'n hand n life an' learnt sum tricks on how ta bluff my way through hard times. Mr. Pete, you an' Verna, an' Lester, an' Lilly, an' Scout hept teach me sum tricks through the hard times. You an' the folks here n the woods teached me I don' need to bluff no more."

"I'm gonna' get my GED , that I promise, I'm goin' on from here someday soon cuz y'all make it real clear to me that I'm worth somethin'. Mr. Pete you told me that if I bluff my way where I'm goin I'll never find my way to who I am, an' no one else will either."

"I'm keepin' the list of my 'Gotta's' an' I need your help to keep it straight." Edgar explained he was making a list of things he wanted to do in life. He was setting goals.

He's come a long way in the few weeks since River's death. Edgar now has a girl friend he spends lots of time with. She lives with the community in the woods and is going to school to get her GED. They are talking about going to school together. Edgar says he doesn't want to stop at his GED – he wants to go to college.

God bless him.

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April 2014

River died last night. It was a brain tumor.

Since I have been working with the people in the woods, River has been my constant source of pure joy. At about seventeen years old he stood nearly five feet two inches with hazel eyes that saw fun around every tree. He had straight auburn hair that had never seen a good haircut and stuck out in unnatural ways. His clothes hung on his slight body and the shoes he wore never fit.

Every morning he would greet me with a loud: “Revrin Pete! Revrin Pete! Cum ear!” And then he would show me the latest of his discoveries. It might be a pile of sticks he’d counted, a scratch on his arm, or some leaf that was different than any other he had ever seen. Nature was miraculous. Life through his eyes was a wonder.

The first Christmas I knew him I was talking about the Nativity and he asked: “What is ‘nativity’?” That was the beginning of his outward, public relationship with God.

In our weekly prayer services, he was always the one who would ask the questions or make the statements that made everyone think. After one reading about Jesus wandering the countryside with his friends he said: “Jesus was poor like us, wasn’t he?”

Recently he was fascinated about talking to God. We spent time doing some guided visualizations where he said he “saw” Jesus and Jesus talked to him. One day he said when he was closing his eyes he saw a pretty lady who was more beautiful than anyone he had ever seen and she was floating on the air.

He was an innocent, pure spirit. He had no malice in him. Even when he was beaten badly by some unknown hoodlums and left on the side of the road to die, he prayed for these men.

On Friday, April 18, while Lester and I were preparing the normal Friday prayer service, River and Edgar were sitting on a log and Edgar was reading to River from one of the books I had just brought him.

Lester and I heard a thump and then Verna shouted: “Revrin Pete! Revrin Pete! Come quick!”

River had fallen to the ground and was lying on his back looking up at the sky. When I came into his line of sight he said: “You are not really a reverend, are you?”

I told him no, I was not really a reverend. I had been called that by Scout after we’d done a few prayer services. He said; “I thought so.”

Edgar, Scout, and Lester helped River to his feet and guided him to one of the dugout holes to rest. As he went River commented: “I got me the worst headache, it’s terrible.”

Verna went down into the “dungeon” to stay with River while we had our prayer service. As I prepared to leave for the weekend, I heard River call up to me from below: “Reverend Pete, I want to say goodbye!”

I called down to him that I would see him on Monday. Then I told Lester to call me if anything more happened and I went off to a joyous weekend with my whole family who were in town visiting for Easter.

I returned early Monday morning to the woods to hear from Verna that she had been up all weekend. River had not slept and he was talking the whole time and not making sense. He’d also been throwing up. River was sitting up above ground in the sun with Edgar. Edgar was holding his hand and helping him with anything he needed. River seemed very frail.

Lester told me that River was telling everyone who passed by that he wanted to marry them.

Tuesday River was walking around wanting to hold hands with everyone, but by Wednesday Verna was panicked. She was exhausted. She said: “Reverend Pete, me ‘n River’s been down in the hole talkin all night for the most part he ain’t made any sense, but sometimes he whines because his head hurts so much. Can we get him to the hospital right away?”

River chimed in: “There’s something happening to me isn’t there Reverend Pete? I told you good bye on Friday because it felt like I was going to die.”

It occurred to me that River’s speech was very different than it had ever been. He had lost his twang and he was using complete words and many words that previously I had never heard him utter. It was apparent something was seriously wrong.

River kept talking:”He didn’t say so, but I know he was Jesus. Is that ok, Reverend Pete? He told me you’d teach people how to do what you are doing here with us, but won’t do that with anyone here. What did he mean, Reverend Pete?”

I responded that if a man was talking to him it could be Jesus. I tried to comfort him, telling him it was ok.

He went on: “Edgar’s going to run off to get married, and all the friends I have here will be a memory this time next week.”

I called Ogi. (Ogi is an older man who has been helping the community by letting them use his water hose to collect clean drinking water. He and his wife live in a small trailer and provide the address that the kids to use for school.) I asked Ogi to help me figure a way to get River to the hospital. Ogi has a truck and we planned that he would go with us to the hospital and I would pay for him to stay in a motel nearby so he could monitor River and get information from the doctor.

We put River into the truck and drove to Concord, North Carolina where there was a hospital with a full time social worker. The social worker who saw him was ok with the fact that he had no last name, no birthdate, no social security number, and no address. She said this happens quite often. After doing the paperwork, they took him into the emergency room.

The doctor listened to all that had been happening with River during the previous days. Then the doctor said it was most likely that River had a glioblastoma brain tumor. This could not be confirmed until he could do an MRI, but the MRI was booked for the next two weeks. He said they would have River stay overnight for observation. That way they could give him something for the pain and help him be more comfortable. We would have to bring him back when the MRI was available.

I left Ogi with River and he assured me he would keep a good eye on him. Ogi went to check into his Motel 6 room and then returned to the hospital to sit in River’s room. Just before dark River said, “Ogi, please take me home. Take me home now, please, Ogi!”
Ogi went to the front desk to tell the nurse on duty he was taking River home. She told Ogi that would be fine, because there would be no MRI available for two weeks. She said that if he left the hospital he would not have the medication for the headache and they would not be able to observe his mood changes, but if he needed to go then he should go.

Ogi got him into this truck and River put his head in his hands for a minute or two. Then River looked at Ogi and he slumped down and died.

Ogi took River home to his woodland family and they took care of him. He is resting in his favorite place.

At noon today we had a prayer service and each person shared River memories. This one small innocent child affected the lives of everyone around him. His innocent and loving nature was a gift to all who knew him.

River died last night and he is living in the arms of his Jesus.

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March 2014

There is an attitude that some people have when it comes to homelessness. In this great country of such unlimited opportunity, some people seem to think that if you work hard enough, anyone can have a job and a home.

In my experience, there are a lot of reasons why people are homeless. Many have been so badly hurt in society that they just opt out. Some have mental illness or addictions. Some are victims of lost jobs, illness, or financial problems. Some are ex-offenders who cannot get work in traditional ways. Some have lost all their documentation (Birth Certificates, IDs, and Social Security Cards) and cannot get new documents because you need an ID to get a Social Security Card or Birth Certificate and you must have a Birth Certificate and Social Security Card to get and ID.

The people I serve in the woods of South Carolina are there for some of those reasons. They live hidden among the trees. Most of them cannot live anywhere else.

This community is made up of 43 hard working, creative, talented people. They do whatever jobs they can get (washing windows, mowing lawns, scraping bricks, cleaning motel rooms) to try to survive. Truck of Love helps them with the things they cannot afford on their meager earnings.

I and two other people are the only ones who know where the community is hidden in the woods. They will not allow me to bring any visitors to their location because they live in fear of being hurt. Twice River and Edgar have been beaten when they wandered too far from home.

Several times strangers have come upon their encampment and threatened them with harm if they didn't move.

They are not hurting anyone. They are actually doing a public service each week by cleaning up the garbage along the highways near their encampment. They have a non-smoking and non-drinking rule that they enforce.

Last week we were snowed in and for three days I could not get to the woods. By the time I did make it, they were completely out of food and had been melting snow for water. Lester got into my truck and we immediately went off to the grocery store. As I was driving toward town, I noticed a sheriff's car following me. I didn't say anything to Lester, but thought to myself "Not again".

I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store and Lester hopped out of the truck and took the only shopping cart into the store. As he wheeled the cart away he saw the police car park near me. With a look of terror he went into the building at lightning speed and disappeared into the crowd of shoppers.

I ran interference by going around the truck and locking the rider's side door and then I walked back around the truck to lock the door on my side. I was watching the sheriff's car out of the corner of my eye.

The officer got out of his car and was standing about thirty yards away when four pickup trucks with oversized tires surrounded us. The officer leaned against one of the trucks and motioned for me to approach him. I heard one of the truck drivers call out, "Officer – ya need any help?"

The officer shook his head.

I got close to him and observed a young balding man in uniform who was not wearing a badge or name tag. He did not introduce himself, but instead stated: "We know who you are. If you keep on doing what you are doing with this rabble living out of doors, I'm going to make sure you get in real trouble, and these people are going to get themselves arrested for being vagrants."

As I looked around at the five fellows in the trucks, I was relieved to see that they looked young enough to be in high school.

I asked the officer, if he was speaking officially, why wasn't he wearing a badge or name tag? He did not reply. He simply got back in his patrol car and he and the four trucks left me there alone in the parking lot.

Lester and I finished our shopping and returned with food to the hungry people in the woods.

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February 2014

People end up living in the woods for a lot of reasons. Fiona is nineteen and has been with the group for about two years.

She was seventeen when she left home. She thought she didn't need the smothering of a mother and a slow, small Nebraska town. She took what was hers and moved east to South Carolina where she hoped for excitement and work. Ending up living in the woods, she befriended Cinnamon, who washes windows in the nearby town. As Cinnamon's business grew, she asked Fiona if she would like to make some extra money and so Fiona joined the window washing. Fiona also found a job in a local motel where she cleaned rooms. She is a hard worker and very industrious. She was saving her money so she could have a place of her own.

What I didn't know was that Fiona was also working a third job – she was selling her body.

Two Friday's ago, after our prayer service, Fiona nervously approached me and asked if I would take her to get a cup of coffee in the nearby town. I headed for the local I Hop where Lester and I go each week. As we drove, Fiona started to tell me why it is that she has been sick and missing work. She is pregnant.

Through bouts of tears, the story slowly came out. She has been prostituting herself because she can earn more money that way than she does at either of her other two jobs. She does not have any idea who the father is. She wants to keep the baby and wanted to get in touch with her mother and go back home.

Fiona is an only child. Her father died many years ago. Her mother is alone and lonely. Fiona was hoping that if she explained her situation to her Mom that her Mom would welcome her back. But Fiona had left in such an awful way, she was afraid to call her Mom. We decided to write her a letter.

It took a couple of days to construct the letter. In the letter, Fiona apologized to her Mom for her teenage behavior. Then she told her what she had been doing and that she was pregnant.

She asked her Mom to call her so they could talk. We mailed the letter on a Monday.

Three days later my phone rang. Fiona's Mom, Myrtle, wanted to know everything. She was a little suspicious of me and my intentions at first, but when I explained who I was and what I do, she slowly warmed up. Myrtle, wanted Fiona to come home. She wired money through Western Union so Fiona could buy a bus ticket.

One week after Fiona told me about her situation we had our normal Friday morning prayer service. Everyone had an opportunity to say goodbye to Fiona and wish her well. When we were all prayed up, Fiona got into my truck one last time and we headed north to Charlotte to the Greyhound bus station. Fiona jabbered all the way there-she was so excited to go home.

I made sure she had her pre-natal vitamins that we'd gotten at the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Rock Hill. She grabbed her belongings and promised to let me know if the baby was a boy or girl. I smiled as she eagerly got out of my truck and walked into the bus station and her new life.

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January 2014

So, lots of people have been asking us what our friends who live in the woods do in this cold weather. They do not have tents. They have tarps. They have blankets.

They had already dug two pits into the earth - one for bike parts and one for cooking. Each one is 8 feet deep, 8 feet wide and 20 feet long. A few people have been sleeping in these underground pits. Today Pete asked Lester if they wanted to dig another pit so everyone can sleep underground. Lester jumped at the idea and they went shopping for wood to shore up the sides and top. They needed another pick ax and a couple more shovels and by the time Pete left this morning they were hard at work digging.

River is really good with a pick ax and he was singing as he broke the dirt. Edgar was shoveling - he's the best at that. Lots of the other folks were digging and picking and carrying dirt away from the camp so there won't be a new mountain in the underbrush. They expect it will take two days and by Wednesday, when the temps will be in the teens, they will have a new underground room.

There are 42 people in the community right now and anyone who wants an underground space will have one.

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December 2013

This week in the woods has been all about baby squirrels and lightning bugs.

Huge, one of the boys who live in the woods, wanted to show me Marshmallow, a baby squirrel he has saved from predators and the cooking pot.

Hugh is about nineteen and spends his days collecting garbage that people throw on the side of the road. Truck of Love pays him one dollar for each big garbage bag he fills and so he has rigged a sled on wheels behind his bike that can carry ten large bags full of garbage. He loads these bags onto my truck and we take them to the recycling center. He gets a little extra money from the bottles and cans he keeps to the side. This is his work.

In his quest for stuff he came upon a nest of four baby squirrels – little tiny, pink, bald ones that had fallen out of a tree. He saved them from Bernice, the cook, who usually puts them in the stew and calls them meatballs. "But I knows better!" He says.

He placed the babies in a box and fed them with a syringe and some baby formula he'd also found along side of the road. Marshmallow, named for the white spots on his fur, is the only one that has survived this past month.

When Hugh lets Marshmallow out of the box, the tiny squirrel runs around Hugh's legs and stays really close.

When Marshmallow isn't running around Hugh, he sleeps in a box that Hugh keeps close. They are the best of friends.

Two nights ago, Marshmallow was missing. It was dusk and had been a really warm day – the last warm day before the big freeze we knew was coming. River and Edgar had joined Hugh in searching for Marshmallow. By their own admission, they knew they were not supposed to be so far from camp, but they were worried that if it got dark, Marshmallow would not be found. On Hugh's instruction, they tramped through the trees calling, "Marshmallow, Marshmallow"; when, according to Edgar, "Out of the ground come a pretty cloud."

"Yea," said River."It looked like Christmas. It was a swarm of lightin' bugs."

Edgar picked up the story: "Me an River stopped talkin when we seen it, an jes looked. They was blinkin and winkin at us like a flien Christmas tree shape - then a long string of Christmas lights. Then River said, 'Look it's Santa Clause.' I din see Santa 'tall, but River did and I b'lieve 'im."

I asked the boys, "Where's Marshmallow? Did you find him?"

Edgar replied, "Well tha's jes it. We was watchin the lightnin bugs make all their shapes when Marshmallow come up my leg and rested his self on on my arm an took up lookin right along with me at the lightning bugs.

Ever'thin got to be real quiet 'n I felt like I was a little kid again, and that ever'thin was gonna be alright. I began gittin real happy, but when I opened my mouth to tell River not to say nothin, I couldn't say nothin, so I stayed quiet. When Marshmallow come up'n set on my arm I could feel tingly pins."

The Lightning Bugs are all gone now. Lester and a couple of other woodland inhabitants affirmed that this phenomenon had really taken place. Lester's only comment: "I never seen lightnin bugs swarm."

Merry Christmas.

November 2013

“I was five when my momma and daddy sold me to ‘Uncle Jim’.”

This began my journey into Bernice’s story that left me disgusted and dumbfounded, but with a whole new insight and respect for this diminutive woodland lady.

Bernice is one of the people who call the woods her home. As with everyone else, she has a history. She approached me one day last week to ask me to write down her story. After several attempts to find the time to listen, I finally sat with her.

She remembers some of her early life when she was the youngest in a family of ten children. She remembers how cold the mornings were and how hungry she was all the time because she was the youngest and the smallest and everyone else ate first. She does not remember her last name, but as she says: “No matter, I got a first one.”

She does not remember where she lived. She never learned to read or write, so she will never read this story, but I will read it to her.  

She arrived in our community in the woods a couple of years ago. She has been a very quiet, private person who has taken on the chore of cooking for the whole group of forty. She is the one who makes the traps to catch the squirrels for her famous, fabulous squirrel stew. This day, she rolls six small blue pop beads with the fingers of one hand. The pop beads are the only remnant of her birth family. She says these beads keep her calm.

She continues with her story.

Her mother told her that Uncle Jim was going to teach her a trade so she could help support the family. Her mother didn’t tell her she would never see her family again.

Uncle Jim took her to live in his twenty room motel. She was put in the care of a girl named Melanie, who seemed much older, about fourteen. Melanie became her best friend among the five boys and seven girls who lived in three rooms. Uncle Jim lived in one of the rooms with several of the children. The children did all the cleaning and chores – they were the motel staff.

Each night the children were told to strip naked so their clothes could be washed. Then they would play games.  Some nights they would be forced to stay up til morning. Most nights they were ushered into Uncle Jim’s room where he would help them get dressed for bedtime.

Bernice stated: “Melanie would tell all of us: ‘Don’t try runnin’ off cause when we git caught he’ll hurt everyone.’”

As the months and years went by, the children spent some nights in the rooms of other motel guests. The prettiest children were in demand the most. Bernice and Melanie were not among those most favored so they were often the cooks and cleaners.

Bernice and Melanie could hear train whistles from the motel. They dreamed about jumping on the train and going somewhere, anywhere but where they were.

One night, Melanie was walking out of the room and told Bernice she would see her in the morning. When Bernice awoke, Melanie was not there. She never saw her again.

Life without Melanie became unbearable. Bernice stayed at the motel another four or five years – she doesn’t know for sure. She feared the nights she had to go to the guest’s rooms where she was forced to do unspeakable things. When she was about fourteen, she realized she had to get away. So one night she put on what clothes she had and snuck out.

She followed the sounds and discovered the train tracks. It was there she encountered a man she calls Muley and his dog, Scratch. Muley saw she was hungry and thirsty and he shared some of his bread and water with her. He let her travel with him for about four years. They went everywhere. Muley knew how to survive and he taught Bernice the tricks of the rails. They carried their belongings tied to a stick. They would get off a train at certain places where they would find food and clothing for the next leg of their trip. They acquired the necessities of life with a combination of panhandling and stealing. Muley was very good to Bernice and Scratch the dog was a constant loving companion.

About three years into their partnership, Scratch died. Muley went into a deep depression and after about a year he just disappeared. Bernice was alone.

She had no idea where she was and just started walking. She met up with another man who lived in the woods and who took her in and helped her learn to survive in that environment. They stayed together for a while until he also left her.

She walked and walked until she stumbled upon the group she now calls her family. She sits next to the fire she has created, stirring a pot of beans, fingering her blue pop beads. There is an air of contentment about her these days. At the age of about twenty-four she has found a safe place to call home.

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October 2013

“We bin found out agin, Revern Pete. Four men and their dogs come through our camp last night a’yellen ta wake ever one up. They told us to git up and to git out of here right now, or they’d sic their hounds on us.”

These were Lester’s words after the reading with which we opened our Friday morning prayer service. I’d just been thinking what a beautiful morning it was in the woodland paradise. We’d opened the service with a reading from the Gospel of Mark: “The Son of man is to be handed over and they will kill him…”

Lester went on to tell me (and the group) that he had been calm then told the men: “We’s gonna go, but in the mornin’, and not till after we’s prayed up.”

We all sat stunned as Lester went on to explain, “They got real ugly and they got their dogs t’barkin. I promised ‘em we’d leave in the mornin after we said our prayers and they was ok with that.”

After Lester opened the reflection everyone wanted to speak. Mostly they wanted to talk about being kicked out of their homes. (They each have made their tarps into personalized dwellings. One lady has a two room tarp home.) The comments all came down to:”Wher’s this all gonna stop? Wher we gonna go?”

