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It always happens after we’ve already described the bounty on the table in all of its delicious variety. It happens while the welcome knowledge of a soon-to-be-full stomach mingles with the smell of macaroni and cheese over the promise of second, eighth, and seventeenth chances at a loving family meal. It happens with an assurance that nobody will look at you funny if you’re not ready to participate yet. It happens when we take a few pieces of bread from the banquet laid before us and break them for everybody to see and pour a little grape juice into a cup as a reminder of what has been shed to unite us as family. In that moment—when we proclaim again what Jesus did and is doing for us—something changes and the meal becomes a sacred thing, set aside for God’s use and God’s people.

As each member of the crowd makes his or her way forward, plate in hand, they join the feast. For some it happens because they are sharing a meal. But others join the feast first by taking a piece of bread, dipping it in the cup, and partaking in the Lord’s meal. It is my privilege (a privilege I’ve written about before) to speak a promise into that holy moment of communion, a promise that I give as it was given to me: “The body of Christ broken for you, sister” and “the blood of Christ shed for you, brother.” That last word, that familial “brother” or “sister,” is as much a promise as the more theologically laden language that precedes it, and it is all too often the harder promise to make. Jesus demonstrates time and time again in our scripture that his body was broken, his blood was shed, and his life was given for sinners like you and me. But my own ego and pride often stand between me and that final promise; between me and the promise that taking up the cross of Christ means laying down all illusions of division and separation.

So, while it is with great joy that I call Tomas as my brother, it is with an ego-stained sense of obligation that I say the same for William. When Tomas pinches a piece of bread between his fingers, I can so easily recall the sacrificial gifts he has made and the meal he hosted in his home even though he has only recently gained secure housing. When he dips it in the cup, I give thanks for the vigor with which he maintains his sobriety and the people he has led from bondage to freedom. But, when William does the same, it is far too easy to remember the broken trust, the suddenly empty hospitality room in our home, and the night filled with bloody faces, screamed epithets, and shaky voiced ultimatums. But, somehow we profess to believe that God is knitting all of us together anyway.

It is easy to give thanks for young Katie, not quite three years old and new to the community. Katy, who is eager to serve pretend coffee, juice, and grits to a table full of our people—some homeless, some housed, some addicted, and some recovering. When she and her family come through the line, it is easy to offer a blessing for her and call her “little sister.” But, it’s not yet as easy to give thanks for Mary, who sometimes forgets to make room for other folks around our shared tables and is quick to fill up her own plate even if it means that others might get less food. Having already carried away enough food for multiple meals of leftovers before everybody has been through the line, it’s hard to call her “sister” when she comes to partake of the body and blood of Jesus. But, somehow we profess to believe that there’s room for both Katie and Mary in Jesus’ Kingdom.

The truth is that most often we find a strange mixture of blessed and broken in any of us. When Brent shuffles up to the plate and cup, we have a wealth of stories to draw on in those too short moments. Maybe it will not be the Brent who  opened his life, home, and table to those in dire need that will gather a piece of bread from the plate, but the Brent who relapsed in secret and had to be restrained from violence who will dip that bread into the cup. But somehow, Brent is our brother regardless. When Heather prayerfully contemplates the cup, she is not just the woman whose anxiety sometimes drives her to say things she doesn’t mean. She is also the Heather that volunteered to sell a treasured possession to provide shelter for a homeless brother last winter. But somehow, Heather is our sister, regardless.

At the end of the story of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother describes his brother—the one we’ve learned to call prodigal—to his father as “this son of yours.” But, the Father is very careful to correct his eldest son and describes his younger son to the elder as “your brother.” God, our Father, will not permit us to disown any of God’s children and still call ourselves part of the family. God is teaching us to call each other brother and sister, not because God is going to make it so, but because that’s what we already are if we dare to claim the cross of Christ: brothers and sisters made so by God’s broken and bloodied body. The words may stick in our throats at times since we are still being remade, but somehow we must learn to profess that ours is a God who loves the doubter and the self-assured, the addict and the advocate, the ragamuffin and the righteous, the misfit and the hypocrite. Even more, our God teaches us to call them all family.

