I wrote this as a journal entry about a month ago. This was for a missional class I was in. I had always intended to put it here but never got around to it. Quick side note: Big Announcement Coming Wednesday.
Before I left for the shelter I decided I needed to dress a certain way. I wanted to look more like a homeless person, I was afraid that if I took my I-Phone with me and dressed up that building relationships might be much harder. I put on many layers of clothing and on top I put my ski jacket. I ripped all of the little orange tags that are left over from riding ski-lifts that I had kept as souvenirs. I got into my car and headed for the shelter. As I approached it, I saw more and more people out on the streets. They were talking or smoking or just walking somewhere. It was the moment that I pulled into the shelter where I was clearly visible to many people that I realized. I just drove in with my BMW. Now it isn’t a nice BMW it’s a 94 and I haven’t taken very good care of it, but I realized the stigma that comes just with the brand. I immediately felt guilty. However, I decided to go in and see what I have signed up for. As I walked in, it was clear that the place was over capacity. There weren’t any empty chairs and it seemed like a very busy place. I stood around feeling very out of place and awkward for at least five minutes. There were people making phone calls at a call station, people getting mail at a mail station, people using computers at a computer station, people just sitting and sleeping in what looked like comfortable chairs. There were also two men playing chess at a chess station.
The first action I took was to grab an empty seat at the chess table. This table was about as long as my dinner table at home and had six chairs. There were three chess boards laid out with all of the pieces on them. At first I had sat down here because it was the only seat available in the entire place. Soon I realized I had sat down here because this would be the place for ministry for about four hours. Within a minute of sitting at the table a young white man about my age sat across from me. His name was Tyler and he reminded me of someone I went to high school with. He asked me if I wanted to play some chess and I said of course I do. Through the first couple games Tyler and I didn’t speak to each other much. I was still pretty uncomfortable and he didn’t seem like he wanted to say much to me anyhow. He seemed to be what we in Antioch would label as “hard”. He didn’t talk much and kept an angry look on his face most of the time. In fact after beating him in the first game I was a little nervous how he would react. This thought may have been caused by the way the guy sitting next to me was reacting to his match. He was extremely upset about things. I heard more swear words come out of his mouth in ten minutes than I have in five years at Trevecca. As the games became longer with Tyler he began to open up. I think the main reason he began to talk more was because I had gained his respect. Not only was I an adequate chess player but I knew how to respond to the things going on around me. Eventually it was almost as if Tyler and I were friends after the third game of chess. He told me a story about what he believed the origin of chess to be. To paraphrase him it went something like: “In the medieval times kings would play each other in chess instead of fighting long wars. The winner of a chess match would gain the land in question and nobody had to lose their life.” Once he had opened up and started talking I took the opportunity to start asking him things. This was actually when I came to know his name. We had never even said our names to each other before then. I began to wonder what Tyler thought about me around an hour and a half into my journey. I didn’t look much different than he did we were about the same age and we were both sitting at the same table in a homeless shelter. I never told him that I in fact was not homeless. Not much longer after I started thinking these things a woman significantly older than us walked up to Tyler and told him they needed to go. He replied to her “after this game”. We finished the last game of chess and Tyler and I shook hands and he got up to leave. This wouldn’t be the last I heard from Tyler. As soon as he got up a very tall older black man sat down in his seat. This man was very quiet by nature and it was extremely obvious. I played a few games with him attempting to strike up some conversation, now having much more confidence than I did when I walked in at first. My attempts failed, he was interested only in passing the time with a game of chess and not meeting any new people today. This man did however stick out in my mind over most of the rest because I remember how the other homeless people treated him. The all seemed to know him and respect him. I got up for a bit when there were people that seemed to be next in line. It was obvious that they were hoping I would get up so that they could sit and play him. He was very popular. I had taken a book with me because I didn’t really know if there was going to be a lot of down time. I pulled the credible witness book out of my back pocket found an empty space on the wall and began to read. Eventually a spot opened back up at the table where the rather loud angry guy had been sitting, but he had left his stuff in his seat. I watched it for at least ten minutes and nobody sat down nor did the man come back. I really wanted to be back interacting with people so I took a risk and sat down. There wasn’t anyone to play with but I sat there and watched the other two games. As an older white man beat the much respected tall man a few times I thought to myself he was pretty good. The tall man got up and said that’s enough for me today. I looked at the older white man and asked him if I could join him and he said no. He said he was waiting on his friend and I just replied that’s alright. I pulled out my book and just began reading some more. The older man got up and went around the building looking for his friend. He never found him and came back waited a second and then said to me that I could play. I got the feeling that he would have rather played with anyone else in the building but me. I put my book away got up and moved to the seat in front of him. We began to play and I immediately realized that this guy was smart. Luckily I beat him the first round rather quick which intrigued him. We played a few more games talking a little bit. During the third game a lady sat down in the chair next to me where I had been sitting. She was a Hispanic lady around the age of thirty. After finishing my game I asked her if she wanted to play chess. She looked very interested and she said yes. So I traded her seats and she began to play the man. As they began to set their pieces up it became very apparent that she was looking to play checkers. She sat random pieces up on only the white spaces. The man began to laugh and asked her if she knew how to play. She said yes but then I reached over asked her if I could be her coach and she smiled and said yes please. The lady was very excited to be playing and maintained her smile for a long time. While I was coaching her we were making a lot of noise which seemed uncommon in that place. There were people that obviously worked there standing around in different corners with lanyard badges. I even recognized some of them, Like Brian Wong. We had caught their attention and the attention of a lot of other people around the room. People began to migrate to the chess tables to see or be part of the action. Another man jumped in to help coach the lady. It was as if the entire room had rallied behind the lady to try and get her to win against the older man. This was the point in which I remember the most because it was what I came here to do. There was joy in the faces of many people that didn’t have it prior. The lady ended up losing and the guy’s friend arrived. We all traded seats and began something much different than had been going on in the previous hours. We had our own little chess club. I went outside while I wasn’t playing at one point and just as I was walking out the door I felt someone tap my left shoulder.
Tyler was back. He had tapped my left shoulder while standing at my right in a playful way that you do to trick people and make them turn the wrong way. We both got outside and Tyler asked me if I wanted to go smoke with him. I declined his offer and he said OK be right back. He walked away and I snuck away to answer all of the phone calls I missed over the last few hours. I came back inside and played some chess with people but the atmosphere that was created earlier with lots of hard work had almost faded away. I knew the place was closing soon and that I had ended up staying longer than four hours. I said goodbye to everyone and got up to leave. I walked down the hill into my car and realized that a lot of people that I had been talking to were standing outside, including Tyler. I got into my car and began to drive off with the most awful feeling. I realized I had come into their world and built relationships with them but at the end of the day I was headed back to my warm dorm room and they had nowhere to go. It was then that I decided for my second trip, I would do some things differently. I decided that since it’s less than two miles away from school, I was going to walk there and back next time. I didn’t care if it was snowing or not I wanted to put myself in their shoes when I came back.