Scout shot his hand into the air to say his piece. He said, “I bin lookin all along for someplace ta move if we git throwd outta here. I had my eye on a place jis across the river, bout half mile from the main road and bout five mile by road from here. No one goes there cuz it’s too hard to git to. We kin git our wash water from the river jes here and Revern Pete kin git us drinkin water from Oli & Oggi. It’s got a real nice clearin and a spot wher Jack can dig a pit and store his bike stuff.”

After the group prayer and sharing everyone got to work. Both Lester and I marveled as we watched each person pack up their personal items and start to load my truck for the first of many trips to their new home.

As the morning went on Soukey, one of the mothers, used the cell phone to call the school district to make sure the kids could get picked up on the new road. She was assured that there were several other children picked up near the new area and the kids would still be able to get to school.

I noticed that there was no fear coming from the group. They just quickly and quietly worked together to get the job done. They have come a long way in the three years I’ve known them. They now trust each other and depend upon each other and love each other. They have become a true Christian community.

As we worked, Lester reflected, “I know the Lord will provide us with what we need.  There’s no reasin ta worry.”

I thought how interesting it was that Scout had been looking “just in case” something like this happened in the future.

I happily took the first load of shovels and people to the new site. As we stood looking at the beauty of the new home site, Lester asked me to bless the new land with a prayer. The Twenty- third Psalm immediately came to mind and I quoted: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”

Then we all got to work.

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September 2013

I was stopped by two Sherriff’s cars this morning. They pulled in front and in back of me, lights flashing as I was driving in my blue Toyota truck to the community in the woods. I pulled over and retrieved my registration, license and proof of insurance while they approached me. One officer asked for my papers and the other officer asked me if I knew why he had pulled me over. I was stopped by two Sherriff’s cars this morning. They pulled in front and in back of me, lights flashing as I was driving in my blue Toyota truck to the community in the woods. I pulled over and retrieved my registration, license and proof of insurance while they approached me. One officer asked for my papers and the other officer asked me if I knew why he had pulled me over. Dumbfounded, I told him I didn’t have a clue. I hadn’t run any stops signs, I wasn’t speeding, and my registration was up-to-date.

He told me to get out of the truck, to put my hands on the hood .He frisked me and found sixty cents in my pocket. I joked, that had he waited I would have been at the Goodwill buying kids school clothes. He was not amused. He pulled out handcuffs and snapped them around my wrists. He took my keys out of the ignition. I remained silent. He told me to get into the back seat of his car.

Once I was seated and the door was closed he got into the driver’s seat and pulled out onto the road. He drove and I sat in silence. The other patrol car pulled out behind us. After about ten minutes of aimless driving, both cars stopped on the side of an unknown road. The officer asked me to exit the car.

I got out, still handcuffed and he pushed me against the trunk of the patrol car. Then he took off the handcuffs and told me to get back into the back seat of the patrol car. I followed his direction. The two officers stayed by the side of the car discussing something. Finishing their conversation, they both got back into the driver’s seats. The other car took off leaving me alone with the one officer.

He said: “I want you to know, Mr. Fullerton, that we are not going to call in your vehicle. We stopped you because the Sherriff is real curious about you and what you’re doing here.”

Astonished, I asked: “What is going to happen then?”

He replied, “We’re ordered to cuff all riders in the back seat. I’m gonna take you back to your truck. I’m gonna tell the dispatcher I did my due diligence and questioned you, but nothing came up on you and you’re free to go. I know all about the people in the woods and what you’ve been doing and I don’t care. So long as they don’t steal or cause a ruckus, me and my friends will look the other way. “

He went on to say something surprising to me: “You need to be careful. You’ve been targeted by our department. We’ve all been directed to be on the lookout for a blue Toyota truck with “Truck of Love” on it. Ever since you called in those two boys being beaten up, I’ve been interested in you and your work. We’re told to scare the heck out of people we see along the road so they’ll go on their way. But you seem to be ok.”

We arrived back at my truck. As he let me go he said, “Don’t call the County Station, we don’t need publicity.”

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August 2013

I arrived at the encampment in the woods this past Monday morning to a sight I never want to see again.

The adults and kids in the group were gathered around Edgar and River. As you may recall, Edgar, who is about 17 years old, came to the community some months ago with just the clothes on his back. River has been living with his adoptive parents in the woods for several years. He is also about 17, but he has the sweet mind of a child of about 6 years. The boys have formed a great friendship and are never far from each other.

It seems that on Sunday afternoon they had gone off together to collect cans along the highway near the camp. (They are always looking for ways to make a little extra money.) Lester, who is continually concerned about safety, had reminded the boys that they could not be gone more than an hour.

When dinner time came and went and there was no sign of the boys, Lester and Scout went out to look for them. As dark came on, the rest of the community fanned out along the highway calling for the boys.

It was close to midnight before Scout heard crying and called for the search party to follow the sounds. They found Edgar and River huddled together in terror under a tree not too far off the highway. They were covered with blood from open wounds all over their faces and arms.

River seemed to be beaten the worst, unable to stand because of pain in his side. Both boys' eyes were swollen shut. Unable to see much, they had stayed close to each other as darkness engulfed them.

Lester and Scout and the group brought the boys back to camp and tended to them the best way they could until I arrived in the morning. I then took them to a local doctor who had helped me once before. He wasn't in his office, but his office nurse was kind enough to call ahead to the hospital for us. After cleaning wounds and a full examination, it was determined that there were no broken bones. Each boy's wounds were massive, but needed only butterflies to close open skin and lots of tender loving attention to help them recover.

As we cared for the boys the story of their ordeal came out.

They had gone off to collect cans along the highway for recycling. While they worked, a big black truck pulled over and stopped. Edgar said," six white guys jumped out and they jumped us. We tried runnin in two different directions, but that jes made them mad. They caught us and they wanted to know where we was stayin' an told us if we didn' tell 'em, they'd beat us to death. They started on River cuz they thought he was a sissy cuz he started cryin. They knocked him down and started kickin him til he was quiet. Then they started on me. They jes kept hittin us and hurtin us all over and over agin. They told us if we moved from where we was, they would come to our camp and burn it out and kill us. They said if they ever saw us agin, they would kill us."

We used butterflies (little band aides that close wounds when stitches are not used) to close the broken skin all over the boys faces. They were bruised and sore all over.

As I listened to this story and saw these two precious boys suffering, I could feel my anger rising. Who could do this to another human being? Why? I do not understand this kind of evil.

I did go to the police department, but of course they cannot file any complaint without the people who have been beaten coming forward. I asked them to be on the lookout for six men who fit the description the boys had given.

Please continue to pray for the people in this woodland community.

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June 2013

Ever since Edgar arrived in the camp in the woods, he and River have been inseparable. They have a fierce love for each other and do everything together – except for reading (Edgar is so smart and is learning how to read, but River will never have the ability to read). So, when Edgar is not reading, the thing they love most is to go fishing.

I came into camp one recent Friday morning and was greeted by Edgar who was holding out an injured right hand: "Rever'n Pete, River let my fish go and I lost my string and my hook along with the fish. I was pullin' the fish from the water when River jerked it from my grip. I pulled so hard to git the fish that I hit my hand on the rock that was jes above my head and it hurt me real bad. Did River give me arthritis or somethin?"

I explained to Edgar that what happened was an accident and that arthritis is a disease that builds up over the years and is not caused by slamming your hand against a rock. I looked at his bruised hand and determined that was all it was and sent him on his way.

I then went to meet with Lester to get ready for our weekly prayer service. River and Edgar came to the prayer service from separate directions and sat as far away from each other as possible in a group of 30 or so people.

The readings were about Jesus' love for us. We talked about how Jesus died on the cross for our sins and how He loved us through it all. We talked about how Jesus forgives each of us and we need to also forgive each other. We talked about how in the midst of Jesus pain he turned to the good thief and forgave him.

About this time, River put his hands over his eyes and got up and walked into the woods – away from the group. Just as abruptly, Edgar followed after River.

I then got the attention of the group to let them know what was going on between Edgar and River. Lester said, "We'll take care of this."

Each person in the group made a commitment to help Edgar and River and each other. Even Scout went over and hugged Verna – two people who are like oil and water.

The prayer service was ending and the group was about ready to go searching for Edgar and River, when the boys came into sight walking arm-in-arm over the brow of the hill. We could see their broad smiles as they wiped tears out of their eyes. As soon as they got to the group a spontaneous group hug ensued.

I love Friday morning prayer services in the woods.

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April 2013

I've met a lot of different kinds of people living in the woods. There are those who have lost jobs and home through no fault of their own, those who are running away from something and then there are those like Woody.

Woody is gentle, temperate, curious, and willing to share his life's experience with anyone who will listen. I've been listening to him for several months. He is from the North and has done lots of different jobs including fisherman, policeman, and carpenter. He told me, "For sixteen years I worked for 'the Man', but now I do for myself. I can't stop being curious about everything and this one part of my character has caused me to want to know as much about how life works as I can learn."

I've been watching Woody and have seen that his new passion is gardening. He wants to be a master gardener and he goes through the woods identifying plants from a book he carries around.

Most days Woody goes off with the other men who work at the brick factory where they scrape the mortar off of bricks so they can be resold as used bricks. He gets ten cents per brick and some very rough, sore hands for that work.

Last Friday morning Woody approached me and said he wanted to talk at our weekly prayer service. I referred him to Lester who was leading the service that day. Lester told him that would be fine.

Lester began the prayer service and then called on Woody to talk. Woody began: "We have each grown where we've been planted. God has that power you know! We each have grown from God's seed and by the power of God we have become strong in our faith. In the bible Jesus talks about the garden growing as a way of explaining how we can learn. Jesus talks about seeds falling on good ground, and growing. Jesus also speaks in the same parable about seed falling in thistles and on hard ground without being able to grow at all. I believe we are all able to grow in our own faith right here where we are planted, because where we are is Holy Ground. If it's bad ground it's because we probably made it that way by our bad attitude."

Woody continued with his homespun way of expressing his personal parables."I was the seed which was planted and nourished. So my root began reaching out to whatever source I could find to survive. Just like a weed I grow. My mind grew, my body grew and it continues to search for the beauty God has hidden in my seed. He promised me when I was little that I was going to grow and be strong."

"I was the kid left on the church steps. I don't know who my parents are or where I came from. I just know I was left on the church steps there in New Jersey. I was raised a Catholic (This brought wide eyed looks from everyone sitting there.)The nuns were good people, but liked to hit me with the holy stick too much. I thought I understood what they were teaching me, but I guess I didn't, 'cause they just kept hitting me. I was blessed to get such a good education, and they did encourage my curiosity. Being set on the steps of the church helped me root in the 'good soil' long enough to branch out and go out on my own."

"There are some of us here who are in the wrong soil, but that's not up to anyone but you to figure that out for yourselves. But here you are- here we are, with just enough warmth and love to grow and love each other back. My prayer for you is that we all make the beauty God
intended and help those here who are lost or choked off by the thistles Jesus was talking about in the bible. We all have the grace of God in us to let the birds build nests in our branches, because that's what birds do. We branch and give each other shade."

As Woody walked to his place to sit we were all deeply touched by is presentation. It looks like the favored seating at next Friday's prayer service will be close to Woody.

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February 2013

This month's story is a tale of two boys. River, who I've known for about three years, who is about 17 and is the mental age of about 4 or 5; and Edgar, age about 16, who is new to the community in the woods. Edgar showed up on the side of the road a couple of weeks ago. He
was shoeless and sitting on the ground when I saw him. I stopped my truck, got out and began a conversation. I happened to have a pair of shoes in my truck that fit him perfectly. The story I got from him was one of alcoholism, illness, and abuse. He was alone in the woods.

Edgar has quickly been welcomed into the woodland community and he and River have formed a great friendship. They spend hours playing in the woods and doing chores together.

Just a few days after Edgar turned up, I made my usual daily arrival early in the morning. I was pulling my truck into a secluded spot off the road, behind some trees and I could just barely see two familiar outlines approaching me through the fog. It was Lester, the community leader, and his wife, Lilly. He was guiding her, as he always does, and in her blindness, she was leaning on him.

When they got to where I was, I could see that Lester was looking really weary, not surprising to me, because the past month had been very hard with lots of illness among the people and many trips to the hospital and pharmacy.

Lester had bags under his eyes and Lilly was silent as the Lester spoke, "Good morning, Reverend Pete, Let's take a ride. OK?"

"Where are we going?" I asked.

Lester nearly broke into tears, "River's gone missin'. Everyone's lookin' fer'im. River didn' make it to dinner las night and we haven seen him since he and Edgar bin playin 'roun near the highway in the afternoon."

We mobilized in several different directions. It was wash day, so we loaded the truck with the dirty clothes. We also sent people in several directions to look for River. Once I got to the Laundromat, I could use my cell phone. I called the local hospital and told them my son was missing. I described River, but they said they had seen no new patients. I called the police station and told them: "My boy, River, has gone missing yesterday." The police had no one in custody resembling River.

Lilly and I finished the clothes washing and drying and dejectedly headed back to the encampment.

Scout saw us coming and met us with the news that River had been found. He'd been about a quarter mile from the camp on the side of the road. When they found him he was curled up in a fetal position groaning in pain. His eyes were black and blue and swollen shut and he was cold.

Lilly and I went to where River lay in camp. Edgar had covered him with several blankets and just kept saying "Yer home, River. Yer home, River."

It turns out that River had thought, in his young mind, that he was going to earn some money of his own. He knows I pay the people in the group $1 a bag to pick up the trash on the side of the road. So he went off by himself to pick up trash and cans – even though everyone has told him never to go off by himself.

He was busy working and he only remembers someone coming up from behind. He doesn't remember the beating that left him with swollen eyes and bruises all over his body. I gently took him through a range of motion and asked him if he thought he needed to go to the hospital.

"Nah! I'll be ok." was his reply.

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January 2013

"What's a Boy! What's a Boy"

I arrived in the woods this morning to shouts of joy and confusion. Lester and Scout ran toward me as I parked my truck yelling: "What's a boy! What's a boy!"

"What?" I said to myself.

As I got closer, I heard what they were really saying: "It's a boy! It's a boy!"

Feeling like a very old comedy act, I called out: "What's a boy?"

Thinking to myself: "No one in this woodland community is pregnant." I waited for an explanation.

Lester told me what had happened the previous evening: it was about 11:30 that night when Scout (who is the lookout for the community and hears everything) heard what sounded like groaning coming from the road nearby the encampment. He cautiously made his way toward the sounds and found a young couple crouched together by the side of the road. The young man had his arms around the girl and it was apparent she was very pregnant and in labor.

"Ah jes aks'd em to c'mon over by the fire to get warm. Then I called you, Revr'n Pete, but you din answer yer phone. They was scard nuf to let us help em. They cum and set a spell by the fire and was lookin tired nuf to git sum sleep, but that baby wanted to cum real bad.

Whilst that was happin'n, River was getting tarps an blankets by the fire and Lilly was yell'n:"Boil sum water! Lester, boil sum water!"

I aks'd her why for? An she said: "I saw it once on "Little House on the Prairie."

"Bout 4:30 this morn'n the baby boy was born."

Lester invited me over to meet the baby and his parents. They hardly looked up at me, because they were so involved cooing in wonderment over their child. The baby was wrapped in a rough blanket. His parents were very young and strikingly beautiful. The mother had dark hair and translucent white skin. The father had shoulder length wavy brown hair. They appeared to be in their late teen years.

I told Lester I would go get the bread (I pick up donated bread and pastries every Tuesday for this group) and pass by the store for some diapers. I also told him that when I got back, I would take the family to the local hospital to make sure mom and baby were ok.

I took off in my truck to do my errands and upon my return I met a very distressed Lester. Scout had been charged with watching over the couple in my absence. But Scout was exhausted by his night's adventure and had fallen asleep. The mother, father and child had disappeared!

I quickly gathered four of the men into the bed of my truck. I drove them down the road where they fanned out to search the woods and roads. But after an hour we had found no trace of the new family.

Everyone was very sad. As I left that day, I told them to call me if they found the couple and the baby.

The next day, back in the woods, everyone was buzzing about the baby that "got away".

"What is it bout that young couple that give us a chile' yesterday?"was Scout's question.

I had no reply, but a while later I realized we had a cake that had been in with the bread the previous day. We got out that cake and lit some candles (I keep these for our monthly birthday celebrations) and felt compelled to sing : "Happy Birthday" to this child we had known such a short time. We had a wonderful woodland chorus for the lost child.

Lester looked at me with sad eyes and said, "I didn't even ask what their names was." Then walking away from our cake and candle lighting ceremony, I could hear him muttering, "What did I miss?"

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December 2012

It is the season of Christ's birth. It is a time to start anew. In the woods, it has been a time of transition from one life to another for twenty-seven people.

In the past six months, that is how many individuals for whom we have bought bus tickets. It is only possible because of you, because these bus tickets to go home cost dearly.

One family, comprised of two parents and two teenage boys, went home just before Thanksgiving to Deming, New Mexico.

They came to South Carolina with high hopes and great excitement. Max left his job in Deming because he thought it was a dead end job with no hope of promotion. He responded to a computer ad for work and had talked to a man who encouraged him to pack up his family and bring them east for the job of his dreams. Max did just that.

They closed out bank accounts, packed a u-haul trailer with all their worldly belongings, used the computer to enroll the kids in school in Lancaster, and began their cross-country pilgrimage. Max used the opportunity to educate his boys about this beautiful country we all live in. They crossed the desert and moved into the trees and rolling green hills and marveled at the changes and the vastness of this
land. They arrived in South Carolina and had enough money to temporarily get set up in a motel. The boys started school and Max reported to the office address he'd been given.

Max met his new employer who outlined the job he'd be doing. The boss told Max he needed an extra $1,000.00 to finalize the deal with the current client and get Max started. Max was so excited about the job that he gave the boss his last $1,000.00. Max was ready to get to work. The boss gave Max the key to the office and Max never saw the man again.

The owner of the office building tried to have Max arrested, but relented when Max explained his situation. However, it left Max and his family alone in a new place without any resources.

The downward spiral began. The motel room, the possessions, the truck all became things of a past life. The only work Max could find was at a brick yard, earning ten cents a brick for cleaning mortar off old bricks so they could be re-used. He'd been doing that job for over a year when I met him.

I could see that Max is a hard worker who had trusted the wrong people. Living in the woods with the community had provided a sort of family for his family. But Max and his wife were getting worried, because their two teenage sons were never around. They felt like they were losing them. In the year that he'd been working in the brickyard he'd managed to save only $80.00. He approached me hoping I'd be able to help. He wanted to go back to Deming.

I asked him to contact his family and friends in Deming. I told him I could not send him back there unless I knew he had a place to stay and a job. He used the community cell phone and made all the calls. He reported back to me that his old job had just become vacant and the old boss was eager for him to return. A friend, who worked for the same company, had a basement that he and his family could immediately move into. All they needed from Truck of Love were the bus tickets.

Our Truck of Love bank account balance was down to a seasonal low, but we trusted in God and in you, our donors, and I laid out the thousand dollars for four tickets. They were on their way.

God bless you for helping a family find a new life in this season of new beginnings.

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November, 2012

"River"

I keep writing about a boy named River. He touches my soul. River is about 18 years old and seems more like an eight year old. He is small in stature with a sweet face and a scar on the side of his head. He is one of the most trusting, loving people I have ever met. He is a true innocent. I've known him now for about two years – since I started working with the community in the woods.

River lives with the community and with his "adoptive" parents. I've known for some time that he was not their biological child. I've also known that they love him and protect him with a fierceness that I didn't really understand until one recent day.