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The following story was written by Matt Bailey, a leader at Grace and Main, who has been a part of the community from its beginning around five years ago. 

I’ve always been struck by the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and how beautiful it was that Jesus was filled with compassion for the empty stomachs of ragamuffin sinners. But I was taught that Jesus’ concern was not for the bellies of those hungry people. My well-meaning teachers insisted that the food was just a way to get an audience. But, my friend Jessie taught me better. When Jesus fed 5,000 folks on a hill somewhere in Judea, he was showing us that he cares not just about souls and sin, but also about hunger and our physical needs.

I first met Jessie at a run-down apartment building with trash for a lawn and boarded up windows for insulation. Jessie was really quiet and somewhat hostile when I first met him. He would talk to me rarely and only if I had food. When I would knock on his door, he would demand angrily, “Who is it?!” After I announced myself again, he would crack the door a few inches and peek out to see whether I had food or not. If I didn’t, the door was quickly slammed. If I did, Jessie would reach out through the crack in the door, take the bag of food wordlessly, and slam the door a little more politely.

After several months of knocking, getting yelled at, and him taking the food and closing the door, Jessie began venturing out on his porch to talk while we ate near each other—not quite together, but closer. Typically, I would talk ad he would listen. When I had talked too much for his taste, he’d go back inside without a word. Eventually, I learned the hard way to leave silence for Jessie to speak if he wanted to. From the silence blossomed togetherness and often wordlessly Jessie opened up a little more each time I visited him.

Over those lunches, he told me stories of growing up in the projects with his single mom who worked several jobs to take care of him and his siblings. He told me all about the kind of mischief he got into while his mom worked, and eventually he even told me about his struggles with mental illness and homelessness. Over countless turkey sandwiches, Jessie shared with me the pain and frustration of his schizophrenia. He told me how he hallucinated and grew anxious around people he didn’t know, so he trusted no one.

On one occasion, Jessie recounted through hot tears how he regularly didn’t have food for the last week or two of each month because his food stamps only stretched for three weeks—a woefully honest refrain we’ve heard time and time again from so many of our sisters and brothers. Jessie told me and helped me understand what that kind of hunger feels like for days on end, his isolating hallucinations and anxiety intensifying with hunger. The wall between Jessie and me was beginning to crumble, because he could see that I wasn’t trying to manipulate or take advantage of him. I just wanted to be his friend and eat lunch with him—together.

After becoming friends with Jessie, I and other Grace and Main leaders began talking with Jessie about ways we could make sure Jessie didn’t go hungry at the end of the month. Though Jessie was still hesitant, he did allow some assistance from friends during the direst parts of the month. Jessie would go with several of us to the grocery store and would educate us on how to make money stretch a little father. We’d all go shopping for bulk items together and split them between us. And sometimes, on special occasions, we’d go get some good, greasy fast food. After all, we can’t forget that justice is our goal, but stomachs are growling now. Relationships are what create real change—not great programs or just education—and relationships are built together, slowly and often over meals. Jesus never forgot that either.

One particularly long month Jessie was without food for longer than usual. He didn’t want to call and ask for help, but after he couldn’t handle the shakiness, the weakness, and the hallucinations any longer, he took a leap of faith and called me. “I don’t want to ask for help, but I’m out of food and I really need to eat something,” Jessie lamented over the phone. So we went to one of Jessie’s favorite fried chicken joints to get some food into him fast. He ordered a small portion, but I ordered a larger portion for him, knowing he needed more than the one piece of chicken he thought it was okay to order. Sitting in the car in the parking lot, Jessie couldn’t wait any longer. He ripped open the box of chicken and began eating ravenously. He ate one piece, then the next, taking few breaks for breaths. He licked his fingers between pieces of chicken. After his third piece, he lay his head back against the head rest, and with eyes closed, face up to the ceiling, he started mouthing, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!” Tears began running down his cheeks and mingling with the grease on his chin. His soft cries of praise became racking sobs of thankfulness and appreciation to the God who cares about empty stomachs and feeds not only 5,000 with loaves and fishes but also the one with fried chicken.

