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Friday, May 5, 2017

Just Another Night in Nashville

Monday, May 1, 2017
UBFM Nashville

Downtown Nashville gets really busy this time of the year. I guess it is because the nature of the weather and because the city is becoming more conducive to foot traffic. I sometimes forget that the town that I am from is such a tourist attraction. Country music fans from near and far come to visit Nashville everyday. Is it bad that I loathe country music?

On Monday nights I ride my bike downtown to deliver food to my friends and neighbors on the streets. When I do this I usually start by riding up Broadway. It’s not only the big attraction for tourists but a huge attraction for my neighbors affected by homelessness. The honkytonks that line the main avenue are lit and loud. That is where most of the tourists hang out, therefore it makes a great place for my friends to catch some leftovers, maybe even a dollar here and there. Some of my friends are street musicians and this allows them to make a few bucks doing what they love.

It is actually an easy street to ride because there is a large taxi lane to ride in. I might have to dodge some Uber cars but that’s not bad. Last Monday while cruising up Broadway I noticed a guy leaned up against one of the venues holding a sign that read “HOMELESS NEED HELP”. I had met the guy before but I couldn’t remember his name. I pulled my bicycle against one of the street barriers to retrieve some burritos, bottled water, and a pair of socks from my bags. While I was doing this a portly lady walked up and stared at me while I made the man a care package. I glanced over at her and said, “Hey there.” She was swaying back and forth a bit while looking at me with confusion. She said, “Hey! …..you from here?” Even though I actually don’t live in Nashville, I went ahead and confirmed that I was from Nashville so that I wouldn’t have to give an elaborate explanation to a drunken lady of why I was there on a bike. She continued obnoxiously, “Where is the Charlie Daniels museum? How far is it from here?” In all honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never had the interest. I paused for a moment and said, “Ma’am, I really don’t know. I am sorry.” She said, “Why the hell not? You ain’t good for nothin!” She then staggered away as if she were trying to stay upright on an off-cambered conveyer belt.  

The man leaned against the building was smiling by the time I made my way over to him. It was either because he was happy that I had a bag of supplies for him or he was entertained by my most recent interaction. Maybe both. I said, “Hey man, you had dinner tonight? I have some burritos and water for you.” He said, “I’ll sure take it! You got a minute to talk?” I leaned my bike up and sat down on the sidewalk beside him and let him unload. While sitting there I noticed a few people stop and stare as if wondering what the guy on the bike was doing sitting beside the homeless dude. This typically would not have been an unusual scene but for anyone that knows anything about bicycles they might recognize that my delivery bike is very spec’d out and not the typical street creation that you might see. (Other than that, I fit right in.) Aside from the ones casting a random gaze at us, the two of us were just another sidewalk obstacle to avoid or step over.

“I’m Allen.” He said to me. “Tommy.” I replied. He said, “The burrito guy, yeah?” “Yes sir!” I replied. He was very glassy-eyed and talking slowly. He had a strong smell of alcohol on his breath. But, I probably would too if I were him. With a slight smirk on his face he said, “Tommy, what I want to tell you is…I am a drunk. I have a real problem. I am killing myself and I think it is too late to do anything. I have not lived like I'm supposed to. I used to be a teacher.” He opened his hand and looked down at a small bottle of 100 proof banana schnapps and shook his head. He chuckled a little and said, “There’s nothing I can do…. I went to the doctor last week and he told me that my liver is failing and I am dying. I am hurting; my stomach hurts. But, when I get drunk, I feel better.” He reached over and held my hand. He looked at me with a grin and said, “But I am going to be alright. Do you want me to tell you why?” I said, “Tell me Allen”. He reached over to his backpack and pulled out an old tattered KJV Bible. He started to flip towards the back. I heard him mumble under his breath, “First John, First John.” He said, “Here it is.” He was at 1 John, chapter 1. I noticed the clear underlined verses that he wanted to share with me. It was 1 John 1:7-10. He told me to listen while he slowly but surely read,

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one with another, and the blood of Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.”

With large tears rolling down his eyes he said, “Tommy, I know I am not a good person. But God still loves me and I still love God. I know you got stuff to do and you need to go, but would you pray for me first?” He grabbed my hand again, closed his eyes and bowed his head. I said a prayer with him. I wanted to say something that he needed, that would comfort him, but I really don’t think it mattered what I said in that prayer. God knew everything I wanted and needed to say. I could have sat there and sang a Bruce Springsteen song and God would have understood what needed to be said.

I have sat in numerous classrooms, taking notes and studying theology, but I have gained more knowledge and spiritual growth on the street than I have anywhere else. Through the Christ lens there is no such person as Allen, the drunken homeless man. God sees Allen, the teacher and lover of God. Christ sees the perfect creation in all people, even those obnoxious, drunken, people that beg for your change. You know, the ones many folks avoid. Some people have a hard time understanding why they don’t get help. Getting help, in many cases, is not an option. When a person has spent a large part of their life being kicked while they are down, staying down is the only way they know.