It was after our regular Friday morning prayer service. We'd been talking about forgiveness, again, because once more the community had been rousted by unknown men who had threatened them. The people were dispersing after prayer when River came up to me and asked: "Reverend Pete, can I go with you to get the groceries this morning?"

"Sure," I said, "hop in."

As soon as River sat down in the passenger seat he began to talk. "Ya know how you was talkin bout forgivin to everyone? And how I could talk to you bout anything, anything atall?"

I responded that he could trust that if he had something to say to me I wouldn't let anyone in the group know he had told me.

"Remember how I told you I don't know nothin bout my real parents? Well ya can't say nothin ta nobody here on who told ya what I got to tell ya, OK?"

I reaffirmed I wouldn't tell anyone unless what he told me was a danger to him or someone else.

He went on: "When I was a lot younger than now, I lived with my daddy and my little sister. I don't know where xactly. All I remember is my daddy drank a lot and was real mean when he got drunk. I don know if he worked or nothin."

"He got real drunk one time, and he grabbed my puppy, River, from my hands and threw it on the floor then stomped his head real hard. I guess I was about five."

"A little while later my little sister and him was playin and my daddy was gettin rough swingin her around by the feet. She was screamin," NO!", somethin real loud - cus she was so scared. He told her to shut up or he'd knock her head on the wall. Daddy was laughin and my little sister was screamin. I was lookin from behind a door or something, bein real quiet, and I heard my daddy laugh real loud and heard a big pop. It was my little sister's head hit the wall. He was still laughin, but she stopped cryin and went all quiet. I was scared cause of what he told her about hittin her head against the wall. Well he did it again. He picked her up by her feet and hit her head against the wall. I was real scared, and I started cryin too. He looked over at me and that's all I remember. I never told no one 'bout this before, but after we was talkin about forgiveness this mornin I thought I'd best tell you this about where I come from."

"My pup was called, River, so I kinda remembered the name and kinda took it myself. I don't remember my little sister's name, or where I lived but I remember Noris and Marlene takin me in for their own a long time ago."

People come to live in the woods for a variety of reasons. Please keep them in your prayers.

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October 2012

Each morning as I drive, in my little rattle trap of a Toyota truck, down the South Carolina back roads to the community in the woods, I feel like an old pooch sticking my nose out the window. I sniff the air with delight and I think of all of you who make it possible for me to serve the most underserved people of our society.

I've been guilty of overlooking and ignoring people - passing by without a glance. Because of you I am compelled to see, to stop, and to listen. I am buoyed by your prayers as I meet people and hear their stories.

Many times I never see that person again, but I have been changed, I've learned something new about life, about God, about family, or any number of other things. I hope they, too, have gained from our encounter.

Other times, I have a long term relationship like the one I have these days with the community in the woods. During these times I can see changes – as people get jobs, or decide to go home, or heal their hearts and learn once more to trust another human being, or learn how to live in community and resolve the inevitable differences we all have. I get to witness, first hand, the resurrection of lives that have been so beaten down that it would appear they would never find their way back to anything close to a normal existence. I am a partner in the journey of a family who saves and saves to get a place of their own. I watch when parents rejoice as their children get on the bus and go to school where they will have a free lunch. Every day I get to experience these little bits of heaven.

What a joy this is. Because of you, Truck of Love is able to fill in the little gaps where hope was lost. Because of you, the people I work with experience the realization that someone really cares.

Thank you.

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September  2012

"Arthur"

People have often accused me of being “color blind”. So, in all my writings about the community in the woods, I don’t know if I have ever mentioned that they are all white people. There have been one or two black people who have wandered through, but they never stay; until now.

Tuesday, I came back from a week’s absence. Lester greeted me and then introduced me to a new member of the group: Arthur. Arthur is short and skinny and kind of milk chocolate in complexion. He would not stand out in a crowd except that he has a patch where his left eye used to be and a strikingly inch-wide, white scar that starts under that patch and carves a swath across his forehead into the bush of curly black hair covering his head and ends up near his shoulder blades on the right side of his back. Arthur didn’t have much to say. He looked scared.

Lester and I went off to the store to get some food and do some laundry for the group. It was then that Lester told me the little he knew. He had seen Arthur standing by a big hardwood tree near where the group was picking up trash along the highway. Lester thought the fellow looked hungry, so he took his lunch food over to where he was and offered it to him. They got into a conversation and Lester discovered the man was a Christian. Lester invited Arthur to join their group and stay as long as he needed.

On our way back to the encampment, Lester told me he had already talked with Arthur about me. He had told Arthur that “Reverend Pete”, as they call me, wouldn’t hurt him and would be a good person to talk to.

As we were unloading the truck, Arthur appeared from the woods and Lester again encouraged him to talk with me. Arthur motioned for me to come into the woods with him. We found a place away from the others and Arthur began with a question, “Do you suppose God would forgive you for the bad you done in this life if you was truly repentant?”

I told him I believed God forgives all our sins – scripture tells us that. As long as we are trying to be better and we are sorry for what we have done, God will always forgive us.

Arthur’s shoulders began to heave and he bent his head down. I could hear stifled sobs coming, so I backed away to where the others were busy with their day’s work. Arthur joined us a little while later, looking very much relieved.

A couple of days have passed and today, when I was with Arthur, I learned more of his story. One night, about two and a half years ago, in a small town here in the south, Arthur was in a bar. He’d had a lot to drink and was drunk (by his own admission). He happened to be talking with a young white woman – just talking. Four white men in the bar didn’t like seeing a black man and a white woman together. The four men approached Arthur and the woman and forcibly took them outside. They accused Arthur of raping the woman. Arthur denied the accusation. They beat up Arthur and dragged both Arthur and the woman into the nearby woods.

That was where the four men assaulted the woman and beat Arthur into unconsciousness. He awoke with pain everywhere as they were using some twine to hang him from a tree. They lifted him by his neck with the twine until just the balls of his feet touched the ground. They told him that if he was still there in an hour, they would come back to finish the job.

His wrists were tied behind his back, but he could feel something in between his hands. It was the handle of his knife. He struggled to cut the duct tape encasing his wrists and when he got his hands free, he cut the twine choking his neck.

By the time he got loose, the girl had disappeared. His pants were down around his ankles. He could hardly see and his head was pounding. He realized something had happened to his eye and scalp. Arthur was bleeding in several places from the many unspeakable things they had done to him. He made his way to a nearby river where he washed his bloody clothes and tended to his multiple wounds. Then he went into hiding in the woods. He never sought help or went to the police. He was too afraid he’d get into more trouble. He’s been alone ever since – until now.

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July 2012

"The Encounter With Jesus In The Woods"

With a big hug and a “Hi Mr. Pete”, I was reminded this morning by River that this is our seventeenth prayer service in the woods.

“Today is my birthday, Mr. Pete - that’s how I’m gonna’ remember today,” said River. (I think River has more birthdays each year than the ordinary person.)

I wasn’t sure until River said it was his birthday what reading I was going to use, but The Road to Emmaus seemed just right for the occasion.

We sang a verse of “Amazing Grace” because that’s the only song everyone knows and it’s also a beautiful song to lead into any prayer service.

Before reading the story about the two men who encountered Jesus on the road after the crucifixion, I reminded the group that I had met many of them a little over two years ago just five miles from where we now sat. I was thinking about that meeting and asked them to go back in their memories and imagination to that day we first met. I asked them to listen to the reading and put themselves into it – to imagine walking here in the woods with the stranger.

After I read the passage, there was a silence of about twenty seconds and then everyone wanted to talk at once. 

The group agreed to let River to go first: ”Mr. Pete, do you remember when Picket and me was havin a hard time gettin along just before he left and you told us to close our eyes and imagine Jesus walking next to us in the forest? Do you remember that, Mr. Pete?”

 I told him I did remember.

“Well Pickett said he seen Jesus when we was walkin, but I didn’t see Him. When you read that Bible story this mornin, I remembered Pickett and me walkin together and I thought that Jesus was right there with us. I like it when Jesus walks with me now.”

When River had finished his reflection, Lester spoke up:  “Lilly and me met on the road to kingdom come just the day I left jail and we been together ever since. That part about hearts burning is jes what happened to me. I didn’t know she couldn’t see, but it stands to reason she couldn’t because she took a real shine to me right away. I was real shy, and thought she was too, cause’ neither she nor I looked at each other in the eye until a bit later when she asked me for my hand to help her get up from the chair to the door. I think somethin must’ve happened inside me cause when she asked me fer my hand I never before felt whatever that was I felt.”

Lilly spoke up: “I loved Lester’s voice the second I heard it, but I didn’t know if I could trust my feelings about it. I never felt that way before neither. He forgot to tell you it was my mom and dad who introduced us. They thought Lester was an upright guy. Well – they were right. I’ve not regretted a day we been together.”

Today we definitely encountered Jesus on the road in the woods.

All my love, Pete

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June 2012

I’m asking for your prayers. This is why:

Recently, one Friday, I got up early and eagerly started my drive down the highway to be with the people in the woods.  I look forward to Fridays because this is our prayer service day. We’ve been doing these simple prayer services for a couple of months now. We started at the request of some of the folks and now almost 30 gather together each week to hear the gospel and discuss its application in their lives. I was going to have a discussion on Luke 6:27-31 – basically the golden rule. It’s the way this community lives each day and I looked forward to what they would have to say.

However, I was met by panic stricken friends with all their belongings either slung over their shoulders or with their things sitting in piles on the ground in front of them.

Some families who slept near the cooking area had been awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of men yelling at them, “Get up and move on or we’ll beat the crap out of everyone still here by morning.”  

Not everyone had heard or seen the three men because the people sleep in separate home areas of the woods. But by the time I arrived, the story had gotten around and people were scared. The couples with children seemed the most terrified. Everyone wanted to move – NOW. 

So instead of a prayer service, I spent the morning and afternoon taking truckloads of belongings deeper into the woods. Their hope was that the move would keep them safe from any more intruders. 

Two families, each with two children, approached me to ask if I would help them get bus tickets. They had used the community cell phone to call parents with whom they had reconciled some differences and told me they were now ready to go home – one to Texas and one to Florida.

Most of the people in this small community have been living in this spot for the past two years. Some are from this area of the South and some are from other states. Often they have come to South Carolina with the promise of work only to find the jobs are not here. Some have lost jobs and homes and are trying to find their way back. As they have lived together they have worked for their common good. They have learned some invaluable life lessons about trust and faith and community. They have worked, played, and prayed together. So it did not surprise me that these two families were ready to go home. The community was willing to contribute some of the meager earnings they get from recycling and Truck of Love helped with the rest - $900.00 later eight people were headed to what I pray is a new start in life.

It’s good they left when they did because this week the community was visited again. The same three men came in the middle of the night wielding baseball bats and screaming and yelling obscenities while threatening to do bodily harm. They came so close the people could smell the alcohol on their breath.

The community has been violated. Their peace has been shattered. They have spread out even more to places among the trees that they hope and pray will be safe.

My friends in the woods outnumber these senselessly violent men by ten to one. My friends just back up, try to look small, and let them go by. They have embraced Christ’s message of turning the other cheek. But, faith isn’t taking away all their fear.

I’m angry. I came home so discouraged and depressed that I really did not know what to do. I do not understand how anyone can target another human being as worthy of this kind of attack. I feel so badly for these people who do no harm to anyone. They have been hurt again and again.

After thinking and praying it occurs to me that I need to ask you all for prayers. Please pray for the community in the woods. Pray for the people who have returned with your help to the arms of family. Pray for the three men and those like them who target the weak and vulnerable – just because they can. Please pray for us all that we will stay open to the message of Jesus to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Life is hard, but Life is Good! Pray for those who seem unable to love themselves. Shalom, Pete

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May 2012

"Favorites"

I try not to have favorites, but sometimes is just not possible. When the combination of innocence and attitude, youth and humor, love and enthusiasm are on display nearly all of the time by a single person, I just can’t seem to help myself.

Picket is a nine year old boy who is just about the speed of my other young friend, River, who is eight years older. River follows Picket all over the forest when Picket isn’t at school.

Picket and River are two who have been at our Friday morning prayer services from the beginning. They love the stories from the bible and they love how Jesus was poor like them. They sit together and ask questions like: “Did Jesus live in the forest like us?”or “Jesus was poor like us –huh?” or “Can Jesus cure me?”

Picket was born with no leg below the knee. His daddy carved him a “Captain Hook” style prosthetic which seems to suit Picket just fine along with a “Tiny Tim” kind of crutch.

River likes taking care of Picket, but gets in his way more than he helps. Last week he reached for Picket’s hand to help him over a large decaying log and fell backwards pulling Picket along with him. You should have heard them laugh!

Picket loves music - any kind of music. Up until a month ago he had a pair of ear phones which he had in his ears all of the time. The ear phones had wires hanging down, but no CD player.

I asked: ”Picket, do you hear music playing with your ear phones?”

“Heck no! Not with the ear phones. I hear birds sing and people laugh and that’s kinda music to me.”

Two weeks ago I got him a used CD player and Samantha, my Grand-daughter, gave me some CD’s  she thought he would like. He loved them and has already gone through two sets of batteries.

After Picket got the CD player, I watched as he and River shared the ear pieces - one ear each -and walked away together off into the forest by themselves.

Our friends, River and Picket, want to live together someday in a house. They are the ones who always ask me if I have a bed that I sleep in.

Their dreams give me hope. It’s no wonder they are sort of my favorites.

Pete

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April 2012

"Courage"

I am blessed to meet so many incredible people. I am blessed that they let me into their lives. I learn so much from each person I come across.

The most recent person to reveal her story to me is a woman named Liz. I first met her because she would come to the Friday morning prayer services I have been asked to lead in the woods. She would sit quietly and then one morning after the group had dissipated she waited behind and said she’d like me to write down her story. 

The following Monday I was driving my truck filled with the personal belongings of several of my woodland friends. I was helping them move further into the woods where they will not be seen by casual hikers out for an adventure. Liz came along for the ride and the opportunity to talk.

Liz came to the forest to die. She has advanced case of cancer of the blood and does not expect to live through the summer. She asked me to write her story in order to help people understand there is life after being diagnosed with Leukemia. She really didn’t want me to get too much into her life style (which you can pretty well imagine), but into a brief history of her life.

As I drove toward the fire break Liz first words to me were: “So many sleepless nights.”   

She then went on to tell a life story of faith and tenacity shared by few.

”I was born the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan: August 6th, 1945.  

“I’m the oldest child of five. My mom died giving birth to me. My Dad’s sister came to live with us on the farm. As I grew up I was told by him that I should feel guilty because I was the one who had killed my Mom in childbirth. I did feel guilty for many years.

“Then my Dad remarried and he and my step mom had four more children – two boys and two girls. The first boy and girl were born when I was about six. I took care of them because my step mom worked. My Dad began to drink. He was a mean drunk and would regularly beat me. I wasn’t gonna let him know how much it hurt. So, when he saw that the beatings didn’t affect me, he started in on my brother and sister.

“I ran away when I was sixteen, but felt really bad because of the way he was treating my younger brothers and sisters. I felt helpless. I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it.

“I went back home after a month or so. I decided I’d take the beatings I had come to expect, but this time I wrote in my diary every time he hurt me or my brothers and sisters. It got so bad I couldn’t stand it anymore and, even though he had us all in terror, I notified the police.

“The police looked at our bruises and my diary and that was enough evidence to take him to jail and put the kids into good foster homes.

“I didn’t want to go into a foster home, so I took off. I lost track of all my family after that. It was a long time ago and I know they are grateful for what I did for them.

“The next few years I spent most of my time cold or hungry or both. I did anything I had to do to live, including prostitution. I met a man named Will who took me under his wing and protected me. He was old enough to be my dad, but that didn’t matter to me. He was good to me.

“One night Will came back to our motel room shot and bleeding and died that night of his wounds. The whole experience hurt so badly I couldn’t get together again with anyone for any reason. It just couldn’t happen.

“That was thirty eight years ago. I have been on my own making it ever since. I don’t know - maybe it was the lack of almost everything that is good for me or the hard living conditions that had something to do with me getting cancer - I just can’t wrap my mind around the situation.

“I came out here, on the suggestion of a friend-to die. Oh, I don’t mind dyin’ -it’s the two years of chemo that hurt.

“The doctors in Dayton, Ohio told me I was terminal and, since there was nothing to be done for me, I could live with the other charity patients till I died. That wasn’t going to happen!

“One of the good doctors told me I could get a second opinion but I never did. That was six months ago and I’m getting weaker every day. But’cha know! I’m not in any real pain, so I’m happy to get up every morning and enjoy what I have left.

“Your prayer services here in the woods are helpful and hopeful to me. Thanks for helping feed us all and for letting the world know about us.”

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March 2012

"Family is a Great Gift"

Remember last August in Pete’s Corner when I wrote about Lilly and Luke? Well, a couple of weeks ago, Luke asked me if I would lead a prayer service for the community in the woods. Of course I said yes, and asked what he had in mind. He wanted me to use “the Word of God” and he asked if I’d also read a story I’d read to the group already about Carnie (Pete’s Corner February 2012). I decided we’d also have a song “Amazing Grace”. We set up a time for two days hence and when I arrived there was no one there except Luke and Lilly.  Not to be deterred, Luke said he’d work on the people and we set up another meeting time for Friday.

Well, this turned out to be one of the most wonderful times I have had with my friends who live in the woods. They were intent on the scripture I chose, John 3:13-16, that ends with “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” Everyone belted out “Amazing Grace” and there was rapt attention with a story I chose to read about Gilberto (GR in Pete’s Corner 10/13/2002) – a man I knew when we lived in San Jose, CA. 

After the service, I was asked to read the story of “Carnie” again – they really like the way it was written about one of their own. That story had prompted several of the people to ask me if I’d write down their stories. The services have been every Friday since then. What an honor.

So, I felt very blessed when one of the couples at the prayer service stayed behind because they wanted me to write down their story.

Camille and Jake are newcomers to the community. Here’s what they had to say:

“We’re from Baton Rouge, LA. We have two wonderful children which we haven’t seen in over eleven years.”

“Why not?” I asked.

”Jake and I gave up our two children to the care of my sister living in Baton Rouge, and then she moved to somewhere in Nebraska.”

They went on to tell me that they were in business for themselves and they made a choice that they couldn’t concentrate on building the business and raise a family. At the time, it seemed that if they could be successful in the business it would be best for all of them especially the childsren. So, they gave their children to Camille’s sister – for safe-keeping. “But…”

 Camille went on, “My mom told me that when the children got to freedom age they both decided my sister and brother-in-law were their real parents and wanted nothing to do with Jake and me. Jake and I were happy to know the children’s wellbeing was taken care of. But, now, in our later years we have decided we were entitled to know where they were.”

 Jake chimed in, “I’m not a religious man, but the whole situation just made Camille and me drift further apart. It wasn’t more than a year and a half ago we realized we had nothing at all to show for our lives.”

I asked if there was any way to settle the events they had left in the past.

Camille went on, “Life was going well for us up to about twenty years ago, but when we let my sister take our children everything started to deteriorate. The economy went downhill, and our business began to collapse.  Jake traveled making presentations on how self help was the real ticket to destiny. I was the office person who kept the books, travel arrangements and speaking engagements. I felt the twinges of loneliness every now and again, but kept working as a salve for my conscience.  We’ve shared years of wonderful luck in our business and invested everything we earned back into it with the hope of retiring by the time we were fifty.”

Jake chimed in, “After 9/11 no one wanted to talk self help and our business engagements went to zero. The land investments we had also evaporated. We spent the money we had saved and had to resort to selling Camille’s jewelry to keep the wolves from the door. We then had our car repossessed, and our home went into a short sale leaving us in a local motel for nearly two months while we tried to figure out what to do next.