Seeing the effect that simple meal had on Jessie helped me realize how interconnected our physical bodies are with our souls. Jesus told us that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and take in the homeless, we do so for him. Jesus also tells us that when we deny food, shelter, and clothing to our sisters and brothers we are denying Him those things.

After years of food insecurity and hunger, the image of God in Jessie was being stripped away. It’s no stretch to say that with each missed meal, the image of God in Jessie was slowly being starved and tortured—crucified even—reducing Jessie to something less than human. Jesus tells us in Luke 6:9 that we have the power to destroy life, but we also have the power and the obligation to restore life. In sharing food and our lives with Jessie, the image of God we find in Jessie was gradually being revived and healed—resurrected even.

Behold the good news: God’s compassion and abiding love for humanity is so profound and limitless that Almighty God, the Ancient of Days, the Holy One of Israel feels and hears even the growls of empty stomachs, and we eat—together at last—in celebration of the Kingdom that has no end.

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There is no easy way to take Robbie home from our house. If you ask Google, Robbie lives 2.1 miles away and we should be able to get there in about 8 minutes if the lights cooperate and there’s no construction. If you ask our friend Roland, Robbie’s home is “not more than a couple of miles, probably make it in 45 minutes if it’s not raining.” Ask Robbie and he’ll tell you it isn’t far—sometimes he walks, but he prefers to catch a ride from one of us. But being friends with Robbie for years now means that we know that the path to our house a harrowing one for him.

Robbie is our sometimes-recovering, sometimes-using brother for whom addiction has made the neighborhoods around his home, our home, and the other homes connected to Grace and Main into a minefield of temptation. Numerous corners, streets, and porches between us stand as mute memorials to Robbie’s struggle and captivity to drugs. He may only be “not more than couple of miles” away, but his way home is a long one.

165677_792859316968_55714273_42080296_5297505_nSome Sunday evenings, Robbie joins the gathered community for prayers and singing in our home. Most weeks, he stays with us in the room we’ve made a chapel as long as he can before taking a break on the front porch. He rejoins us once his nerves are a little better under control. Robbie rarely misses any of the singing and is eager to pray and sometimes lead us in a prayer. He’s sensitive and insightful, but also anxious and wary. He loves to bake for others and makes a banana pudding like you wouldn’t believe, but sometimes speaks quickly in anger. He believes strongly in the power of prayer, but has some justified doubts about what well-meaning people say. Like all of us, he’s complicated.

Robbie has been taught by the streets between us that there’s always another shoe just about ready to fall and his best hope not to be caught unawares is to keep moving and to stay one step ahead.  What Sister Dorothy Day might have called the “filthy, rotten system” has offered Robbie no way out of the endless cycles of poverty and addiction, so he’s learned to leave before he’s asked to leave and to hurt before he is hurt.

Those of us who moved downtown in the early days of Grace and Main did so not because God was calling us to a particular ministry, but because God was calling us to a people and a way of life. So, we planted ourselves in the place where God was moving and started listening for what God was calling us to do with—not for—our new neighbors. But, Robbie has taught us that there were still barriers not overcome by a change of address form and turning our homes into hospitality houses.

Trust is not built easily or quickly. Indeed, genuine and reciprocal relationships are not managed, but lived out with mistakes and missteps alongside the celebrations and conversations. We’ve scared Robbie away for a few months before when we’ve tried to find ways to help. Robbie has hurt our feelings and scared us, too. No amount of relocation or planning can break down years of carefully built distrust overnight—the way home is long.

your identity is at riskFor Robbie and for us, the quickest route is often the hardest one and it is full of temptation. For Robbie, the temptations are crack and believing the world’s lies that he’s all alone. For us, the temptation is to prize efficiency over intimacy and to think more about logistics than calling. In the end, we’re all haunted by the neighborhoods that we call home.

So, we take the long way home—a circuitous route that doesn’t take us past a certain crackhouse, or past an abandoned home that holds particular meaning for all of us. At first, we came up with excuses for why we took the long way home—“Hey Robbie, you mind if we stop by the gas station first?” “If I got you some bananas from the grocery store, would you make a banana pudding for Thursday night’s meal?” “Hey Robbie, I heard there was a house over in this neighborhood that was for sale, you want to go check it out?”

