Do you like the game where you have to find someone in a picture? In this game, you won’t be looking for a man named Waldo. You’ll be looking for Dakota, named after her address, since she doesn’t have a more exact one.
Hard to find the homeless ones in these photos? I realize a photo of someone holding a piece of cardboard at the side of the road would be easier for you but that’s level one in this game and I want you to have a greater awareness. Dakota is leaving from temporary overnight shelter at Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley today, her womb and her traveling bag (carried by her husband) full. She’ll get on that donkey and travel down a road named 42 to meet a Prince of Peace in Burnsville.
Let me see if I can help you get to level two in this game. Look again in the photos for the worried one, the faithful one, the grateful one. Does that help? Look for the one wearing jeans to church. Oh wait, that probably doesn’t help (I wore jeans too). You’re still here trying to build your awareness of those homeless in our midst so I’ll advance you for the effort. Dakota is one of 30 men, women, youth and babies who have sought a manger to lay their heads in the last 4 nights since we opened this shelter.
If you can’t find Dakota in the breadline, maybe you can spot Emmanuel. He surprised us with his coming this week too, since he, along with 3 others who have slumbered here, works the nightshift at a restaurant on that road and carries a big smile with his traveling bag. He is lucky that, this week, all who come can lay their heads at places who know his name means God is with us. Do you see him yet? Christmas is about receiving Emmanuel, Christmas happens every time we build a manger, says Pastor John Matthews before we go.
We’ve heard word that when Dakota and Emmanuel have to leave the Prince of Peace on Friday, a Spirit of Life might take them in for Christmas weekend. Then, it’s back on the road next week, where a church roof in Eagan is said to be a possibility.
Level three in this game is harder because money is involved. After the awareness that Dakota and Emmanuel are here and the understanding that they’ll move 3 times this week and have no stable roof yet the day after Christmas or beyond, the added reality comes that they are poor. With money, it’s hard to ask and it’s hard to give. Though when those in the photos, the homeless and housed, reached into their pockets and purses, giving what they were comfortable letting go of, I could see there’s still room for generosity, even when a voice says the presents aren’t yet enough.
My helping you with this game is interrupted. “Another awesome sunrise by my awesome God”, says the man who just rose from slumber on the floor, directing me to the window. “I rented a farmhouse near Hastings for 14 years and the clouds put the sun on fire”, he says. “But God works in mysterious ways, I lost it and am here and now we have to leave. But guess what? I have an MRI at Fairview Ridges tomorrow and today, we move across the street so that’s convenient. I don’t have to sleep in my truck anymore. I think this place and Jesus have been looking out for me lately”, he says as he packs his closet in a garbage bag to travel.
I want to help you win the prize at the end so let’s look at those photos one last time. It won’t help to look for the one who struggles with alcohol or depression or a constantly running mind, sorry. Nor will it help to look for the lonely or those who have felt isolated, everyone seeks to belong somewhere. You can’t tell which one slipped into the bathroom for a cry when no one was watching or which one can’t believe that they lived through that trauma and are still ok.
Congratulations, you win. Didn’t realize you found Dakota? You did. She’s everywhere there.
As she and I leave now to travel down the road named 42, I’m reminded of a billboard. I hope I see it again. It read: That love thy neighbor thing-I meant that. God