Five years ago, after I had pulled all my markers from business associates, Camille and I were truly broke and friendless. I used the computer at the library for making resumes to send out.

I was too old for any job offered and the stress was beginning to show on both Camille and me. I’m too old for hopeful living and now we’re living here. Got any ideas?”

Luke, who had been sitting nearby, listening to Jake and Camille got up and started over to sit next to Camille but stopped short. He put his hand on Jake’s shoulder and said:”What you need is Jesus Christ. Ya’ know the truth is, Faith ain’t charity, and it ain’t no shame to pray for it! What else ya’gonna do? Huh?!”

Camille gave a nod of approval toward Luke as he left the area and disappeared into the forest.

I promised to pray for them daily from this day forward. We ended our informal meeting with an Our Father.

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February 2012

"Carnie"

I meet so many good, generous and interesting people each day that I work in the woods. There are lots of reasons for people taking up residence among the trees. I recently met a family of three who shared their story with me.

Bobby was a carnie, a carnival barker, who ran several game booths at county fairs up and down the east coast. He's big and handsome and strong and by his account was very good at what he did. He worked regularly and so when he met Marie who was an exotic dancer he felt
secure enough to get married. Then they had a son about seven years ago.

Their son, Bradley, was born with a lung defect. As an infant he cried all the time, but Bobby and Marie loved him and cared for him. Bobby loved the feeling of holding his baby boy in his arms and comforting him.

Their life was difficult, but they loved their family and worked hard to make their life better. Then one day Bobby was working a carnival where he was in charge of thirty-two games. He had hired local workers to set up the booths, but he was unable to closely supervise them.
What he didn't know was that at one booth the workers had left off a critical piece of metal that stabilized the booth. Bobby was standing near the booth when a big wind came up and the booth collapsed on Bobby's foot severing his Achilles tendon. That was the end of his work as a carnie.

Bobby was also a bouncer at a local club. That's how he had met his wife. He worked at the club where she danced. She said she fell for him immediately because he was so big and handsome and he easily threw the guys out of the club who were trying to grab her.

They scraped by for a few years until Bradley got sick and had to be hospitalized. That's when they lost their jobs and a place to live. They were on the streets of Columbia until a friend told them about the community living in the woods.

Until last week, Bobby's whole focus was on keeping his family warm and dry. He'd be up at dawn to cut wood, making sure the fire didn't go out. He'd collect cans along the road for a few extra dollars. He's been saving every penny to buy a bus ticket home to New Mexico.

In our conversations, it was clear that Bobby was becoming increasingly worried about Bradley's health living out in the woods. The cold and the smoke from the constant fire were not helping his breathing. Every time he had a little money saved it would go for medicine or a taxi to the emergency room.

The people in the community agreed with me and Bobby that he had to go home. The people contributed some of the money they earned collecting cans and Truck of Love pitched in the rest for three bus tickets to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

They were like three excited kids as they boarded the bus for home and the start of their new life back in the arms of their family. Bobby's final words to me: "Thanks, Truck of Love."

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January 2012

“Listening to Hugo”

I’ve always known that we, people, are hungry not only for bread, but hungry for love and care and compassion. I probably do as much listening to people’s stories as I do anything else.

A few weeks ago, as I was delivering a load of bread and canned food to the community living in the woods, a young man calmly walked into the campsite. He wore khaki pants and a clean brown shirt, but had no shoes. He sported a neatly cut beard and boyish smile. Though he was new to me, no one else seemed to take notice – he fit right in. I asked Lilly (my blind friend) where he came from. She told me a friend of a friend had told them he would be coming.

Each time I visit the woodland community, I now seek out this young man – Hugo is his name. He’s kind of sought me out too. I’ve begun to ask him questions - about how he got here and his life in general. This is the story he told me:

"I was about five years old, maybe a little younger, when I ran away from home. I‘member eatin’ out of garbage cans ‘til I met the man I now think of as my Dad. His name was Butch.

"Butch kind a adopted me. He gave me the name “Hugo” after I asked him over and over: “Hey, where you go?” He told me he was a hobo and lived in his own house on a train travelin’ from place to place. He asked if I wanted to come with him. I was so young and Butch was so friendly, I just tagged along with him after that.

"By the time I was ‘bout eight years old, Butch begun to tell me what he saw that time he picked me up. He said I was black and blue all over with cuts and scars all over me. He couldn’ believe my parents could do that to me. He thought they musta‘been crazy or somethin’.

"Butch had a smelly old dog he named Dusty that traveled with us. If Dusty went hungry, it meant we were hungry too. We shared everthin’. Dusty had pups and Butch gave me one to keep for my own. He gave the rest of‘em away. Not too long after that, Dusty died – I think she was too old to have pups.

"I named my pup Thumper cuz he scratched and pounded his leg all day an night. When Dusty died, I offered my pup to Butch, but he said, no – it was mine. I liked that.

"I think I was with Butch and Thumper, ridin’rail cars all over, for ‘bout ten years. Late one night when we was stopped in Lawrence, Kansas; Butch went out to find some food. He told me to “shut up and go to sleep.” Turned out to be the last thing I ever heard him say. He never came back. But he sure showed me how to survive.

"Thumper got run over by a car ‘bout two months after Butch left. I buried him by the tracks in Kansas. I never felt so alone. I started growin’my beard after Thumper died.

"Gittin’ hitched never really interested me. One time a girl ‘bout my age got on the train. She told me ‘bout Jesus Christ and read some stories from the bible. But then she jumped off the train and that was that. I’m not too old to find someone, but I guess I’m jes a loner.

"She did get me interested in the Word, but I can’t read. I listen to whoever knows anythin about Jesus who wants to tell me.

"I’ve had lots of close calls with the law, but I never gone to jail. I try not to steal or lie or cuss too much. Fer‘what it’s worth, I pray and listen to folks in trouble I met along the way.”

I asked Hugo if he wanted me to get a bible and read to him. He said that would be fine.

So, I’ve now delivered several Gideon bibles to the people in the community. I even found an illustrated children’s bible that is now brown with dirt and dog-eared from use. Hugo is even quoting some passages that he likes.

By his own admission, Hugo doesn’t stay anywhere too long. He’s been with this woodland community longer than he’s been with anyone for a very long time. I keep asking myself why this is. I do believe he has found a place with people who listen to him and care about him. They are showing him how the Word is lived out in real life.

Love, Pete

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December 2011

“Nativity is when Jesus is born and everyone pays attention to each other.”

There are thirty two people living in this one area where I take food and other necessities. Some of them are children. Some even go to school – they catch the bus up on the highway.

A couple of days ago, one of the teenage boys, River, motioned me over to where he was sitting with a couple of other kids on a stump in a cleared out area. He said: “You bin talkin to the folks here about how we all got here. Ya wan me to tell ya?”

Of course I said “Yes!”

He told me about his mom and dad’s “bad luck”. How two years ago their car broke down and they couldn’t afford to repair it. They both lost their jobs because they couldn’t get to work. The dad worked in a car wash and the mom had a job in a grocery store. Then they lost their apartment because they couldn’t pay the rent. So they started to walk down one of the local highways when they came upon some people in the woods who invited them to share their fire. He said it took some time to get used to living there, but they had nothing and they were cold and the people helped them get through the winter by sharing what they had.

He said the first Thanksgiving and Christmas they spent in the woods was just like any other day. They went along the highway picking up bottles and cans for the recycler – their only source of income.

I asked him if he thought the community would like some hot turkey dinners for Thanksgiving. He and the others were ecstatic! “Are you really gonna bring them, Mr. Pete?” (I don’t think he’d been let in on the discussions I’d been having with the adults in the group.)

I said, “I sure am. I’ll be here Thanksgiving morning. I’ll need your help to unload that morning. Can I count on you?”

They agreed to help.

Unknown to River, I had also been talking with the adults about Christmas. They said the kids had been asking if they could have Christmas ornaments for decorating. So I asked River “If you could have anything for Christmas, what would you like?”

“Oh, Mr. Pete, we’d like Christmas ornaments – so we could decorate these little trees. Do you think we could have some? And a star for the top?”

I told him I’d see what I could do – that I’d probably be able to arrange that.

He said, “Can I ask one more favor?”

“Sure”, I said.

“Do you think you could get us a Nativity? So we could put it out under the tree?”

By this time we’d drawn a few other kids to our group. One little boy asked: “What’s a Nativity?”

River looked at him and said, “Nativity is when Jesus is born and everyone pays attention to each other.”

P.S. The community did get its Thanksgiving dinner as promised. The children did get their ornaments, and the star for their two little living trees, and River did get his Nativity scene. This is a happy Christmas.

Loving words, Pete

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November  2011

“The Throw away Kid”

It’s been a busy month. I am out in the woods several days each week.  

One morning recently, I was on my way to see my friends in the woods south of here. We’d had a cold snap and the trees were losing their leaves. The ground was becoming a red, yellow and golden brown mat. I arrived at the encampment and parked my car off the road where it cannot be seen by the occasional passing vehicle.

Luke and Lilly (his blind friend) were waiting for me. They knew I was bringing some clothes on this day. I greeted them and Luke began to unload the goodies I had brought for their community. I had bags of underwear, socks, shirts and pants; along with some shoes and coats. It was just like Christmas in October!

I noticed a small man sitting with his back to us a few hundred feet away. His legs were draped over a log and his bare feet were dangling near a small fire. I asked: “Luke, who’s that?

He said, “Don’t  know. He showed up late last night.”

Luke then left to get the other people from the other small camps to tell them I was there with some stuff. Lilly and I stayed behind to organize to storage boxes I had brought at an earlier time. Lilly (remember, she is blind) said to me, “What’s he wearing?”( Referring to the man across the meadow).

“It seems he has a ripped t-shirt and short pants. I don’t see any shoes. He’s gotta be cold. Let me go talk with him.” I walked across the meadow and into the trees where he was huddled.

Getting close, I saw he was pretty young, probably in his teens. His face was swollen and his eyes were black and blue. “Where’s your coat, young man?” I asked. He said nothing and I went on: “You ought to go over there and share some food and warmth with your neighbors. They are very friendly. I’ll introduce you – if you don’t mind.”

He began to shiver uncontrollably and then gave me what we call in our family “the naughty look”- that look that our three year old granddaughter has mastered. It’s that look that says you are very bad and I don’t want anything to do with you.

” Can’t you see, mister! I wanna be alone! Now – Go away!”

“If you change your mind I’ll be right over there across the field.” I said and I walked back toward Lilly.

When I was almost back to where she sat, she said: “I heard what you was a sayen to that feller over there. D’ya mind if I try talkin to ‘im?”

“Not at all”, I replied, “but let’s try finding a pair of shoes and some other things he needs.”

We walked together across the field with our arms laden with shoes, socks, shirt, pants, underwear, a blanket, and some food.

Lilly opened the conversation with “Hi, I’m Lilly. What’s yer name? Can I sit down?

The boy turned toward her and could see she was blind, but he seemed unmoved by this.

“We brotcha some shoes and some stuff we thought you might be able to use. Ya wan “em?

I guided Lilly to a place to sit and she talked non-stop for about ten minutes. I finally broke in to ask her if she’d be ok if I left her there. She said, “Yeah, fine – go on now.”

Luke was still off rounding up the other people in the area, so I left him a note telling him I’d be back with the rest of the food.

I returned a couple of hours later to find Luke and Lilly serving hot soup to three others and the young man was right there with them. Luke called out, “Hey, Pete, I want you to meet Elwood.” Luke was uncharacteristically upbeat when he said, “Elwood’s decided to sit here awhile and talk with us.”

I could see Elwood’s eyes were swollen even more from crying and the new shirt I’d given him had blood stains from where he’d wiped his face with it.

Luke went on, “We’ve given Elwood some coffee and some food and he’s feeling right at home.” Then Luke motioned me over to my truck under the guise of getting something else from it. That’s when he told me what he’d learned about this boy. “Elwood’s dad is a mean drunk and he beats him when he’s been drinkin, which is pretty much ev’ry day. He ran away two nights ago and landed here not knowin what to do or where else to go. That blanket you and Lilly give him ain’t nuff to keep him warm – he’s so skinny. Say’s he’s seventeen, but I don’t believe it. Says he ain’t gone to school since the seventh grade.”

It’s been several days now and I’m getting more of Elwood’s story. It seems he and his mom and dad were living in Tennessee. The dad has always been a drunk. The mom got fed up and left about two years ago. The dad got fed up, drove the family truck to a rest stop and left a note on the windshield that said “It’s yours”. He took the boy and hitch hiked to this area of South Carolina where the dad had some friends..When they arrived, the friends put them up in a broken down trailer and the dad proceeded to use what money he still had to buy liquor. I met him when Elwood had finally had enough and had left the dad.

Elwood can’t remember a time when he’s been happier than living here in the woods near Luke and Lilly. He is sixteen and doesn’t really read or write at all. He doesn’t want anything to do with any old people like his dad. He seems to have taken to the other people who make the woods their home.

I’m trying to gain his trust – so maybe, just maybe we can find a way to help him gain some skills that will help him in the future.

Pray for all of us.

Pete

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October 2011                                                  

"I don’t remember your name, but I’ll never forget what you just done"

Each Tuesday I pick up unsold bread and pastries from a local church here in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  One recent Tuesday I was not feeling well and I almost called on my alternate to say I could not get to the church. But I thought again and figured I’d feel better if I did something and – after all – they loaded the bags into my truck and I delivered them to my friends in the woods who unloaded the bounty. So, I dragged myself out of bed and got behind the wheel of my truck. Off I went in the direction of the church.

As I neared the church, I noticed a young man walking out of the parking lot, head down, going slowly – seemingly very depressed. I pulled into the loading area of the church bread “depot” and received my weekly allotment of goodies – filling the bed of my truck. As I was driving onto the main road, I noticed the same young man, this time standing at the stop light with a woman. They were headed toward the freeway.

As I often do, I parked my truck and walked to where the couple was standing. I introduced myself and asked if they were in need of help. I told them I had noticed the young man walking out of the church parking lot.

He proceeded to fill in the details: Out to have an adventure, they had arrived in Rock Hill the night before.  There were three of them: Gloria, her “boyfriend”, and himself. They were exhausted from walking and hitchhiking and found a dumpster behind a gas station where they rolled out their sleeping bags and collapsed for the night. When he and Gloria woke up the boyfriend was gone and so were their backpacks including their ID’s and money.

They waited for several hours thinking the boyfriend would return. Finally in desperation they started to walk along the road and had stopped at each church along the way. When I encountered them, they had just talked with the women at the bread depot who had said their church had no money, but they could have bread if they liked. He had refused – really wanting more substantial help. He really didn’t know what to do next.

I invited them to hop into my truck and we went to Burger King for breakfast. As we talked, I asked if they had any family that could help. The young man said he’d like to call his mother.

Using my cell phone he dialed the number and she answered. He told her where he was and I could hear her exclamation from across the table. She had a good friend who lives in Rock Hill. She gave her son the friend’s phone number and he dialed again.

After a few minutes we were on our way to the friend’s house where the two were promised a night’s rest and a ride to the bus station to go home.

As they said goodbye to me, I received very sweaty, smelly hugs. The young man said: “Mister, I don’t remember your name, but I’ll never forget what you just done for Gloria and me. I was about to give up and there you were.”

Needless to say, I was very happy that I had dragged myself out of bed.

Pete

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September 2011

Reflecting on fear and being called

When we arrived in South Carolina, I first got involved in the soup kitchen at our parish. Then as I drove around, I noticed there were encampments in the woods. I slowly managed to meet people who lived in these encampments and now I spend a part of most weekdays trying to meet some of the needs of these most forgotten of God’s creations.

When I tell people what I do, I get a variety of reactions. Some are amazed there are people actually living in the woods. Some think I’m very foolish to put myself in (what they perceive to be) danger. Frequently I am asked: “Aren’t you ever afraid?”

I have been thinking about these reactions in light of what I know and believe.

I ask myself about fear. I am not afraid, but where does fear come from? What are we afraid of? Being hurt? Dying? Rejection? Looking foolish? Losing what we have?

I meet people each day who live in horrendous of situations. They have lost jobs, spouses, children, cars, homes and friends. They get up each morning and face each day. They find others who live in similar circumstances and they work together to survive. So many times I find close communities in the most unlikely places-people who are brought together by mutual need.

They are not so different from me. They may be dirty. They may eat scraps that others have thrown out. They may collect can and recyclables to earn their little money. But they get up each day in the hope that today will be ok. That maybe today they will find that job, or get that place to live, or be reunited with their family.

We often used the word “called”. We feel God has called us to this work. For me, that means listening to that inner voice that compels me to go places and do things that involves helping another human being. It is a compulsion in my life as essential as breathing. If I did not listen to this voice, this compulsion, this calling – Truck of Love would not exist.

I spent many years working with a wonderful mentor, Gordon Stewart. He began Truck of Love. After his death I kept on the work he had begun. I did it because I believed in Jesus’ message of loving thy neighbor. My neighbor is the person I meet on the street, in church, or in the woods.

I realized early on that I needed to dive into the world and be open to the people I would find. In California, it often meant working with homeless people on the street. Here, in South Carolina, it means working with the people in the soup kitchen as well as the families living in the woods, and in local motels.

As a result of saying yes to this calling, I have been privileged to meet some strong, amazing people. This work is a gift. It has enabled me to see the world in ever new and exciting ways. I thank God each day for being able to continue to do what we call the work of Truck of Love. I thank God each day for you, who support this work with your prayers and donations.

Peace be with you,
Pete

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August 2011

Today I met Lilly. She loves flowers. But it is a long story – one that began about three months ago.

I was on my way to deliver some food and water to a couple of communities of people in the woods when a tattooed man with no teeth flagged me down from the side of the road. He introduced himself as Luke and told me that the Foleys had told him about me. (Check out Pete's Corner for November 2010.)

I asked Luke how I could be of help. He said he and his friends could use some water and tarps and anything else I could get for them. I told him I'd go to the store and return to him in about an hour.

After a short excursion to the local store, I returned to find Luke sitting near the spot where he had flagged me down. He got into my truck and we drove the short distance to his encampment. He had a blanket under some trees with a fire pit a short distance away in a clearing. I dropped off the water, some tarps and a little food and told him I'd check in on him in a few days.

I have visited each week and brought Luke a few essentials for survival. I have noticed his tattoos – big spider webs on both elbows indicating a long time in prison; and two teardrops under his left eye. He is a kind and gentle man who seems to be the leader among a group of people living near him in these woods.

I saw Lilly for the first time about a month ago. She was sitting under a tree near Luke. She held her hands up to her mouth. I thought she was a simple woman who needed to be watched because of her apparent simple ways.

Another day I watched her wander from the hidden camp through the nearby lovely meadow that was filled with wild flowers (mostly dandelions). She walked all hunched over caressing the flowers before she picked them. She'd bring each flower to her nose, sniff their fragrance and then bunch them together in a kind of bouquet.

Last week when I was delivering more food and water, Lilly was sitting under the tree – just like the first time I saw her. She was wearing the same dirty faded blue checkered dress I'd seen her wearing each time I visited. Over the dress she ties an apron that must have been white some time long ago. It has a border of Easter lilies outlined with red piping.

I hadn't paid much attention to Lilly until today. As she watched Luke unload my truck, it occurred to me that I had never really talked with her. I wondered how she managed out in the woods – in her apparent state of innocence. I asked Luke if I could go over and say hello to his girlfriend.

As soon as he agreed, I heard Lilly say: "C'mon over."

I walked to her and sat down on the ground by her side. Before I could say hello she said, "I could hear you talking to Luke from over here. You smell nice."

A little flustered by her comment, I replied: "How are you?"