Sometimes it was Robbie who came up with the excuses—“Kyle wasn’t there tonight, can we stop by his place to make sure he’s okay?” “I need to get some milk if I’m going to make that cake for Saturday.” “I heard Mary got kicked out of her apartment and is sleeping on Jackson Ave., want to go check?” But, nowadays, we try to take the long route home without explanation. We don’t need to make excuses for the right way home and, most of the time, the long way is the right way—especially if it means going there together with the people to whom you have been called. After all, it’s the journey together to which we’ve all been called, so why shorten it?

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This month’s story comes from 3CM missionary and Grace and Main leader, Ben Wright. Ben is also the Director of Youth Ministries at local partner congregation, First Baptist Church. Email us at to let us know what you think of Ben’s story and to get more information about supporting Ben’s work.

In college, I discovered the convenient culinary magnificence that is the Cook Out tray. If you’ve never had one, let me spell it out for you. For roughly the same price of a combo meal at any number of other fast food places, Cook Out offers a veritable feast with an entrée, two sides, and the option to upgrade to a custom milkshake instead of a medium drink.

Every other Tuesday, I spend a big part of my afternoon with Pinky. Sometimes we play board games, other times we watch a movie, and others we go for a walk around the neighborhood. I do this not only because I love Pinky, but because I want to provide her some relief from the emotional demons that feed Pinky’s substance addiction. One Tuesday Pinky was especially down and ashamed of herself—she had broken a 21 day sober streak by drinking a beer. Though we mourn when one of our brothers and sisters relapses, what matters most is how we respond and how our addicted sister or brother responds. This particular time, Pinky relapsed when the morning AA meeting she had been looking forward to was canceled.

Pinky was heartbroken at her own fall and was once again afraid that we’d get tired with her failures and “give up” on her. After talking through the situation, reminding her that we loved her, and reaching some kind of resolution, I took Pinky to run some errands across town since she does not have access to reliable or self-directed transportation. On our way out to the car from her apartment, I was stopped by a brother living on the streets named Dirk with similar struggles and demons. Dirk mentioned that he too was having a difficult morning and was seeking solace at the bottom of a 22 ounce aluminum can.

If I were a more flippant man, I might say, “when it rains, it pours,” but the truth is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by need when you are in relationship with those who live along the margins, who live where life is often unforgiving and passersby think they know all there is to know about your problems. So, absorbing the energy and anxiety of the situation, I found myself starting to descend into a familiar darkness.

That’s when I decided that somebody was getting a milkshake.

After we finished the last of Pinky’s errands, we took an unexpected detour to the Cook Out drive-through. I paid for and received our food and we drove back to her apartment. Sitting in that room with its smoke stained walls and meager furnishings, we shared the tray. When we gave thanks and broke this meal, we found that—from one single priced menu item—Pinky received a double chocolate milkshake, Dirk got a double cheeseburger with fries, and this health conscious vegetarian had a dozen of the best hushpuppies ever consumed.

It made me think about that famous story we have from scripture where Jesus fed a great multitude with the leftovers from several of those gathered. One of the many lessons given to us in that story is that when great compassion is applied, a little can go a long way. That Tuesday, a milkshake shared with Pinky the good news that neither God nor we had given up on her. The burger and fries were Dirk’s first meal in three days and told him that his story was not being read alone. The hushpuppies served to remind this broken thirty-year-old that God can use even me for the work of the Kingdom.  Compassion is that thing that turns the ordinary into the transformational.

With heightened awareness of the link between heart disease and diet, it can be said that in certain instances, fast food kills. However, on one dark Tuesday morning, fast food saved.

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One of our community’s teachers passed from this world to rest with Christ in God just a little while ago on August 21st. During the few years we spent with her on North Main St., Joann taught us some of the finer points of gracious hospitality by living it out with little consideration given to laying out a complete, cohesive, and persuasive theology of hospitality. Simply put, Joann practiced hospitality because it was the “right thing to do” and because offering grace in a hard place gave her joy. She taught and reminded us that sometimes we should open our lives to others in hospitality not because it will help accomplish some particular kind of social change, but because it is a joyful and blessed thing to do.

