Bright, sunny Denver is outside our window as we wake, but with a promise of winter weather coming soon. It’s time to load into the ‘big white beast’ our rental van for 15. We head out to the Denver Rescue Mission for our 10:30 shift. We’re greeted by the effervescent, gotta-be Irish Patrick. We watch a quick orientation video and then he puts us to work. The video, by Brad Meuli, CEO of DRM depicts a guy, a group with an unbelievably tough job, doing incredibly great work. He continually refers to their “guests” and “serving” and “care” and all the typical words one might associate with the hospitality industry. There isn’t a mention of ‘poor’ or ‘homeless’ or ‘less fortunate’ or any of the words one might expect in a video about a rescue mission. No labels, just optimism. From Brad and Patrick’s perspective, we’re allowed to help out at a 4 or 5 star venue. So we don the fashion-forward hair nets, attractive kitchen aprons, scrub our hands, slip into our gloves and we’re assigned to prep stations.
We’ve got your bean-snappers, your vegetable choppers, your utensil wrappers, your dessert preparers (watch out for all that icing), your dining room prep, – these folks set us up like a well-oiled machine. A typical day, DRM serves about 500 for breakfast, 500 for lunch and maybe a 1000 for dinner. That’s more than many a restaurant, and all with a few staff members and countless volunteers. The staff is super friendly and efficient, the kitchen clean, the food plentiful and mostly donated, and the help, ready and willing. We work with smiles and in harmony and some wondering what the day will bring. At the flick of a button, the doors open, welcome announcements made and we’re rolling. There is a chaplain in the dining room strumming his guitar and providing live music to all. The crowd seems steady and large. The first wave of guests roll over our group like a tide. There are old and young, men and women, clean and not-so, fresh faced and some struggling. All God’s children here; coping with their life and some smiling, some with downcast eyes, a few appear gruff, most are smiling and pleasant. And it is just an absolute joy and honor to greet them and welcome them and serve them a hot and nutritious meal. Afterward, we learn that the crowd is somewhat mild for the day – we only served 316. And it wasn’t missed by our group the relevance of John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…”. Some of our guests were conversational and wanted to know if we were a ‘church group’ and that it was obvious by our smiles and that we were “a team”. Is God really that obvious in each of us? A very friendly guest named Mark told us it was obvious, started matching the couples up as “you’re married to this one and you’re married to that one”; mostly spot on. He asked us to pray for him, pray that he finds someone to love and to love him and we assured him that God is watching over him always. We smiled our brightest smiles, hid our tears and silently gave thanks and a favorite John Bradford quote came to me. “There but for the grace of God, go I”. We clean up, fold tables, conclude with hugs and farewells and load once more into the big white beast.
We stop for a quick bite of late lunch at a fast food place and I don’t think it escapes our now thoughtful group – how lucky are we? We order our food, easily pay and have so much freedom and control over our lives.
Next up: we arrive at EarthLinks of Denver. Miss Emily greets our team, invites us to sit for a few minutes and she shares the EarthLinks story. They have gardens of flowers and vegetables and plants and beehives and many other natural products. They invite folks into their production room to make candles and soaps and bookmarks and many other healthful products. In exchange for 2 hours of work – they provide a hot meal to members of the community in need. Our group is excited to help and we quickly get to work in divided teams. Tom, Dean, John and Bryan head to the compost beds outside. They shovel, sift, and turn compost material that is eventually bagged and sold to gardeners. Nancy and Patty remain in the production room for beehive cleaning. Wendy, Jean, Matt, Kathy, Barry and Jim head to the garden shed to transplant seedlings into retail-ready pots. Hundreds of these plants are potted and tagged and made ready for the largest income producing sale on mother’s day. And naturally, the day concludes with many of our group shopping for honey, lip balm, hand wax, bookmarks and other goodies from their shop. We bid farewell to our newfound friends and head out to another recommended restaurant in downtown. We find our way to Chili Verde – where we meet brothers Hans & Eder – proprietors and chefs extraordinaire. This is no ordinary Mexican food restaurant. The fun & friendly Julie helps our table navigate our way through an awesome menu and fabulous desserts. Again, we’re met with comments of “who is this group” – why are you all so happy and where do you come from? You must be a church group and an almost thankfulness in being able to connect with us and serve us a meal. God does indeed shine his light through our group. And as we sit and eat – it begins to snow in earnest and what a beautiful sight to behold.
Back to our lodging and we wrap the day with shared observations, prayers and devotions. Each day we feel more blessed, more sanctified in being able to meet these wonderful people working at or running these organizations. Not to mention the beautiful people in need at these various centers.