She launched, into her story: "I've been blind since birth and Luke ain't my boyfriend, he's my partner. We been together since I was young. Luke tells me when I can go out into the meadow here and pick flowers for us to smell while we sit around and talk - that's my job. Ya' know Luke's a lot older than me and some people think I'm his daughter, but I'm not. You must be somethin' to have Luke let you come in and out of here so freely. He never let's anyone know what we need or where we are. How'd you find us anyhow?"

I began to answer her question when Luke came over and stepped between us saying that he had unloaded the water and food. He thanked me and asked when I would be back again.

"Next week." I answered.

Luke is very protective of Lilly. He says she doesn't mind about her clothes being tattered because she is blind. He cares for her the best he can. She does her best to do her job – picking flowers for them both to enjoy.

Peace be with you,
Pete

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June 2011

 WWJD

A few years ago, there were popular bracelets worn among our teenaged friends. They had the letters: “WWJD?” or: What would Jesus do? I find myself asking that question over and over as I encounter people. I’m especially thinking of the folks who make the woods their home.

The other day a man approached me, appearing from under some pine boughs – his home. He shouted “Howdy!”

And I shouted back a similar greeting.

He said: “A guy came through here yesterday, just kind a stumbled on our camp. When he saw we was livin here, he said, ‘I’m gonna call the police on you.’ “

Taking this threat seriously, I asked, “Where will you go?”

He said, “We ain’t goin no place.”

I said, “Aren’t you afraid the police will come? Then what will happen to you!”

He gave me a sly smile and stated very simply: “Nah! There’s those who say they’ll do somethin and then there’s them who do. I figer he’s the first kind.”

 He then went on to ask me: “Why do you do what you do for me and everyone else around here?”

I told him I ask myself that same question and I usually follow it with another question: “What would Jesus do?”

“So, you’re a do gooder who does?”

I replied: ”As opposed to those who say they will, but don’t?”

“Yea, you know, they say they’ll help, but you never see ‘em agin.”

I had to stop and think for a moment so I could understand what he was getting at. “So, what you’re saying is, that guy who came walking through your camp and stumbled on you by mistake yesterday isn’t going to go to the police and that your camp is safe?”

“Yup! The man just wanted to seer us!  It didn’t work though.  I’ve been living out in these woods for a long time, helping folks in my situation, and I can tell when someone is honest or just a bunch of wind.”

Many years ago, Martin Rauch, Sue, and I sat down and wrote our Truck of Love mission statement. Only seventeen words, but it still applies: ”Love: Always watching, Always caring, Reaching out to a hurting world, Seeking justice, and praying for strength”.  

In other words: What would Jesus do?

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May 2011

The Trophy

Today, I was given a priceless thank you gift, a saucepan. It was a gift from a man named Mark who I have been helping the past few weeks.

Mark and his wife, Shelby, have been living in the woods since their life fell apart in 2007. But their story goes back to 1986 when they met in swimming class in high school.

They married immediately after high school and lived with Mark’s parents. Shelby came from an abusive family and never wanted children.  Mark was fine with that. Neither of them cared about school so Mark went to work driving a forklift and Shelby got a job waitressing.

Life was smooth. They helped Mark’s parents with food money and everything was fine until Mark’s parents got wind that they had no intention of providing them with grandchildren. Their living situation was immediately gone and they had to completely support themselves. They lived in a $25.00 a night motel room and were managing ok until Mark lost his job in 2004. Shelby tried to get more hours of work, but it just didn’t cover their expenses. Her boss would give her food to take home and some days they would eat in the local soup kitchen.

Shelby had a good friend who had moved to South Carolina and she encouraged Shelby and Mark to leave Memphis, Tennessee and relocate here. The friend assured them there was work here. They saved what little money they earned and bought a bus ticket. They moved in with Shelby’s friend and Shelby went to work with her in a local restaurant.

It took the friend about two weeks to get tired of having them living underfoot and she asked them to get their own place. Not having transportation, Shelby lost her job. They soon ended up in the woods – because there is always someone who knows of a place where people can stay.

When I was introduced to Mark and Shelby, they were wary of strangers. They really didn’t want anyone making more false promises to them. They had been living off the grid for some time. After many weeks and several visits, I finally gained their trust.

Today Mark decided he is ready to get back into the system and try to get work. The first step was to get a South Carolina ID card and a Social Security card. Because he has no current ID from any state, we have to begin by getting a copy of his birth certificate. He has just finished filling out that form. Now we wait until we can take the next step - together.

After our trip to the DMV, Mark said: ”I never met no one like you before now. All I got to pay you back with is my cooking pot. It’s yours! You take it now!”

Today, I was given a priceless gift.

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April 2011

“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad, and rejoice in it.”

As I drive out of town into the woods I always have my eyes open for “encampments”, places where it looks as if there might be one or more people living among the trees in the underbrush. My eyes have gotten pretty good. When I see an encampment, I approach slowly and try to let the people know I am not there to hurt them, but I am looking to help if I can.

Today I say good-bye to a delightful young couple, Roger and Renee, who I discovered nearly a month ago near an abandoned house in the woods. They were from Tulsa, Oklahoma and came here because of a man who promised them a job in South Carolina.  

This man required a payment of $400.00 up front. Then he gave them information about the promised job and guaranteed food and lodging. All they had to do was get to Lancaster County, South Carolina. They were told to be at the crossroads of Highway 9 and 521 at 9am on Tuesday, February 23. A man named Jim, driving a green station wagon would be there to pick them up and take them to the promised job and living quarters. 

After giving the Tulsa connection the $400.00 in cash, Roger and Renee had $50.00 left of their savings. They are young and healthy and so they hitchhiked from Oklahoma to South Carolina. They got here with two days to spare. Having slept under the stars on their trip, they continued to do so here. They were ready for work and waited at the appointed time and the appointed place. The man named Jim never came. Day after day they waited, then they tried getting work on their own. They found the small abandoned house and started sleeping there.

By the time I met them, they were very discouraged. All they wanted was to work, save some money and get married. They were living with another couple in the abandoned house. The other couple had a similar story – paying for work only to find it was an empty promise. I helped them out with some food and tarps for the leaky roof. I found some used bikes so they could widen their job search.

Then one day last week I arrived at their home to hear that they had managed to call Roger’s Dad who told them he wanted Roger to bring Renee home to meet the family before they got married. Roger hesitantly asked me if he could borrow some money to get home.

Today they left from Columbia, South Carolina on the bus to their family in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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March 2011

There’s got to be a better way to deal with people than I witnessed one morning last week.

I was aiming to visit with a couple I had met a few days before. As I pulled into the yard of my destination I saw a couple of county Sherriff’s cars. Two officers were out of their cars, writing in their journals. I turned off my engine and waited to see what was going on.

The man and woman I had intended to visit had been handcuffed were being led to the back seat of the Sherriff’s car. They were looking pretty forlorn.

As the Sherriff was closing the back door to the patrol car they noticed me and said something to the officer.

The officer came to my truck and asked what my business was with these two. I told him I was just there to bring them some food and other things they had need for.

He told me that the couple was not supposed to be living in this place and that I needed to leave and not interfere with what he was doing. As they drove away, I began to follow the Sherriff’s cars. I wanted to see where they were taking the couple so I could follow up and see if I could help them in some way.

One of the Sherriff’s cars pulled into the left lane and then came up behind me with his lights flashing me over to the side of the road. I pulled over and rolled down my window. The officer asked to see my South Carolina license. He took it back to his car to check me out as the other car took off with the couple.

I was detained for around fifteen minutes. The officer told me this was my second warning: “Either go home or go to jail.”   

I had one last question for the officer.”Where are they being taken?”

“To county jail.” was the reply.

Thank God for cell phones. I called Sue who gave me the address of the county jail. Of course when I got there I found it had been closed since 1971. Another call home to Sue and I had the new address. About an hour later I arrived at the county detention center only to be greeted by a very friendly officer who said they were probably at the city jail! He said I’d have to wait about a week to get a booking number. He also told me they were probably picked up for an outstanding warrant – not because they were living in a building without running water or electricity like the Sherriff had originally told me.

It’s a week later and I returned to get the booking number only to hear that they had been moved to the state facility and that information was not available.

Yesterday I went to visit some of their friends who live in similar situations. I was accosted by some really angry attitudes. They thought I had turned the couple in to the Sherriff and that I was going to harm them.

It’s going to take some time to build the trust again.

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February 6, 2011     

"Delight in all things great and small"

When Mr. and Mrs. Foley were planning to leave the area, they asked me if I would mind helping people who were Chinese. And so I was introduced to Mr. & Mrs. Sing.

 Mr. Bo Sing and Mrs. Ma Sing are living behind a church deep in the woods of South Carolina. When I was introduced to this physically tiny Asian couple, they were digging with their bare hands in the soil behind a church. According to Bo he and his wife have done farm work all their lives in China and desire nothing more than to continue to do the same here in the United States.

Mr. and Mrs. Sing came to the USA on a visa which expired some time ago. They landed in New York City and waited for their son who also was supposed to be coming from China.

The details of their story are hard for me to gather – mostly because of their limited understanding of the English language. So the timeline is a little sketchy.

In China they lived with their families and other farmers growing tea.  Bo confesses his childhood was a happy one with lots of playing, celebrating, singing and work. Bo’s mother and father died of ‘fever’ which had ravaged his small village when he was fourteen (he can’t say for sure). Bo Sing lived in poor surroundings on what he had always considered his familys’ tea plantation, but when all that changed he was lost and broke. The Chinese government made it clear to him that he and the families working the land were guests now, and were welcome to continue growing the green (gold) plants as long as they wanted. 

Bo Sing met Ma in a relocation camp where they had been sent to live while the government decided what to do with them. All the young people were put to work as laborers in the fields growing whatever they were told to grow. There, Ma’s farm specialty happened to be growing tea, so they were bunked in the same camp where they were ultimately coupled and had a son.

Bo was taught English in this camp by some Catholic nuns. Many years passed and he got connected with another Christian group who got him and Ma a visa into the USA. He was told their son would follow. But after waiting for some time in New York the son never arrived. So Bo and Ma started to travel south. They encountered a small church in the countryside here and are living on the church land. Bo and Ma came here looking for a better life than they could offer their son while living in China. Now Bo and Ma are having trouble just surviving here in the land of plenty.

Tao-te-Ching, also known as "The Way of Life," is the Taoist form of religion which Bo and Ma continue to follow living in South Carolina. They pray every day for the return of their son to them from wherever he might be.

Last week I took them some clothing and short grain rice (their preferred type of rice). Bo tried on a jacket that was so big on him it literally hung to the mid-calf region of his legs.  Ma put on a pair of mittens and went directly over to Bo and patted him on the head then said something in Chinese. The both laughed and hugged each other. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that bring joy and hope to people.

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January 2011

  "Called To Preach, But No One Listened"

Since moving to Rock Hill, South Carolina, I have ventured into the woods whenever I see what appears to be an encampment where people might live. That’s how I met the Foley’s over six months ago. It now looks like our brief encounter of friendship is about over. They told me they have to move.

I have had a very interesting relationship with them, from our first meeting when Mr. Foley had an infected tooth and Mrs. Foley was gumming (she has no teeth) bread for him to eat. It was then he told me he was Seventh Day Adventist and didn’t believe in doctors. I have since done some research and come to find that is not a doctrine of that church and in fact the SDA have a worldwide interest in clinics and healing through proper medicine. It seems Mr. Foley is not a mainstream SDA.

However, Mr. Foley and the people living with him have needed lots of help during this very cold part of winter. Tarps, water, bread, coats, sleeping bags and other necessities have been provided by Truck of Love for the 28 or so people living out there in the woods.

Now that the Foleys and their band of followers are moving away from the area, Mr. Foley seems to have decided it’s time to tell me about his history – so here it is:

Mr. Foley believes in Revelation 14:6-12. He has been living under this scripture for many years. He says he is called to preach. After this confession, he talked to me about his beginnings and subsequent life with Mrs. Foley. I’ve done my best to put the pieces of his story together so it is somewhat understandable.

In the words of Mr. Foley:  “When Mrs., Foley and I was first married we was living in Salt Lake City, Utah. We had a son right off, Ted, then later two more sons we named Jake and Simon. I worked on roads. The Mrs. took care of the children and at the same time had a job sellin beauty stuff from our home, but we had to have help with the kids when she got busy doin her sellin.

When it all started out we was livin with the Mrs.’ uncle and aunt. When Ted started school at six and the two young uns got taken care of by Mrs. Foley’s aunt Priscilla, life got a little hard. Uncle Ralph and Aunt Priscilla were friendly people even though we didn’t have money to help them with their bills or pay them rent. Then things just got tighter and our tempers started to get bad with each other. Even though we didn’t have to pay rent we just couldn’t make it even with a second income. The Mrs. uncle and aunt got tired of me trying to preach to people and not taking more overtime to support my growing family. To be honest, I didn’t have much luck preachin and had about the same luck gettin more work.

After six years living from their kindness they really needed more help with the bills. We was building up a real debt with them and with the stores we shopped at. We knew we had outstayed our welcome when they finally asked us to leave cause finances’ was just gettin from bad to worse. I told uncle Ralph I would try to find a job to pay him back and that we were movin to Kentucky where I had a job offer preachin in a small church.

It was hard to say goodbye, but living in Salt Lake City, Utah was hard on the Mrs., what with no money and not having a good job to fall back on. So we took a chance with my cousin livin in Madisonville, KT.

The move from the Mrs.’ uncle in Salt Lake City to my cousin’s little house in Kentucky was a mess from the start. My cousin didn’t really have a job for me with the church like he said he had - and he did’n have enough money to support me and my preachin work. Even though the Mrs. got a job right away working in the mining office, the upshot of the whole thing is I had to work in the mines. I’d go door to door on weekends with my preachin.  

My two older boys got to be 16 and 15 and I had to get them working in the mines somehow so I could do what I was called to do with my preachin. I was called to preach! I just couldn’t work a job and do my preachin on the side.

I would go door to door askin people to pray with me, but just got the doors slammed in my face most of the time. I was pretty down and my two boys was gettin sick from the coal dust then the Mrs. health started gettin bad. A member of the church in Madisonville became a friend and helped me to look out for my family.

When my cousin got tired of us livin with him, we got ourselves a little rented house from the coal mine. Had one room - was all we could afford, but we had plenty of coal in the winter to keep us warm. Time went on and we couldn’t even afford that. The roof leaked and the coal company never got it fixed. My little congregation I’d collected started to lose membership and we just kept on getting’ broker and broker.

My oldest boy got to enlistin in the army and went off to the Gulf in ’91. Got killed there almos right off.

I borrowed the money from my church members whenever I could and got more and more fed up with being forced into the life we were in. These were real hard years for the Mrs. She isn’t healthy ya’know, but we keep praying for her come back. I blame the government for our problems cuz ev’rythin we ever loved was gettin taken from us - startin with our own son.

When I lost my boy there in the middle east and we had so much trouble with the government trying to find out what happened to him, I just got real mad and I burned my driver’s license , Social Security card, and anything that could identify me or my family – that was it! No more! I was fed up to here!

Finally, we had no choice but to leave. Well, my boys was just about the age for us to leave any way. I worked in the mines and kept my job until my kids was old enough to go out on their own. My youngest was fourteen, but he was smart. That was just about three years ago.

We left the boys the Mrs. and I moved out of Kentucky and we just took the clothes on our backs and went in search of other believers. I had made some members, you’ve met some of them here, and we traveled together until now. First we went to Tennessee then I had a bug to preach further south.

A year and a half ago we came here to the woods of South Carolina.”

I asked him why South Carolina?

”We got a few members of our flock working for the forestry who found this place for us.  It was these same members who told me that on January 18th, 2011, the state is going to clear cut right where we’re livin. I’d like for you to pray for us if you will.”

I asked Mr. Foley if he or his members minded me coming back to visit before they leave.

”No… You’re of a different faith than us, but there’s always hope, and you've been able to keep your mouth shut about where we are, and you help us a lot. You’ll always be welcome with me and my flock, Mr. Pete.”

With a random question he said:”Do you mind working with Chinese people?”

”No, not at all.  Why, do you have some people living near here who need help?”

“Yup!  They’re poorer than we are. Do you think you can see clear to help them when we’re gone?”

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November 2010

When I was introduced to Mrs. Foley, I couldn't see her husband who was standing behind a tree. The young man who introduced her to me was almost reverent in his approach to her. She appeared to be in her mid-sixties and was toothless. Her gaunt face showed many years of hardship and neglect.

"Who are you?" she asked me.

I said hello and introduced myself. I explained what I'd been doing with people who live in the woods.

She gave me a slow shallow grunt then stuffed her mouth with an enormous amount of white bread and walked behind a large tree. An older man came into the open from behind that tree and faced me as his wife disappeared. Mr. Foley wasn't able to talk very well, so the young man who had introduced me to Mrs. Foley took up the conversation.

"Mr. Foley's been sick and can't talk too good, mister. What'cha think's wrong with 'im?"

The entire right side of Mr. Foley's face was swollen and his eye was shut. He was holding his jaw as though he was in pain. What he had looked like a tooth ache, but I am no doctor, so I couldn't diagnose his malady.

"Can you talk?" I asked Mr. Foley.

He nodded his head and said: "I've got a toof ache."

I offered to take him to a dentist to have the tooth looked at, but he declined saying he was a Seventh Day Adventist, and that he did not believe in doctors or medicine.

"Well then, what if I go to the health food store and see what I can get to help you?" I asked.

Mr. Foley thought that would be alright then added, "But no doctors!"

Mrs. Foley came from her hiding place behind the tree. Her cheeks were bulging with the bread she had been chewing. She quietly removed the mass of soft dough from her mouth and fed it gently to her husband who could barely swallow it. She fully intended that he not die of starvation.

I left them to eat and went off to the store. After getting advice from a helpful pharmacist, I returned armed with three bee pollen and clove oil and passed on the pharmacist's instructions.

Three days later I went back into the forest with high hopes and I was not disappointed. Mr. Foley had undergone a remarkable healing. His demeanor was jubilant, and he was dancing around like a little boy.

I am now accepted as a member of this small community living on their own, off the grid, in the forest. I am learning things every day I would never have known about forest living or about the people living there.

A few days ago I was sitting with the Foleys. I watched as they lifted rocks from the fire pit with sticks and placed them in a large pot of water. Soon the water was boiling. Silent couples came through the surrounding trees to sit and wait. They each carried small bundles. One couple brought an onion. Another pair brought celery. Several more added carrots, potatoes and anything else they had retrieved from various dumpsters located behind local grocery stores. Finally after several more rounds of hot rocks, the soup was hot and the vegetables were cooked and all began to eat.

I've been making regular trips to these woods with tarps, blankets, water, bread and whatever other small needs the people have. My reward came as a complete surprise when Mr. Foley who is feeling so good joyfully exclaimed to me one day, "I think I will become a Catholic!"

We are reminded once again: "Preach the Gospel always: when necessary use words."

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Aug 24th, 2010

I like to drive around the outskirts of Rock Hill, looking into the woods for signs of life. A couple of days ago, I did just that. The heat had subsided and it was another beautiful day in paradise.

Driving along, I saw two mopeds, partially hidden, parked next to the side of the road along the woods. The treed area hid most of a camp site which was visible only to the occupants and to those of us whose eyes are honed to spot distress.  

I stumped through the undergrowth toward the “squat”.  Getting closer I could see two young people, possibly in their early twenties, hunched over toward each other. It looked as though they were trying to make themselves invisible.

The young woman was as filthy as anyone I had ever met. Her hair was matted on one side and sticking out into deep space on the other. She had the look of a hundred year old woman. She was fanning herself with a cardboard sign that read: “Please help”.  