Joann not only welcomed folks like Bruce, Linda, and Robert off the streets and into her home, but also welcomed a fledgling Grace and Main into her home and yard when we had a problem with no clear solution. We felt called to continue our work and our “roving feasts” on North Main, but our work depends on a foundation of relationships and consistent presence. Unlike we had downtown, we didn’t have a home on North Main Street. However, Bruce, our newest leader at the time, lived with Joann and thought she would let us use some of her space to serve. It was exactly the kind of opportunity we were looking for, so we hoped that our existing relationships with Joann and the folks on North Main were enough to form a new partnership.

Joann welcomed us eagerly into her home and onto her porch. Though we were anxious at the time about whether or not she’d welcome us, we can look back and laugh at ourselves years later. This woman who never drove more than 55 miles per hour—regardless of how high the speed limit was set—wasn’t afraid to take risks in the name of showering her neighborhood with grace and love. So, she took a risk on a fledgling intentional community that wanted to learn how to love and welcome the marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed.

When Robert and Linda wanted to start a breakfast out of the kitchen, she not only allowed them but she cooked the eggs. When Bruce wanted to start a tool library out of the old tool shed behind the house, Joann bragged about the work we were doing to her friends and coworkers—not pointing out that it was her hospitality that made a place to provide tools for the neighborhood to borrow. When one of our brothers relapsed, she welcomed him back when he had asked forgiveness for the relationships and trusts he had broken in his relapse. When we planted an expanding garden in the backyard, Joann joined with us in eagerly waiting for the first tomatoes and watermelons. When Linda was tragically struck by a car and killed, Joann joined with us in mourning. Joann is one of us and one of our teachers and we give thanks for her and her many sacrifices and gifts.

When the word was passed that Joann’s long fight with illness was over, we were heartbroken. We were thankful that she went peacefully, surrounded by her family, and under the dulcet tones of some of her favorite hymns and Elvis songs. All over her property are flower boxes that Bruce had made for her because of how much she loved flowers. All over the Northside are changed lives that Joann’s hospitality helped make because of how much she loved her neighborhood and its people. So, we give thanks for Joann though we are heartbroken, and we consider what it must have been like when Jesus welcomed her into Heaven the same way she welcomed so many into her home and to her table.

This I promise you: Joann of North Main St, beloved by God, her family, and her friends, helped teach us how to follow Jesus, so not only do we call her sister, but teacher as well.

Meanwhile, we look forward to being reunited with her and all those who have passed from our community. We know they rest with Christ in God and that even death itself cannot separate us from our beloved. Amen.

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The following reflection was written by Matt Bailey in late 2011 near the beginning of our work in a particular apartment community downtown. We ran this in our newsletter in August 2012, so you may have read this two years ago. But, since the tenants have recently had quite a set of victories and we’ve been able to join them in organizing and celebrating, we thought we’d run the story again as a way to reminisce, celebrate, and understand that the stories we tell are not finished.

During the spring of 2009, leaders of Grace and Main were feeling a call to spend more time with the individuals Jesus identified with, those who are neglected by respectable society. That is to say, with the poor, the homeless, prostitutes, and drug addicts. So, we went where they were. We began simply to walk the streets and alleys of downtown Danville—streets that are lined with abandoned buildings and derelict houses; littered with trash and overgrown with weeds. Streets abandoned by many and desperate for grace and mercy. We heard stories of abuse and addiction, of job loss and poverty, of homelessness and hopelessness, of hunger and pain. We were privileged to join the storyteller in their story for just a little while. We learned to listen.

On one occasion, I happened to be walking around downtown alone, carrying sandwiches and snacks for our homeless, near-homeless, and poor brothers and sisters. I turned down Lyndon Ave. to where I thought my friend Andy lived. I came upon a large stucco apartment building whose faded paint and neglected courtyard were more than a little ominous. I was planning on going up to Andy’s apartment, but I couldn’t remember which one was his, so I decided to ask one of the group of guys hanging around the courtyard.  As I walked up, the men stared at me suspiciously. I felt uneasy, but it was a feeling that I had become accustomed to ignoring. But, this time the feeling was stronger, and so at the last minute I turned and continued down the street—in the opposite direction I needed to go to get back to my car.

