Mar 13, 2010

Traveling Youth

Traveling kids are part of the street youth culture. These kids, unlike clients who stay in Austin, ride trains around the country. They get crusty and dirty. They come to town, stay a few days, and often move on. They don't always fit in with the rest of the street youth. They are sometimes harder to get to know. And yet they are a joy to know when we get the chance.

At the beginning of outreach this past Friday, I saw a very experienced traveler named "Peter" sitting quietly on a church lawn. He was in an out-of-the-way corner with another younger traveler, "Joe". As you can see from his photo, Peter's appearance is very distinctive; he has tattoos all over and wears a lot of leather and metal. He clearly stays outside all the time, but his sleeping bag is good and his heavy pack is filled with gear and supplies. Peter was feeling terrible the day before and had been abrupt with others.  Still, I wanted to say "hello" again and offer both some outreach materials: food, water, and information. Peter is suffering from a set of things that are sometimes fatal to traveling kids-complications of a life led hard and fast. Sometimes they get over it... sometimes they don't.

I said a prayer of healing for Peter as I approached the two of them. I smiled. I called Peter's name. He looked surprised, probably thinking I was going to complain or ask him to move along. But then I saw that he recognized me. He smiled back. Today, he was in a better mood. 

"Hey! I've got some sandwiches and snacks. Need any?" I asked. He pointed to a box of food on the ground. "A dude name 'SteamTrain' just kicked down a bunch of sandwiches. I'm good. Full in fact." "Wow! SteamTrain is back!" I exclaimed. "I haven't seen him in...9 months or more. Wow! I can't wait to see him again." "He's pretty famous. He's been traveling a long time. It was cool to sit and talk with him this afternoon." Then Peter asked, "Do you have any juice or something?" "I have drink flavoring and water. Would that do?" "That would be awesome! It helps take away the bad taste that sometimes hangs in your mouth."

"I also have a goody bag. Would that help out?" He said, "Sure," but it was half-hearted. I handed the full gallon zip-lock bags to him and his friend.  As he looked it over, I explained, "4th and 5th graders made them. I taught them about the things a traveler might want.  They put the bags together and put a note in each one. I taught them that you like some of the same things they do, so they each brought a toy from home to include." Peter looked the bag over. He smiled and said, "This is the very best outreach bag I've ever received! Usually it's just a pack of crackers, a bologna sandwich, and maybe a bar of soap. But this is packed with cool and useful things." He read the note and said, " Take my picture with it so the boy who made it can see and know that I really appreciate it! Oh my! There's a P-38 can opener in here! This really rocks!"

[Peter's note says, "God loves you. In the bag there are things for you. Love, Clayton."]

Joe held his note up and said, "Let the boy know that I smiled when I read his note. This is so cool!" 

[Joe's note says, "I hope this bag makes you smile. (heart). God loves you! M@dden"]

Both of these guys were new to Austin. I took the opportunity to give them a "Know your street rights" brochure. This booklet, prepared by some local lawyers, explains Austin laws pertaining to downtown and street folks. They were so appreciative. While they may be unable to choose to follow all the rules, they don't want to cause trouble and prefer to know the rules. "We want to get along. We don't want to ruin it for ourselves or others." I noticed they had a bag and had picked up all the trash from around the area they were sitting.  "Thank you for doing that," I said as I pointed to the bag. Joe got up and picked up even more trash from the whole lawn, obviously stuff that had been before they came along.

I said, "I guess it's time for me to walk on. I've got more ground to cover today. I have a question, Peter. Would it be OK if I prayed for healing for you? I know you've been feeling bad and I know it can be very serious. I'd like to pray for you." He said, "Of course, man. I'd love that. You're a good man and your prayers might just help."

The rest of the day of outreach was fantastic, perhaps one of the best days on street outreach that I can remember. I kept my promise and prayed for Peter several times that afternoon. I worked late into the evening because I had opportunities to lay hands and pray on one troubled young man, chances to offer drug counselling to a couple who hope to clean up soon, check-ins with at least four clients who are no longer on the street and working to maintain and improve their more stable lives, and the opportunities to meet and greet in the name of Jesus Christ more than 20 street-dependent individuals. 

As I drove away from my parking space that evening, Peter and Joe were peacefully sitting in the same place in the dark. I said one final prayer. "Lord, please help them pass the night peacefully. In their dreams, let them have visions of knowing you. Let them know the truth of who you are. Let them wake tomorrow with a need to respond to your love and a hunger to know more about you. In the night, repair Peter's body and help him to make choices that will allow it to keep healing. Thank you for allowing me to minister to these two and all these others in Jesus' name. Amen."