The young man’s arms and hands were grease filled from working on the chain of his moped. He looked up as I got close and decided it was ok to shake my hand. I could feel the cares of the world in our contact and see the worry in the expression on his face.    

I introduced myself and said that I didn’t want to intrude. I told them I had seen their mopeds parked next to the woods.  I went on to explain that I had just stopped to see what I could do to help.

There was a very long moment of silence.  With a scowl the young man replied with a slow drawl, ”Who are you anyway?”  

I answered the best that I could; stating that I was by myself and that there was no need to be afraid.

He let me know that they did not need me and they did not trust me and they did not have any use for me or anyone like me. They wanted to be left alone. The world was a no good place and the people in it weren’t any better. 

I listened to their rant and then told them I would be back with some food.

A little talk and some food in the belly do miraculous things to a person’s demeanor. I learned their names were Arlene and Allen. After an hour or so they trusted me enough to follow me to a local motel where I booked them for a two night stay. (The motel owner knows me and gave me a cut rate for the second night.)They needed a place to wash their clothes, a place to clean up and get some rest. I got them some gas and oil plus a safety chain for both mopeds.  

When I said goodbye to them Arlene had tears in her eyes as she hugged me. She said:”We’d just about give up. It’s been a long while since anyone cared for us like you have.”

Allen hugged me and said, “We’ll never forget what’cha done for us here.”  It wasn’t much – just a little push on the path of God’s grace.

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July 2010

"In God's Time"

I really believe that God puts us in situations where we can truly be His instrument.

One morning last winter, I was walking into the building that houses our parish soup kitchen. A skinny youngish man was sitting in the hallway. He showed no response when I said: ”Good morning.”

He did not look at me. He kept his eyes focused on an area of the floor somewhere in front of where he was sitting. I continued on my way through the church hall and beyond to the offices.

A few minutes later I returned the way I had come. The young man was still sitting with downcast eyes on the old church pew outside of the dining room of the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen. When I paused, he looked at me and asked: “You the owner of the pick-up truck outside?”

I answered:”Yes.” I continued: “Come on and get in line for lunch with me.”

After being served our food and cool-aid, we sat across from one another at a Formica folding table. 

I asked, ”Why did you ask me if I own the pick up?”

“I got me a load of scrap iron to take to the junk yard. The scrap pays my rent for the week and I need a ride.”

 “Come on and we’ll get the job done in no time.” was my reply. (Though I could not help him with lifting, I was more than willing to help with the truck.)

That was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted through winter into spring and now summer.

RQ is one of the hardest working young men I have had the grace to work with here in Rock Hill. Since the day we met RQ and I have been doing a weekly journey to the various junk yards where he is recognized by each of the owners as a hard-working, self sufficient man.

His life has been filled with obstacles and limitations-some self made and some imposed by society. His health has suffered because in this work of recycling large metal pieces, he is forced to lift items many times his weight – often with little or no help

All was going well until last week when he dropped a large piece of iron and doubled over in pain -complaining that his side hurt. I took a look at where he was pointing and placed my finger on the front of his shirt. I asked him to lift his shirt so I could give it a closer examination and saw he has a hernia. He insisted on continuing to work. No work, no money for rent.

I sat him down and assured him that this week his rent would be paid and he would have food to eat (Thanks to our faithful donors to Truck of Love). As he relaxed, he began to share his story of a dope dealing past and a long stint in jail. Five years in prison has created a resolve in him to turn his life around.

When he first got out of prison, he couldn’t get a job. He blamed himself for what he had done. He believed that hard work would get him what he needed. He was determined not to allow his past history bury his spirit.

After week of inactivity due to the hernia, RQ’s faith was beginning to get a little shaky. I suggested that maybe he could ask a friend to help him with the lifting and in turn offer him a piece of the profits. It took all of fifteen minutes until we discovered a friend of RQ’s willing to share in the day’s labor. We used my truck and took our time getting the heavy job done. Both men were satisfied with their work and also the new business partnership that was created.

I love being an instrument working in God’s time.

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March 2010

"Keith"

Keith has been spending much of his time sitting in the dining room of the Dorothy Day Center which is across the street from the church that Sue and I attend. He wiles away the hours reading novels he picks up from the York County Library in downtown Rock Hill. His energy has been sapped and he can’t seem to remember his goals. He surely doesn’t buy into God’s promise that “We are never given more than we can handle”.

Keith is divorced and out of work. He lives in a local men’s shelter.   He keeps telling me he is in the shelter for a short time while he considers his options. What Keith says he really wants is to  get a car so he can get back into his life in sales. He says he can sell anything.

Keith and I have tried several ways to get him back into the work force including making flyers advertising he will do yard work. He spent days riding his bike and leaving flyers in neighborhoods. He got some yard work, but it was exhausting. And then the rain kept interrupting the days he could work.  

For the two months I have known Keith he has been on a gradual downward spiral. He had entered into the pit of inertia that steals a person’s hope; the hope that is necessary for him to make a transition back into a productive lifestyle.

I had been praying for him to allow God into the equation so he wouldn’t feel so alone in his hour of need.

A couple of weeks ago, in a final trough of depression, Keith came out with the answer: ”Well,” he said, “I think the only thing I have left to do is to put the whole matter into God’s hands and back away from the problem!”

As soon as he made that statement two things happened to him. The first effect was that he stopped worrying about what was to become of him. The second thing that happened was that he surrendered to God – he put his life squarely in God’s hands and his energy and personality took a major turn toward hope.

A week later he got a message from a friend asking him to come look at a car that a person was giving away – not selling, giving away.

A few days ago I asked Keith if there was anything I could help him with now that he has a car, and he said: ”Pete, you have done so much for me… You’ll never know how much!”

In reality our God did the work of the miracle.  The only thing I did was show Keith there were people who care enough to be a companion on the journey.  He was the one who realized God has been there all along.

Hope almost never costs money, just a little time and prayer will do.

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December 16, 2009                                                                                            

I am used to meeting people in need and giving them something to take with them – sometimes money for food or a cup of coffee or a gift card for clothes. One day recently when I was sitting on a bench in Glencairn Garden, here in Rock Hill, I was pleasantly surprised out of this routine.

It was a rainy day and I had stopped by the Garden to spend a little time saying my Rosary. As I sat and prayed, my attention was directed to the tap-tap of a cane. Down the path, coming toward me was a blind man searching with his cane for bumps and irregularities in the path. He walked like he was very familiar with the Garden. His head bobbed from side to side as he listened to the enchanting sounds about him.

Coming near my bench, he sensed my presence and politely asked: “May I sit down?”

I sprang to my feet and wiped the rain soaked leaves off the other side of the bench. “By all means,” I said, “please join me!”

As he lowered himself to the bench, his cane knocked against my prosthetic leg. “What’s that I hit?” he said.

I told him it was a prosthetic leg. It was apparent that he wasn’t sure to what I was referring, so I explained to him that I had fallen from a cliff and my foot was shattered beyond repair. It was amputated and I had a “fake” foot.

After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, I asked the man how he had lost his eyesight.

”I don’t recall the exact age I was at the time.  All I remember is that I was living on a farm here in Rock Hill and that there was no place to go for help in the 1940s.”

I focused on the sun glasses which covered his eyes. They were sand blasted from years of constant use.  As I watched him, his head was continually moving and bobbing. I wondered if he was hearing music or the rhythm of the rain.

 “Oh,” he said. “I’m just fine thank you.”

I knew I had not spoken my thought out loud and wondered to what he was referring.

He continued: “I can see just fine, through what I hear.  No one should feel sorry for an old blind man like me.”

I giggled quietly, remembering being in Mexico a few years before. I told the man how one of the teenagers who was with me in a very poor colonia outside Tijuana commented on how good the people’s eyesight must be – she had not noticed anyone wearing glasses!  It was fun to see her realization as she put “two and two” together: they didn’t wear glasses because they could not afford them.

It was his turn to giggle.

By now I had abandoned my Rosary and just enjoyed the moment – a shared bench, some stories, some laughter.  We sat for a while on the park bench in silence.  The words to the song “Mr. Bo jangles” came into my mind: “He looked at me to be the eyes of age as he spoke right out.”

And that is exactly what happened next. He spoke out: “I’m glad to have met you, Sir:”

“Pete.”  I said. (I’m not used to Southern manners!) I continued: “It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.”

“Ya know,” he said, “I just like comin' to the park to see who I might meet and talk to. You have yourself a wonderful day, Sir, and I hope I can meet you again.”

He got up and tapped his way out of the park.  

I do go to Glencairn Garden fairly often, so the prospects of seeing him are good. I gave the old man nothing but conversation, and we shared a little bit about our lives, and that was plenty for him.

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August 14, 2009
Rock Hill, South Carolina

So far here in Rock Hill, SC I have met with some pretty sweet and organized people working for the betterment of our poor brothers and sisters.

For instance, the Dorothy Day center gives a square meal to anyone who shows up to its food line. The people are served with dignity, and without question. How do I know this? I have been through the line twice - before asked by Brother David how I could be part of their great work.

The Dorothy Day Center serves from the social hall across the street from St. Mary’s Church, which now happens to be Sue’s and my home parish. There are many such centers here in our little town of Rock Hill that are doing truly blessed and valuable work with people lost due to our faltering economy.  But these are ‘centers’, and centers are places where people need to come to be served.  For a moment think outside the box of center life, and come with me where concern can be sought out in the high ways and by ways of America.

It is Friday, August 14th, 2009.

I am happily driving toward Main Street in Rock Hill, South Carolina, listening to an oldies station when I see a group of children walking along a set of the many strands of rail road tracks lining and defining the boundaries of our little berg. I could see they were not like any children out to play. They were walking with a purpose.

I turned my truck around to meet them as they crossed the trestle going over the main highway. I got out of the truck and stood watching them. As they approached they looked at me apprehensively, but noticed I was fat and had a prosthetic leg; so their alarm bells stopped long enough for me to get a good look.

They were six boys ranging in age from twelve to fourteen with black garbage bags slung over their shoulders. They continued to walk toward me and eventually came right up to me and said: “Hello.”

They were extremely dirty and their clothing was completely tattered. One had a pair of shoes held together by duct tape.

I told the boys my name and without another word the oldest boy told me:”We don’t need evangelizing!”  

I acted as though I didn’t hear his comment, then I took the offensive: “Are you hungry, or thirsty?” I asked.

They unanimously agreed that they were. I told them that if they could just wait where they were for an hour, I would continue into town and get them something to eat and drink. I added: “Free of charge.”

I found a Subway Sandwich shop where I purchased their lunch. I returned to the railroad tracks and there they were – sitting by the tracks, hitting the blades of grass with their hands - just waiting for me to return.

I smiled and held up the bag of food toward them and greeted them with: “I’m back.”

They all jumped up as I handed the bag to the oldest boy. He gave each one a sandwich and a drink. They dug into the food eagerly and then each one took a portion of their sandwich and wrapped it up and put it in their bag for later.

I asked the oldest boy where they were from. He said: “up north.”

I asked how old they were. The oldest boy said he was fourteen and the youngest said he was twelve (but he looked to be about ten).

I asked them if I could help them get into a shelter for the night. The oldest boy said: “No thanks we’re on our way.”

 They all politely said: “Thank you, mister,” and then they each got up and resumed walking along the railroad tracks – continuing their journey south.

I was touched by them. I was touched by the sight of them and by meeting them. It made me think about how much I miss by not paying attention.

These children are still walking to somewhere I will never know. As I write this the sun is going down on a fairly mild day here in South Carolina. Where are they now? Where will they sleep tonight? What more could I have done? Why were six barely pubescent teenage boys walking together today? What kind of family life they were running from?

For a moment today they were treated with kindness.  Most likely they didn’t need to steal for their next meal. I was meant to be where I was today to meet these blessed children. I am thankful I was paying attention today.

Pete

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September 2008

Unconditional Love

I couldn’t stop thinking about a conversation I had recently with an old friend, Elizabeth T. She had just finished reading ”Old Men Dream”. She needed to tell me how the book affected her. I was so moved by what she said that I thought it was important to record our conversation. With her permission here it is.

“I just finished reading your book. I truly don't have words to describe it. My head hurts from thinking and I have a knot in my throat that is holding back deep tears. I have so much to tell you. For so long, you and Sue have been in my heart as one of the most important examples of unconditional love and true Christianity I have ever encountered. I have clung to my memory of our three weeks in Arizona as though it has just happened. [She made a trip with us to the Tohono O’Odham Nation when she was in high school many years ago.] It feels like I can reach out and touch my experiences with you, and yet, after so many summers having passed from that time, my heart is moved at the nearness of those few weeks when God put you and Sue in my life for me to learn to see His unconditional love.

I recently confronted both my parents to tell them that I have been hung up on the fact that I could not unconditionally love myself, because I didn't truly feel that love growing up nor do I feel it to this day. Unfortunately, I still see this playing out with my brother, who is still very much in emotional pain. For the first time, my parents are listening.

Only now that I have children of my own, who challenge me every day to remember who I am, and who help me play this dance of love more clearly; am I beginning to understand unconditional love. In my heart I know the only gift I can give to them is unconditional love. It breaks my heart to think that so many years have passed since my trip with you – years when I have not felt this love.

I don't think I knew that I was so starving for this love until you sent me your book: ”Old Men Dream”.  After having read the book, I see the immense irony of my 'service trip' to help the children on the reservation in Arizona and then what my parents called: ’my return to real life, in the real world’.

As a teen, I felt I could relate to the people on the reservation. At the time, my desire to help was so clear to me. After my trip with you, I fought with my parents every day until they threatened to take away my funding to go to college. Daily I had to put up with their utter distain for you and what trouble you had caused them over the summer that year [because of the trip to the Tohono O’Odham Nation].

My confusion about the path I chose at that time has finally stopped. I see now that my choice was not my choice at all, but my parent’s choice in their attempt to control my life. Please don’t get me wrong on this point. I would probably have done the same thing for my children when they become teens-at least I might have, if you hadn’t left the book:”Old Men Dream” in my mail box last week.

The life I will try to live now will be more in the line of simple and unconditional respect and love for myself and my fellow man- including my children.

Thank you for reminding me of so many good and meaningful times so many years ago. Your book has given me the chance to rethink the joys and sufferings of that trip. I finally have a place to plant my feet in order to start my quest.

I trust God will help me find my path in the right time. I am changed and I feel the courage to continue searching for my answers.

Congratulations, Pete, and thank you for sharing your story with me and with the world. I, for one, needed to hear it. It gave me a kick start.”

All that can be said to such high praise is Thanks Be Unto God! Pete

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August 2008

No, Thank You, Just Water

On one of the hottest days we’ve recently had in the bay area, I went into my home office to retrieve my phone calls. It must have been 98 degrees on this day as I sat sweating in the comfort of my little nest listening to my answer machine messages.

The first message was a typical request for food, but the next request was very different from any calls I had received during the summer months or for that matter anytime. The call went something like this.” Hello, my name is Elva B. and I would appreciate a call back as soon as you can. I don’t have transportation, and my neighbor is elderly. She is not able to drink the city water with her medicine, and will not ask anyone to help her get any bottled water. Can you please call me back and let me know if you provide this service? Thank you.” I listened to the tape again then took down her phone number and address.

I had to take another woman to the store and while I was there I picked up three cases of bottled water for the elderly woman that Elva B. had told me about. I returned the lady and her groceries to her home and then headed directly to Elva B’s home in San Jose. I did not call I just took the water with me in the back of my little Toyota pickup truck.

I just showed up on her front porch. She opened the front door and I introduced myself and told her I had water. I asked where she wanted it.

She said, “ Put it next door to Mrs. A’s apartment. She won’t come to the door though. I have a key and can let you in.”

“Is there anything else you need?” I asked.

“No, thank you. Just the water will do.” She responded.

“Are you sure there is nothing else? I will be glad to come tomorrow and help out if you need groceries or anything.” I actually began arguing with Elva thinking that she must want more from me. But she did not want a thing.

It was wonderful to meet Elva. I sometimes get a little disillusioned because so many people ask for something and then try to take advantage of my goodwill and especially the good will of the people serving Truck Of Love.  I believe God sent this good and honest woman to help me restore my trust in people that can  sometimes be lost in the course of my day. And, oh yes- by the way, Elva B. and I are now friends.

 

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July 2008

A Band of Brothers

There are several people doing Mike’s job, but Mike is the only one I have met and talked with. Mike has somehow captured my heart more than most.  He picks up the recyclables from the containers set out on our block each Wednesday evening.  

I met Mike early one Thursday morning when I was coming out of my house to get into my truck. Mike was picking through the recycle bin.

I asked: ”Would you like me to save my recyclables for you during the week?”

Mike’s big smile was enough answer.

Over the months, Mike and I have shared a few words each week. Then one recent morning, I decided it was time for me to get to know him better.

Mike told me he slept on the “Hotel 22” (the bus that traverses Santa Clara St. ) for a long time. He met Morg on that bus and later they met Bert at a bus stop where they were all exiting at the same time. Mike offered to help Bert with his wheel chair and, as Mike says, ”We were fast friends from then on.”

They formed a kind of business arrangement. Mike knows the route of the pick-ups for bottles and cans and so he was the logical choice of the three to be the one who walks and walks and walks to make the collections for the other two. The competition for recyclables is severe. Mike knows that if he is even a little late for his routine collections they will be gone. Someone else will have gotten to the treasure first.

Mike’s friends wait for him by Guadalupe creek, where they now share a tent.  

Bert is handicapped and gets around in his wheel chair very well. He can’t do the job Mike does of foraging for the recyclables. Bert’s job is to take the incoming recyclables from Mike and to separate them into bags that can be taken in a shopping cart to the recyclers by Morg.  Then Morg and  Bert go to the store to buy provisions of the night.

Mike took me to visit their creek side home – their “Squat”. Their living space is meager but, they have a tent and a simple cooking arrangement. They are inventive and resourceful. They are proud of their living situation. It works quite well for them. None of them drink, smoke, or use other drugs so their overhead is low.

They know the police will raid them and throw out all their belongings if they get sloppy and leave dirt and refuse around.  Mike has gotten to know the police and he’s clear on the unwritten rules. He told me how some of the guys who live by the creek don’t keep their squats clean and they all suffer. He says that if the guys living in the squats behave well and keep their areas clean the police won’t bother them.   

These three men living next to Guadalupe creek have a job to do every day, and according to Mike: ”We makes  it work.”

Mike final words to me are: ”It works out just fine. I like to walk, and they like doing what they do, so everybody is happy.”

I fell blessed to have been invited into their lives. These are three special men who are doing the best they can in this world.

Pete

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June 2008

That's Life

Sam is a good man with a heart of gold. Sometimes his kindness is misunderstood by those around him as a weakness. I met Sam one morning when I opened my door to find him standing there. He was looking up reading the words on the piece of granite I’ve placed over the entrance to my home.

He said, ”'Kindness House'. What does the sign mean?” I invited Sam into my living room and offered him a cup of coffee.

I said, “Kindness House is the name that was given to our home by a person who came to our door and commented: ’I was told by a friend I could come to Kindness House when I need help for my family.’ We had wanted to name our house and the name Kindness House really fit. So I had the plaque engraved with the name.”

Sam had come to my house that morning to get some help for himself, because he was living on the edge of poverty. But he also wanted to talk about how to help the people he was meeting on the street. He’d been trying to help people, but they were often hurting him in return with their cynicism, ridicule and fear. Sam was getting tired of helping ungrateful people.

Sam has a sweet, simple spirit and he is by nature, helpful. He just wants to do whatever he can to help people through hard times. He said, “I’ve been through all this myself and I know how hard it can be for people on the street, or one pay check away from the street, and I want to help.” Sam and I spent some time sharing our stories. He ended our conversation with, “Can I come back again so we can talk? You’ve helped me a lot. Now I can help them like you have helped me.”