I was pretty new to the downtown area and so I didn’t know many of the back streets yet. I was stuck; I had to walk back by the building no matter how much I wanted to avoid it. As I approached the stucco building for the second time, the same tense uneasiness came over me again.  Only this time, the fellows standing in the courtyard started walking en masse toward me.  I kept my head down, stared at the pavement, and prayed for protection.  They came out to the sidewalk in front of the courtyard and lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, glaring at me.  I didn’t dare look in their direction. Heart pounding and scared silly, I continued on to Main Street and made it safely to my car.  I didn’t know whether the men standing in front of the stucco building meant me harm or were just hanging out, but nevertheless, I vowed never to return to that building or street again.

However, God had other plans. During one of our walks downtown, Steve (another Grace and Main member) and I began talking about Mother Teresa.  We were reflecting on her words: “There are Calcuttas everywhere.  You just have to have eyes to see.”  Steve pondered aloud, “I wonder where a Calcutta in Danville would be?”  As soon as the words came out of his mouth, we looked at each other knowingly.  And knowing that we were both thinking of Lyndon Avenue and the stucco apartment building, I said, “No!”  But there was a soft, loving peace I felt as we walked on in silence. Months went by, and we continued sharing lunch with our friends downtown. I continued to be careful to avoid Lyndon Avenue. We made friends with people we met at the library, on Main Street, and in the park on Green Street.  They began coming to Grace and Main’s Thursday night community meals, and we began spending more time with them, sharing lunch, going to the library, taking walks downtown, and simply getting to know one another better.

Then one day, our friend Tyler invited us over to hang out. When asked where he lived, he replied, “Do you know the stucco building on Lyndon?” My heart began racing. “Yep, I know the place,” I answered, remembering my first encounter on that street, at that building.  Steve and I glanced at each other. “Let’s go then,” Tyler said joyfully. We walked and talked with Tyler about how long he had lived there (several years) and who else lived there. He began mentioning names of many of our friends we had met downtown: Coco, Darius, Eli, and David. I couldn’t believe it! God had been forming a connection between Grace and Main and our brothers and sisters at the stucco building without our knowledge. Even as I planted my feet and said “no,” God was planning for my eventual “yes.”

We continued on, and when we arrived at the stucco building, I was nervous but still very much in awe of the Lord’s fingerprints all over this “coincidental” connection. My fears were immediately dispelled by the welcoming smiles and cheerful greetings we received from the friends we knew and the ones we had yet to meet. Once again, I felt the soft, loving peace I had felt the day Steve and I remembered the wisdom and words of Mother Teresa.

The word “Calcutta” may bring images of filth, despair, poverty, and hopelessness to mind. But I think what Mother Teresa found in Calcutta was that appearances are deceiving. Calcuttas aren’t places of hopelessness; they are places that are filled with hope, love, and beauty. But they are neglected and under-nurtured. They are the abandoned places of our world. And that is exactly what we found on Lyndon Avenue: a community of beautiful people who are hope-filled and love-filled—people who continue to show us daily that Jesus is there with them, He has been all along, and He will be always.

And so we continue to spend time together, reminding each other of Jesus’ love and presence within each of us by sharing lunch, planting flowers, and sharing stories. And Jesus continues to remove the scales from my eyes to see, not the Calcutta the world sees, but what He sees—a place of hope, beauty, and love in the stucco building, a beautiful little Calcutta in downtown Danville, Va.

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The following reflection was written by Katherine Ellis. Katherine is a rising senior at Baylor University and is working with Grace and Main this summer as our Missionary and Artist in Residence. In addition to living in community with us, she is serving in our midst. We’re excited to offer opportunities to participate in our work to younger, developing leaders as they discern God’s call in their life. The following is a reflection from the first few weeks of her involvement with us. The piece of art near the bottom is also done by Katherine.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, once said, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” This summer God’s people are teaching me the art of living and loving and their presence compels me to respond both in action and thoughtful retrospection.