Sam and I talk about once a month. He tells me where he is with his discoveries of how to help, the nature of people in need of help, and mostly how he is navigating through the hard times of ridicule and criticism by those who have no desire to help. Sam has a growing street family. He is now supporting people with more than financial assistance. Sam is spreading the news among the poor that help is on the way from more people – he tells them and to not give up.

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May 2008

The Right Place at the Right Time

I pulled my truck over to the side of the road because a young blond woman of about 24 years was holding out a bright red painted thumb nail indicating that she would like a ride. Lots of cars and trucks were passing her by.  I was the one who chose to stop to assist this person.  After determining where she wanted to go, I turned the truck around and we were on our way.   Within a few moments, it was clear to me where the conversation was headed. The young woman was a prostitute and she naturally assumed I would be her next trick.   Madeline was sharing the cost of a two - bed room at what I call the "Sleazy- 8 Motel" off First St. in San Jose. This way she was able to send a bit of her meager income home to her family in the east. The motel tolerated their presence because neither she nor the other girl complained about not getting clean towels, or sheets.    Madeline was not at all ashamed or embarrassed about the profession she had chosen; nor was she shy about telling the story that led her to this point in her life.     She told me she was the last of fifteen children. Her father was a Pennsylvania coalminer, and her mother cared for children of the miners. Her mom worked in the preschool on company grounds. When Madeline was a baby her mom carried her around tied in with a scarf wrapped around her shoulder, and under her arm like a papoose - only in front, so she could nurse her as she cared for the other children. On the weekends Madeline’s father was a fundamentalist preacher and her four oldest brothers acted as ushers greeting the folks into the services. She remembered how  one time her dad started preaching real loud from the pulpit, and how a few of the men in the congregation took exception to what he was saying an told him to meet them outside after the services. Her brothers would hear nothing of it and dragged them out front by themselves and gave them “what for”.   She described herself as a small child, but very pretty. When she was six years old some men from the congregation got drunk and took her around behind the church to “have their way with her”. Her dad never forgave her for taunting the men into doing what they did.   She said he: "Blames me to this day." She went on, “I just got sick and tired of being around these good old boys and being treated the way I was being treated, so I left, and I never looked back.” *She was fourteen when she left home. She survived by selling her body.   She said she has never gotten into drugs. “Too expensive,” she says. “Besides I could never keep up with what I do if I got high all the time.” *That day I paid Madeline’s half of the rent so she could have a day off. 

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April 2008

"A Day In The Park"

It was such a beautiful day I decided to grab my guitar then get into my Toyota SR5 and drive to St. James Park. I like it immensely when people sit around enjoying the afternoon. My favorite place in the park is a set of eight benches arranged into three hundred sixty degree seating. The fountain in the center is large, and the water shoots high into the air. On a windy day the water gets everyone down wind as wet as if they were in a Florida thunder storm. The seats accommodated almost forty people who chat and laugh until their next bus arrives to take them away to their next destination. 

A man with a suitcase with wheels and a handle draws a seat directly across from me then looks suspiciously in all directions before he is seated. The zipper is broken, and dirty clothing is falling all over the ground around his feet, but he pays little attention. He is too busy keeping an eye on me and my guitar.

I played several songs as the gently babbling water softly flowed from the fountain. The sparkling of the reflected sun light from the movement of the surface of the water made me smile at its beauty, and close my eyes due to the brightness. All the time these things were going on I was aware of the sound of softly flowing water from the fountain.

The man with the broken luggage kept eyeing me, and tapping his feet to the beat of the music which I was following to the sound of the water. A man and woman came to sit next to the man, but with an intimidating side glance he was able to keep the two people at arms distance, and at the same time look as though he was completely disinterested in anything going on around him. 

In the middle of one of my songs the man got up from his seat and crossed the distance separating him and me. I shortened my song and quit in mid-chorus in the hope the man would smile, nod and move on. 

Without smiling he just stood in front of me and asked why I had stopped playing. "Because," I said, "I have been playing for a little while now, and my fingers are getting tired. Do you play an instrument?" I asked. At which point the man asked if he could play my instrument. Of course, I almost always say sorry I never let anyone play my instrument, but he seemed trust worthy, and I let him take it, and tune it to his satisfaction.

I had not noticed before the length of the finger nails on his right hand, and the short cropped nails on the left hand. With one unrelated glissando the man was off and playing my guitar as though playing guitar was all he did in his free time.

The man's playing was remarkable, and the selection of music was beautiful. I did not recognize the songs he had selected, but it didn't matter to me or to anyone listening. After playing for about fifteen minutes I asked for my guitar back, and asked another question about whether he had his own guitar.

The conversation opened up and we shared our lives during that beautiful early day in the park in San Jose

"You have a guitar?" I asked -or" Do you play steel string at all?" With less than a second's hesitation the man introduced himself, and then some." My name is Dozer. The last place I played was in Sausalito just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I don't live anywhere in particular and the only things I own are in this suitcase. My guitar was smashed when I left it leaning against the cab on the way to a gig last week, so I guess you could say I'm stuck."

I gave him my name, and my word that I would go home and pick up a guitar an old street friend gave to me some years ago. I mentioned to him I hoped I would find someone like him (Dozer) to give it to someday.

I returned form my home with the guitar to loud praises to our Father in heaven, and with a very big teary eyed hug. "I'll never forget what you did for me today, man! - Never!"

Within ten minutes of that moment Dozer and I parted company. Me to go home and see my beloved, and Dozer to go his way a bit less lonely, and a lot more hopeful.

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March 2008

"We All Need Each Other"

 

Ten years ago, after a series of dreams and an extended period of discernment, I left my comfortable home and most of my belongings and became homeless for fifty three days. During that time, I had lots of amazing experiences. But the most long-lasting result of those days on the road was the conviction that we need each other. There is no way I could have survived as a homeless person if I had not met people along the way who helped me when I was in dire need.

 

These days, that experience comes back loudly and clearly.  Our local creeks are swelling with the rains and the homeless people who have chosen to live near the waters edge are being washed out of their encampments.  A few days ago, I visited an area where I knew people would be in trouble. There is a railroad trestle and an overpass on the outside of town where the creek flows. I arrived to find four people huddled on the steep hillside under the trestle where they had tied their sleeping bags to shelter them from the rain. They sat on the mud attempting to get a small tarp to cover their huddled bodies. The rain and mud flowed around and under them.

 

When I approached them, I asked what I could do to help. One man, who introduced himself as Malcolm, spoke for the group. He yelled over the sound of the pounding rain and said: “We need more tarps to cover us.”

 

Everything they had was wet and muddy.

 

Fortunately, I had come with a truck load of tarps and new blankets that were encased in plastic. “Sit tight“I said,” I’ll be right back with all I have.”

 

I returned with tarps and rain ponchos. I also had blankets in plastic bags that they could open later.

 

I continued walking on the trestle throwing plastic wrapped blankets to other people further down the bank of the creek. (I had to throw them from the top of the hill, because these days with my prosthetic foot I can’t get down and back up a slippery, muddy hillside.)

 

I visit this area of the creek each year and rarely meet anyone I know. This is a very transient population. So when one of the men down the side of the hill called out and asked why I was doing this I was not surprised. But I didn’t need to explain myself, because Malcolm, the man from the first group, came up beside me and yelled down to the man, “He don’t need to explain himself to do something nice, does he?”

 

By the time I had given everything away there were some pretty happy people. They   invited me to come back that night for a bar-b-que being held under the overpass.  Unfortunately, I had to decline.

 

That day by the creek and every day that I am out with the poor of our area, I see the need for each of us to see people, to reach out to people and to help those people who come into our view.

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Christmas 2007

This year Truck of Love gave gift cards to many people – cards to help them with extra special food for Christmas and gifts for their families. One set of gift cards went to Linda N. and her three children. She received $100 in Target cards and $60 in Safeway cards.  Linda has been in need of Christmas help for about the past fifteen years and Truck of Love has helped her each year.  She is a very grateful mother.  So I was not surprised to receive a note from her.  But I was surprised by what she wrote.

She wrote: “I talked to all three of my kids to ask them if they wanted to play Santa this year like Truck of Love does.  My family and I wanted to share some of what you have been giving us so freely over the past fifteen years just to see what kind of fuss was involved in going out and doing what you do.  We didn’t do very much, but as a family something almost magic happened.

Norma lives in the apartment just beneath us and was alone this Christmas.  She had never heard of such a program as yours so the kids figured her and her kids to be the perfect candidate.

Norma was born in Mexico to a poor family with eleven kids.  She’s separated from her husband, and speaks English better than I do Spanish, so she is all alone with her kids.  It didn’t take much to get the tears flowing with her, when me and my kids showed up on her door step with some turkey and some refried beans.  My kids picked out a cheap truck for the little boy, and a doll for the little girl, and some cheap perfume for the mom.  No one told me about that part with the hugs – oh my God!  The hugs and the tears after the deed was done.  My oldest daughter had to leave because she got so emotional.

Even though we couldn’t afford much (they used part of the gift cards Truck of Love had given to their family) it turned out we didn’t need much to cause the kind of joy created by the kindness we showed these little kids and their mother Norma.

Thanks for helping us get the great feeling of love and closeness we felt from doing this. We’re going to do it every year from now on.  Now I’m starting to feel a little sorry for the people who don’t do what we did for Norma this year.

Thanks for all the years, Linda N.

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October 2007

The Past Came to Visit”   I was in downtown San Jose, standing in a crowd of marchers who were demonstrating to raise awareness of the homeless problem in the city.  My attention was diverted by lots of noise emanating from some marchers I knew who reside in a local homeless shelter.  All the children were having great fun yelling my name at the top of their lungs.  They were making so much noise that I was distracted from a gentle tugging on my shirt sleeve.  I turned and looked down to see an old friend mine sitting in a wheel chair.   ”Charlie!”  I said.” How are you?  I’ve missed you!!  Where have you been?”   Charlie said nothing for a long moment.  He looked glad to see me and very happy that I remembered his name.  I could see Charlie was having a hard time speaking.  His eyes had welled with tears, and his mouth was agape.  So I reached down and gave him a hug.   I had met Charlie about five years before.  At that time, he’d been sitting in, what looked like, the same wheel chair holding a card board sign in his hand. I had stopped at a red light and was about to make a left turn at the intersection of Old Oakland Rd. and East Bay Shore Rd.  I spoke to him through my open window, asking him his name, and whether he was hungry or thirsty.

"My name is Charlie, and yes I am hungry and thirsty.”  

I pulled my truck over across the street and parked in the Burger King parking lot.  After buying some food I walked back to him and sat down to listen to his story.  A veteran, he was living by a local creek.  He subsidized his pension by panhandling for money. 

As I stood in the crowd of demonstrators, Charlie rambled on: “Pete, I can’t tell you how good it is to see you.  Until today I had no idea how to find you.  I forgot where you worked, and no one knew who I was talking about when I told them I wanted to get a hold of a good looking blond guy named Pete who helps people.  I had no idea where to start looking for you, and then-miracle of miracles, I looked up and there you were.  I was in shock.  God must have known how much I needed to say 'thank you' to you, and I’m sorry for cutting out on you like I did!”

 

Charlie wanted to catch up on everything I had done since we had seen each other, so I gave him a brief over view of what had been going on with Truck of Love, and with the people we knew in common.  Edgar, Stan, and Momma Faye, seemed to be at the top of Charlie’s list of the people he needed to know about.

 

“Everyone is doing pretty well Charlie,”  I said. “Now it’s your turn to fill me in on what happened the day you left.”

 

He continued with: “You remember when you and I and Momma Faye were beginning to help the people living down by the creek about four years ago? Do you remember all the work you put into helping those people, and how they just seemed to give you the brush off?  Do you remember how you had talked to everyone about sharing what you brought and how no one needs to steel from each other?  Do you remember all that?  Do you remember how you told me that I was just the guy to help these people living down there by the creek, and that I was honest, and hard working, and that I was a loving person?  Do you remember?”

 

I really didn’t remember all that.  I just smiled and nodded.

 

Charlie went on: “When we first met, I was hiding from everyone.  I was hiding from the law.  I was hiding from people I had known when my life was ok.  And besides that, I had a lump in my belly the size of a grapefruit, and I thought I was dying.  I felt so sorry for myself, especially since it was me I was trying to run from.  Then I even ran away from you.  For that, I want to say I’m sorry!”

 

“You used to pray with me.  I hadn’t prayed in thirty years!  You kept telling me how Jesus loves us and wants only what is the best for us.”

 

“Yes, I do remember saying that,” I said.

 

”Well,” Charlie continued, “ I just got out of jail this morning and am finally finished with all that jail time I’ve been avoiding for the past fifteen years.  Ya’ see, Pete, I’m not scared anymore!  I want to see what God has in store for me.  I’ve made my apologies, and I’ve given up on blaming everyone else for the stuff I’m responsible for.

 

"I want you to know you gave me the shove I needed to see what I had to do, and that what I do is up to me now.  You prayed with me every time you left our little compound down by the creek, and every time you saw me you gave me a big smile.  You reminded me there really is something to look forward to out here. 

"I couldn’t see the good coming from my life until one afternoon you gave me a bible.  You said that I asked for the bible.  Did I really ask you for a bible?  But you- you son of a gun-I don’t remember asking for any bible.  

"That time you gave me the bible, I was beginning to feel like it might be the time to turn my life around, but then I left.  I just left – dropped out of sight.  

"I put it together a few weeks after I saw you last, and decided to turn myself in.  It wasn’t so bad to just get it over with and clean the slate.  I started doing some praying for myself while I was in the pen.  I realized prayer had changed something inside me.  I had thought about you a lot, and realized the things I was angry about: my health, and the hand I thought God had dealt me.  

"Anyway, when I got out of jail, I went back to the Vet’s Hospital, and they gave me a completely different diagnosis about the lump in my abdomen. The doctors gave me some meds that brought the swelling down on the tumor.  After I found out the cancer I had was not going to kill me, I saw hope I didn’t remember having before.”

Charlie rolled off into the crowd.  He had my card with my phone number.  I had his promise that he was “gonna call me soon.”

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September  2007

 

The last two weeks of June, Sue and I went on a six day adventure to Arizona. While we were rolling down the Highway 5 in our ‘vintage’ Toyota pick up truck, Sue and I shared memories of happy times of bygone camps that made us turn to each other and smile. It was 21 years ago that we began the camp on the Tohono O’Odham Indian reservation at the request of the Franciscan Sisters. We now continue camp at the invitation of the people themselves.

 

We arrived at camp on a Monday at around 4:00PM . To my great joy we were greeted with open arms by the camp counselors and lots of children. They were in the new Pisinemo Recreation Center – a brand new facility that is in the place that once was occupied by the old cafeteria. Anyone who has ever gone with us to Arizona will probably remember exactly where that is.

 

Sue and I were able to enjoy the after camp exhaustion as counselors cooled off with snacks and got ready for dinner. Later we went out to what is now the basketball field (formerly a wide-open desert filled with cows, horses, grease wood, and cactus) where we circled our chairs and watched the sun set, slang songs and counselors talked about their first camp day. What fun to be there and hear the stories that are almost the same as those we told at the beginning of camp so many years ago – except that the kids are the children of our former campers!

 

I was so impressed by the dedication and talent of this next generation of camp counselors. Camp is in good hands.

 

Sue and I spent a full day at camp and I was able to sing the same old songs and play guitar with five groups of children. It was a blast!  The younger children kept quiet and listened intently to see where I was going with the music, and story songs like ‘Abby-Yo-Yo’.  I was able to trick them with easy listening stuff , and many of the little ‘dumplings’ fell asleep.  

 

The trip to and from Arizona was fun just rolling along, listening to books on tape- not quite like the old days of herding groups of teenagers through two travel days each way.  These days the out-of-state counselors fly into Phoenix.  It’s a new time for camp and it’s a good time at camp.

 

Thanks to everyone who contributes time, money and energy to make it happen.

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July 2007

 

I have decided to dedicate the month of July 2007 "Pete's Corner" to an article written recently by a friend who went around with me on a typical day of my "unplanned" work schedule. Where there were a few mis-quotes in the text, I have made corrections in the text.

 

By Bruce Barton

Town Crier Staff Writer

 

It's another day at work for Pete Fullerton. In this case, work comprises deliveries of furniture, cooking utensils and other essentials for the needy and homeless. Welcome to a day in the life of the founder and soul employee of Truck of Love, a San Jose-based non-profit organization. (A friend, Gordon Stewart, actually started  & named this project 1967.) The former Lockheed employee left the business world for the spiritual world- one that keeps him in touch with humanity on a daily basis.

 

"If we don't think God is in each of us, we're in deep yogurt," said Fullerton, spilling out one many philosophical quips he might use on any given day.  Asked how he raises money to support his cause, he replies, "Everyone has a different way of raising funds; mine is taken care of in great deal by groveling.  Our Truck of Love newsletter is the first and best fund raiser."  A personal appearance at churches and social events is another.  "I'm very good at groveling because I know none of it is for me."

 

Truck of Love is one of 11 non-profits supported by the Town crier's annual Holiday Fund.

  

One can readily tell from spending any time with Fullerton that the man is an eternal optimist, swayed neither by misfortune nor by criticism.  He greets homeless people cheerfully, including those whom he already knows have violent tendencies, without fear or hesitation.

 

On this particular day, Fullerton dropped off furniture promised to Yanet, a young woman who had just moved with her daughter from a San Jose shelter (where he assists residents as a case manager) into a modest apartment. He quickly opened the back of his "Love" truck, revealing old chairs, a table, a lamp, framed pictures, and a television set, with which he would fill her empty apartment.  After a few words of encouragement and thanks, Fullerton was back in the truck, on his way to check on the status of homeless people living in the underbrush bordering nearby creeks.

 

Fullerton occupies his days with deliveries and paperwork (his organization is a 501(c)3  non-profit organization) where he deals with emergencies on a daily basis. Emergencies might constitute getting food, medicine, and housing for needy people - sometimes in the middle of the night.  "These are people who need to be led someplace, who are new in town and need a friend to talk to," he said.

 

That Fullerton continues to keep a crisp pace in helping the needy speaks to his dedication, his "calling," as he puts it.  The man continues to walk briskly despite having lost his right leg in a fall while rock climbing during his 1998 Summer Day Camp on the Tohono O'Odham Reservation in southern Arizona.  He moves so seemingly comfortably in a prosthetic leg, fitted just below the knee, that most don't even notice at first.

  

Fullerton still recalls clearly the day of the mishap.  He fell nearly 40 feet, the impact shattering his right leg. He clung to dear life onto a rock or he would have fallen another 155 feet. Camp Councilors who were present came to the rescue while others went to the main road to make a phone call for a medivac helicopter. "Each person showed such courage in their attempt to keep me from dehydrating, and shaded from the 118 degree desert sun for a period of seven hours on the ledge of the canyon below.  I am so proud of them, and so happy to be alive.  None of the work I do today would happen without the events of that day happening just the way they did."  It took Fullerton six months to recover from his injuries and three years of practice on a prosthetic leg to get back to his routine.

 

People often ask Fullerton how he could have endured seven hours of intense pain in the wilds of Arizona.  "I sang with the councilors helping me," he said.  "Singing is the best way to keep your mind off the pain."

  

Asked to sing a song, Fullerton picked up his guitar and began singing "I Can See Clearly Now", a 1972 hit from Johnny Nash that includes the words, "It's going to be a bright , bright sunshiny day."

 

Fullerton takes these words to heart, for himself and his people.