This summer I am staying in Danville, Virginia, population 43,000. Through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Student.GO missionary intern program I have been commissioned to live and work among the homeless and near homeless of Danville as missionary and artist in residence with Grace and Main Fellowship. It has been over two weeks since I made the long trip from Texas across the North Carolina border into Virginia and my experiences in these past several days have already been overwhelming and compelling. Grace and Main, my community for the summer, describes itself as “an intentional Christian community of hospitality and service.” Deciphering what exactly that means has taken me more than perusing their website. Each day I believe I better understand the radical work that is taking place here in Danville and daily I am humbled to be a small part of it this summer.

Grace and Main is not ushering a community through a soup kitchen line–Grace and Main is ushering a community to its dinner table. Grace and Main is not managing a shelter in town–Grace and Main is opening up its houses and offering hospitality to those without a place to sleep.

One Thursday I was joining what Grace and Main calls the Roving Feast: two or three times a week a few of Grace and Main’s leaders pack a couple dozen sack lunches and set out into the city, to meet people where they are whether that be homeless, drunk, hungry, or just in need of some company. Mark and I gathered up a couple of the brown lunch sacks and walked through someone’s yard toward a tool-shed: Steve’s home. We went inside and sat down next to a mattress on the floor and a discarded dishwasher as I shook hands with Steve who appeared to have had more than one drink that day. We talked about the Daytona 500 and Steve’s childhood and I laughed when Steve persistently apologized for accidentally cursing in front of a lady. As we were leaving, Steve took my hand and squeezed my pinkie finger with his own. He asked if I knew what that meant. I responded, confused, “Is it a promise? Like a pinkie promise?”

Steve replied, “No, that means love, don’t you ever forget that.” I squeezed his pinkie, Mark prayed, and we left. We returned to the shed a few days later. Steve was once again drunk, but glad to see us. The conversation was heavier this week as Mark and Steve danced around the topic of Steve getting help. Steve repeatedly proclaimed that he was tired of drinking–he wanted to stop. At one point I grasped his pinkie finger with my own and asked, “Remember what this means?” After some coaxing, Steve stood up and we walked out of the shed toward my car, toward the ER, toward detox, and toward the hope of freedom from the slavery of addiction. We sat in the ER with Steve for several hours waiting with him.

As the blood was drawn and the first tests were run, Steve took my hand and held it, not letting go for most of the rest of our time there. At one point that evening Steve looked up at me with his weathered skin and untamed beard and quietly noted, “You must think I’m a baby for wanting to hold your hand. It’s just comforting you know, it’s nice to have someone here with me.” Steve is a middle aged man accustomed to the streets and empty bottles, and like all of us he wants to know someone cares, that he matters, that he is loved. This summer I am learning that we all need community. Just as I hope I’m teaching Steve that he is worthy of love and comforting, Steve is teaching me about grace, redemption, and friendship. This summer is messy, Roger walked into Bible study drunk last night and looking for his wife as the 105th Psalm was being read. But also in the room sat Steve, 3 days sober and reciting the Lord’s prayer. Beauty and hope spring forth in the murk where community is riddled with pain and mistakes, but also with the transformation of hearts.

Some of us may live in large houses, drive nice cars, and be able to hide our addictions better than others. We are all slaves to our own forms of addiction whether they are alcohol, drugs, sex, or money, comfort, and success. We may not lump ourselves with those who we consider poor and needy, but not even one of us is immune to poverty of the soul. There is growth that occurs when vice meets faith, when our messy community embraces one another amidst the struggle. We are all impoverished in some manner, all addicted to something, all in need of community, and all in need of a Savior. The people that I am blessed enough to encounter this summer are, as Richard Rohr said, helping me to live myself into new ways of thinking as their stories become entangled with my own. When we come face to face with another’s struggle we are forced to look into their eyes and see our own reflection, our own pain, our own need for detox and healing. Often we all need someone to squeeze our pinkie finger and ask us, “Remember what this means?”


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