 

 

Bruce's article has been the best, and the most factual of any written in the past.  I believe it is important to let people know what life can be as a worker for the Lord.  Life is simple, and extremely uncomplicated.  The most important advice I would have for anyone willing to give up everything, to work for others in the Lord would be to:

1.) Pray often

2.) Stay flexible

3.) Don't fear criticism

4.) Don't mind who gets the credit for the work

5.) Pay attention to your health, or your wife (which ever comes first)

6.) Use the KISS method (Keep It Simple Stupid)

 

Love in the name of all that is Holy,

Pete

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June 2007

He was just a kid sitting on the corner of San Carlos St. and Lithe Way in San Jose where our local Orchard Supply Hardware store allows day workers to congregate.  The men who sit there are generally between eighteen and forty years of age.   He was sitting on his haunches with his knees bent to his chest.  I did not pay too much attention to him, thinking he was probably the son of one of the workers. I wouldn't have seen he was so young if he hadn't been wearing his baseball cap backwards.   I stopped my car, got out and walked toward a man standing nearby, Rubin, who is one of the men I know from work he has done with Truck of Love. I asked about the little boy.   Rubin did not know who the boy was, but said he had been sleeping under the tree when he (Rubin) got there that morning. Rubin offered to go to the other guys to see if anyone else could tell me. "They don't know," Rubin replied when he came back.   So I offered to buy Rubin some lunch and the three of us sat down as Rubin became translator and we both discovered the boy’s story.    His name was Alberto Gomez. He was hungry and tired because it had been a long trip from Mexico, and he had not eaten in three days. He crossed the border under the cover of night with a family friend and lots of other people. After he jumped the fence on the Tijuana border, she was caught just as she was coming down the fence into the USA. The friend, caught by the Border Patrol, called his name to get him back to her, but he was afraid to go to her because he could see how the 'migrante' (US border guards) were treating everyone.   He hid in the dark until everyone was gone and he was completely alone. He didn’t speak English, he didn’t know what to do next. He was hungry, tired, and scared out of his wits.   He had $50 US dollars in his pocket that his mother and father had saved for him. As he hid in the bushes, he wondered if he should just cross back over the fence and return to his family. But his Dad had sent him north shortly after the death of his mother, telling him he was the only hope the family had. His Dad was ill and there were four younger brothers and one younger sister. He needed to help his family by going to El Norte (the North) and working as so many people in his village had done before him.   He stayed in the bushes by the border fence until others crossed over and joined with him. They were more experienced and helped him find the bus station in San Ysidro where he purchased a bus ticket to San Jose.   I found him three days later on the curb where we now shared lunch.   After about an hour of talking with Rubin and me, I had heard enough. Alberto had been waiting with the other men for day work, but no one was going to hire an eleven year old kid. He began to realize that this was not going to work for him. I told him to wait there for me and went off to the grocery store where I packed a small cooler with enough food and drink for several days. I returned to Orchard Supply where he was still sitting forlornly on the curb.   I explained to him that I was going to take him to the bus station where I would buy him a ticket back to San Ysidro. I told him how much courage he had to come so far north to help his family. I also told him to go home and tell his father all the details of what had happened.  

My last glimpse of him was a smiling face in the bus window as he headed south.

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11/1/05

I hear that God never gives us more adversity, or success, than we can handle. I have always tried to believe this. Sometimes I cannot understand it very well. 

Recently, I met Sheryl.  She is a mother of three teenaged girls, and one eleven year-old boy. Currently they are living on the second floor of a low rent apartment complex. Two years ago the family had a father and lived in a house in a neighborhood much like yours or mine.  Late one night in January of 2004 the Dad was returning home from work. He was struck and killed by a drunk driver. The father was insured for just enough to pay for the funeral and a few months of rent on the house.

In the spring of 2004, Sheryl's father died of a massive coronary.  Her grieving mother was left alone.  The grandchildren were devastated by the loss of their grandfather to whom they were very close. Then their grandmother died – Sheryl says she had a broken heart.

When money ran out for the rented house, Sheryl and her children had to move in with her late husband’s parents. In July of 2004 in-law’s home burned to the ground. The mother and father in law were killed in the fire. They were uninsured.

Several agencies have been working with Sheryl. Services have included the help of a grief counselor for Sheryl and the four children.

Sheryl's only living relative after July of 2004 was her sister, Jane.  Jane attempted suicide later that year.  She survived the attempted suicide only to die two weeks ago when she stepped in front of a moving car.

To me, this is the story of Job come to life. It makes me think of the fragility of life. 

I am amazed at the resilience of Sheryl and her children.  They have each other. They help each other.

Friends of Truck of Love will adopt Sheryl’s family for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Please keep them in your prayers.

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8/13/05

This morning I came out of the bank and was approached by a woman. She was shorter than me by at least a foot.  She was almost as big around as she was tall.  The grunge on her tee shirt obscured the words written on it. She was wearing socks but was shoeless.  

She gave me one tired look and I knew immediately I was going to get involved. I greeted her with  “Good Morning. Can I help you?"

She began to cry. Part of me wanted to beat a hasty exit. But I stood there waiting for the tears to subside.

Right there in the bank parking lot at 10:30am she told me her story of spousal abuse. She had no money, no food, and of had been on the street without sleep for two nights. She continued." I hurt so bad, and I'm so tired, and I'm so hungry right now I don't know what to do."

I gave the woman my cane, a clean pair of sox, a pair of shoes, and a huge sweatshirt that were all in the back of my car.

She graciously turned me down when I offered her a ride to the battered woman's shelter. Instead she accepted an all- day bus pass, thirty dollars for food, and a night paid at the Pacific Hotel in Mountain View. 

Sometimes people ask me how I can do this work that is Truck of Love. How do I know a person is really in need? Aren’t there too many people out there who need help? What if…

I’ve always been a person who has dealt with whatever is in front of me. I’ve never worried that there might be another person around the corner. I believe that God expects me to answer the need that is expressed now. That’s how Truck of Love works. 

If I encounter a person who has no shirt, I’ve been known to take off my shirt and hand it over (much to the embarrassment of some of my friends).

I cannot allow myself to be stopped by the overwhelming need in the world. All I can do is open my heart and the back of my car to the woman in the bank parking lot.

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7/3/05 - "Nothing Happens By Mistake" 

They came from Texas with high hopes of a better life and a chance to start over. From what I know of Anna and Donald's life story any change would be a step up in the right direction. 

While in Texas, Anna had been in an abusive relationship with a man. A broken bone was commonplace and daily death threats were the norm. Finally, one day she’d had enough. She decided to depart in the middle of the night. Hitchhiking her way out of town, Anna was picked up on Highway 40 by her current boyfriend Donald. 

Donald had been released from prison two years earlier. The conditions of his parole stated he could not leave the state of Oklahoma for two years. He was on his way to anywhere else when he picked up Anna by the side of the highway. 

They settled in San Jose with nothing but a 1977 Dodge van and a few dollars. Because each of them is likeable, they were able to get sales jobs. Together they worked out a financial situation whereby Anna would sell lingerie at two San Jose flea markets and Donald would transport the goods for her. 

Shortly after arriving in San Jose, Anna was hit by a car that ran a red light. She was in the hospital for two weeks with casts on a broken leg and a broken arm. Both she and Donald wondered if coming to California was such a hot idea after all. The insurance claim was a slam-dunk in favor of her. However, the insurance company kept stalling the payment of their claim. As a result, for the past two years they have both have been living in Donald’s van.  

Anna has recovered fully. During the past year they have been subsisting by saving every penny and receiving some help from Truck of Love. 

"We have never had friends like you." Anna told me. "Why are you so nice to Donald and me?"  

I had no answer for them – knowing they needed a little more life experience.  

Well, it finally happened. They had an opportunity to help in a soup kitchen, at first washing dishes and then cooking. Their question was answered. They exclaimed to me: "Helping people really feels good, doesn't it, Pete?" 

When Anna receives the insurance settlement from the auto accident, Donald and Anna plan to buy a mobile home - 30 feet long 10 feet wide. They dream about where they’ll park it. Until then, they live in God's time where all things are possible.  
It all started with a random act of kindness when Donald picked up the hitchhiking Anna and they journeyed together to California. It was here they learned: "Helping people really feels good, doesn't it, Pete?" 

Yup! 

Pete

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7/3/2005 - "Nathan" 

Fire destroyed Nathan’s home in Fresno. He moved to San Jose to live with relatives and get a new start. 

Before the fire, Nathan worked in a print shop. His twenty-year-old son, Josh, helped support the family as a telemarketer. Nathan or Josh’s incomes alone could not support the family. When the fire took all their worldly goods, they had to have extra help. 

New in San Jose, Nathan, his wife, Desiree, and their three children were eating lots of beans and rice – trying to get through each day. Nathan got a job with his brother-in-law but Josh didn’t have the skills to do much – so he ended up standing on the street corners hoping for the generosity of passing motorists. That was how he was killed – an innocent victim of a drive by shooting. 

I met Nathan a week after Josh’s death. Living with his wife’s family, he was focused on making a better life for his wife and two remaining children – ages seven and nine. Desiree was keeping them inside all day – fearful of something else happening.  

Truck of Love helps them with the little things – a food voucher, a bus pass and plenty of love and care. 

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4/14/05 - "Carl" 

I was taking a break from driving from Tijuana and had stopped the car in a park in Southern California – one I had frequented as a child. As I tuned my guitar, there was a tapping on the window. Turning down the window, a young woman began to babble – as if she had been on an all night binge. I started singing (which was my original intention for stopping) and she began to cry, mascara running down her cheeks. I invited her into the car and asked her where I could drop her off and what she wanted to eat. She replied, “The Capri Motel”, but was asleep before she could answer the second question.  

We arrived at the motel and I reluctantly woke her, asking what room she was in. I wanted to make sure she was safe inside before I left. I asked again what she wanted to eat and she groggily said: “I’ll ask Carl what they want.” 

Not knowing who “Carl” was, I helped her to her room. A boy of about 14 turned out to be Carl. He was caring for six younger brothers and sisters in the small room. The children were of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. The woman made a quick move into the bathroom and closed the door. 

I asked Carl what they would like to eat. He yelled into the bathroom door, “Mom, this guy wants to know what we want to eat!” 

“Get as much from him as you can.” Came the reply. 

Carl and I headed out to the store. He talked as we shopped and told me that he thought I was just another of his mom’s “Johns”. She had been a prostitute as long as he could remember. He told me that they had lived in Las Vegas where his mom had been a masseuse. He told of their frequent moves and his mom’s absence every evening – “out partying.” He related stories with an air of acceptance – that this was just the way his family’s life was. His mom worked hard to keep them all together.  

Carl and I had a good time buying fruit and vegetables and diapers for the baby. He seemed to accept me as one who wanted to do good not harm. I think of him and his family and pray for them and all the other families who live from day to day. 

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3/7/2005

I had the pleasure of meeting Anna and Randy about three months ago at their home here in San Jose. I was able to give them a $25.00 gift card for Albertson's so they could buy some basic food items.

Anna carves wooden figurines to sell at the flea market on Capitol Ave. Her living and work areas are clean. Remnants of wood chips and dry branches are in neat piles to be used later for kindling.  

Anna is unable to bear children so she and Randy have not seen a need to get married. When I asked if they might ever “tie the knot'” they replied simultaneously: "Why bother?"

Randy works eight hours a day at a Taco Bell not far from where they live. Randy's take home pay is a little less than $200.00 a week. Their combined income is right around $1,400.00 a month. 

Neither Randy nor Anna has life insurance or health insurance. Oh yes, have I mentioned?  They also don't pay rent. They live on the bank of the Guadalupe Creek.  They live there with a few other people they call friends. They are all homeless. 

Not having to pay rent is a big help. They tell me that having to put up with the   frequent raids (by the police) is a real hassle.

Both Anna and Randy are sober, gentle people living in unforgiving conditions. Anna has been living with cancer for the past two years. She is not receiving any chemotherapy or radiation. Doctors at the county medical facility told her she might have two years of living without the need for much pain management. She is nearing the end of that grace period. The future holds little hope of her leading life as freely as she and Randy are doing at the moment. 

Randy did have a family living in Oaxaca, Mexico. They were all were lost during a terrible rain and mudslide in 1997. With all of life's set backs and trauma's Randy and Anna see people and life as good. They teach me a lot about positive attitude and faith.

This month they are leaving the creek side. I hear they are moving south. I will miss them.

 Pete

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2/13/2005

In early January I was asked to help an elderly couple move from their second floor apartment here in San Jose. The man and woman suffered from a disease which prevented them from throwing away their news papers. Because of the mounting clutter in their apartment, they were on the verge of eviction. When I received a call asking for my help cleaning out their place  I wanted to help in any way that I could. 

On my way to their apartment I was thinking of all the stuff I had to do to help them move. Garbage bin, workers, time, date, a place to house them during the cleaning day to keep them from hindering progress( by insisting on keeping obvious garbage). I was not prepared for what I saw.

On this my first, and final visit I wanted to see where to start the clean up. The woman opened the door about two feet. The door would open no further because of news papers piled from floor to ceiling. I could see immediately that there would be need for more than one dumpster.

The woman greeted me skeptically but kindly and invited me in.  I looked around the door for a path to walk. There was a single foot space between piles of news papers that lined the walls of the small entry way. I made small talk and asked her where her husband was to which she replied :" He's in the bathroom".  I talked to her about the importance of letting me helping them clean the news papers out as soon as possible - otherwise they would be evicted.  The previous tenants in the lower apartment had left because , quite frankly, they were nervous about the integrity of the beams holding the floor boards.

With every creaky step, I could hear the sound of cracks and pops coming from the floor. I was worried about my safety. Walking through the piles of papers, the floor bent beneath my steps and the piles swayed. I told the sweet woman I would be back in two days with help and a way to throw out the news papers.

I was too late.

The next day I was listening to Public Radio. The news reporter was talking about an elderly couple near Camden Ave. in San Jose who had been killed early that morning. They were found crushed at the bottom of a  pile of news papers and rubble from their concrete floor falling through to the apartment below them. Information was being with held pending notification of next of kin. I was too late for this one. Was I too late for a reason? Was it their time to go? I will probably never know.

Sometimes my best intentions bring me back to celebrating life. This is exactly what I do when a tragedy like this occurs. I celebrate life. I thank God for the gifts I have been given that I can  freely share with those in need.

Peace be with you. Pete

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10/13/2002

Much of my time is spent working with people who spend their days and nights on the streets of San Jose. Some of the street people need lots of help. Some are almost beyond any major assistance.

It's easy to ignore a homeless person. They seemingly have nothing to offer us. But I have found that when I stop to meet someone and to talk with them, I discover lots of things I didn't know - about them, about myself and about the world we live in.

I first saw GR (I will not use his name to keep his privacy) several years ago. He was a small old man, with a long mangy shoulder length mane of gray hair and a beard that stopped mid-chest. Dressed in a dirty suit jacket he

stood with his pants hovering around his ankles. He was relieving himself on the wall of the local "7-11" store. I was on my way to the post office and made a mental note to return and talk with this obviously disturbed man.

However, upon my return to the "7-11" the police were already putting GR into a squad car. By the time I parked and asked the officer about this odd little man, the police drivers had spirited him off to the pokey.

I introduced myself to the remaining officer. I told him I worked with homeless people and he was willing to talk to me about GR.

He said, "Every officer who has done this beat knows GR. Most of the time he doesn't bother anyone, but now and again - like now - he wants to be noticed. I think he just wants a bed and a shower. We keep him a few days and release him. Then he goes to the church down on Fifth Street."

That was good information for me. I realized GR's path would probably cross mine again. I was correct.

Not too long afterward, I stopped by the first Christian Church on Fifth and San Fernando to drop off some items for the homeless families living there. I was happily surprised to see GR on the steps of the church. I gave him a cheerful "Hello." And he began to talk.

"We're all put here to do something." He said. "Do you know what I'm here for? I'm the Door Keeper here at the church and I'm supposed to clean up the cigarette butts that people leave lyin' around. We got to stick to our own."

This was the first indication I had that GR was not quite "all there".

For many years I encountered GR around the town. Most of the time I saw him sitting off in a corner by himself, muttering words I could not understand. He made the circuit from the First Christian Church for breakfast to the First Methodist Church for lunch. I tried talking with him, but didn't get much in return. He would just stare down at his feet. It was often difficult to know if he understood what I was saying.

Sometimes I was gifted with a short conversation. I would ask: "How can I help you?"

GR would answer: "Oh - I'm ok. You got any cigarettes?"

Then one day I decided I wanted to know more about GR. So I found him and made an appointment to interview him. We met at the First Christian Church - on the front steps.

I began our interview with questions about GR's past life. He answered my questions, but I didn't understand the answers. It wasn't until I caught one of the answers to an earlier question being blurted out like a gust of wind blowing through our current conversation, that I began to catch on. His answers came on as little thought bubbles might be found in a comic strip.

You know the type. The only difference is GR vocalized his little thought bubbles. Once I understood how his mind was processing my questions, I started to understand him.

Adding to my difficulty understanding GR were the constant distractions from curious passers by as we sat on the steps of the church. GR isn't exactly the "normal" person you'd meet walking down the street. The years have only added to the mat of his hair and the grime of his clothing. Each time GR answered a question, he would raise his bearded face off his chest which would cause him to look around [which he almost never does] and he would forget where he was and what we were doing. Bless his gentle heart. This is what I deciphered from our time together:

GR was born April 16, 1933 in Lordsburg, New Mexico. His youth went by without a moment of school until his itinerant family reached Bakersfield, California when he was 9 years old. Wherever his family followed the crops GR went. He loved working with his father in the prune orchards.

"Your Father was a good man?"

"Yea, a good man, a good man. He died though."

"Do you miss him a lot?"

"Yea. Mother married another guy and had another kid. We went to live in Bakersfield."

"Did you keep picking prunes with your step-father?"

GR did not answer this question, but he went on to say, "I went to school at St. Patrick's school in Bakersfield. Step-father was not a friend to me and I left. You got to treat your body like a temple. I let the Lord's temple live. Everything is from the bible you know."

From the way GR explained these events it was unclear what had happened to him as a youth. GR continued for several minutes repeating those lines again and again:" I went to school at .."

He left the family when he was 19. It's unclear how or why life threw him a curve, but he lived for 13 years at Agnews State Hospital. During that time he was cared for and "The food was good." He says in 1985 he had brain surgery. Then 10% of the patients at Agnews were released to community care facilities (Homes in residential areas that housed groups of working disabled people. They lived together and worked at jobs with simple repetitive work.) This is the point in time GR began his 17 years on the streets of San Jose.

He told me: "Life was hard on the sidewalk at first, and I was really hungry a lot. I was tired and hungry a lot and Jesus saved me. He's in the bible you know?" [pointing up] The Man upstairs. You got to keep to your own. My father told me that. Good Yea! My father told me that. You got to keep to your own..(and over and over)

Our interview came to an abrupt halt when GR gestured to an unknown person walking by on the street. He got up from the step and said, "Yea! Well it's good to see you too."

Walking down the ramp from the church, GR kicked imaginary cigarette butts off the sidewalk and into the gutter. He never raised his eyes.

GR is still "on the street". He will probably die there. He is a harmless old man who can't quite relate to people.

He used to walk straight from the First Christian Church to the First Methodist Church - they are just across Santa Clara Street from each other. These days his journey takes him around the corner and down the block because Fifth Street is fenced off at the corner of the First Christian Church. The new San Jose City Hall is being erected on the site.

You may see GR wandering the streets of downtown San Jose. Most people stay away from him - he looks pretty awful, dirty clothes, shuffling along, head down, mumbling to himself. You'd never know he worked the farms as a child or that he lived at Agnews for many years. He doesn't need much. He loves hard candy. I keep a bagful in my car.

 

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