Is there hope for our friends in this position? I don’t know. But, I know this; when I am with them I feel the Spirit much greater than I do in many other places. I am continually reminded of the gospel of Matthew 25:37-40: 

“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”


With that in my mind, I will continue to visit my brothers and sisters to give them food when they are hungry, water when they are thirsty, clothes when they are in need, friendship and conversation when they want it, and prayer always. Heck, I’ll even give directions to the Charlie Daniels Museum if you’re lucky! ;-)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Offering more than a meal

Last Monday night, while on the UBFM Nashville ride, I bumped into a gentleman that I have come to know well. I have provided a meal for him on a few different rides. He is homeless and he makes money by playing his guitar and singing in Nashville. His typical venue is the sidewalk but he occasionally plays in one of Nashville's many country music dives. We'll say his name is Richard (I'd rather not use his name for privacy reasons. Give me a shout if you want to know more about him.) I have come to learn that he's one of many homeless musicians in Nashville. Since it is a common destination for musicians the competition in Nashville is hell, and getting your foot in the door takes an act of congress.

When I met up with Richard I sat with him while he ate one of the burritos I gave him. We talked about some of the places he has been playing. He said the winter time has been tough because there are not as many people out to donate tips. He also said he had been struggling with some voice problems too which makes it very difficult to sing. Then, he changed the subject and asked if I had heard of a particular country music artist. Even if I had heard of this artist, I loathe country music. I told him that I was not familiar. He told me it was his brother and to pull up a video on YouTube so we could watch it. I pulled it up on my phone and Richard and I watched the video. His cigarette-beer breath lingered in my personal space as he gave a detailed commentary of the worst country music video and song I have ever heard. I was temped to "accidentally" drop my iPhone in the nearest drain grate so I could cut the song short. Just when I started to get nauseous the song ended. Richard insisted that I watch some of the other videos later. I nodded and told him that I needed to move on. He then said to me, "Hey man, thanks for taking the time to watch that with me. And thanks for being my friend. We don't get a lot of that out here." I scooped up my humbled heart and crammed it back into my chest before I carried on.

Sometimes we think that ministry has to appear to be life-changing and transformational. We sometimes think that food, clothing, and even shelter are the greatest needs for our homeless communities. But, in many cases the greatest need is in the form of a relationship. People on the streets are so accustomed to being avoided by the greater public. There is a need for a street ministry of listening. Let me suggest that when you get a chance or if you are a UBFM volunteer, on the next ride, make a friend and get to know someone. Listen to them, let them talk for a while, and take the time to create a relationship. A little bit of love can go a long way.  

Peace,

Tommy

Planting a New Tree

During the summer of 2012 I planted a seed in Memphis. In four years this seed has grown into a tree, blossomed, and branched out. A lot of you know exactly what I am talking about. This is a metaphor for the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry. When I planted that seed I had no idea that it would grow into the ministry it is today. I thought it would be a fun project for a small circle of friends. For years we would meet at one of the local pubs that offered 3-dollar pints on Wednesday nights. I never meant to stop doing that; I just thought a short bike ride around town with a mission would be a good way to start the night.

Initially, I was hesitant to tell any one of this idea I had. I wanted to ride my bike around Memphis and deliver food to people in need. I also wanted to meet and make friends with those affected by homelessness. But, I knew if I told my friends and family of this plan they would ask too many questions and potentially discourage me. So, I decided to try it alone and not tell anyone. It was a Wednesday night that my friends and I opted to not hit up the pint night. I made 15 bean and rice burritos in my kitchen; I ate one for myself and rolled out on my fixed gear. I was able to ride from my midtown duplex to the river, about a ten mile roundtrip. With the stops and interactions it took about an hour. After I arrived back at my house and sat down on my couch, a feeling came over me that I have never experienced. I don't have a way to explain it but I knew that it was good and I couldn't wait to do it again. The next day I told my friends about the ride and they were enthusiastic. Some of them wanted to join me on the next ride. The following week there were five of us and we delivered twice as many burritos. From then on, it started to grow. More and more people became involved until it blossomed into a ministry. It is now a legitimate non-profit organization. It has been over four years since that first ride and the project continues to grow and gain publicity.

Though, I planted the seed for this tree to grow, I cannot take credit for where it is today. Numerous people have come along with unique and specific gifts and talents; they have applied their ideas to make it what it is today. My role in all of this has been the creation of a conduit for people to witness a need for their unique gift and apply it. I believe every human creation of God has a specific gift to use for serving God. 1 Peter 4:10 speaks a little bit about this, as does several other excerpts of the text. Though, I am not certain that all people use their gift to serve or use their gift at all. The idea with UBFM has evolved from a simple platform for acts of kindness to a conduit for individuals to use their gifts to serve God through serving their neighbors.

I have since moved on from UBFM Memphis and allowed other people to continue to nurture and grow the organization. Due to that, it has continued to blossom and broaden its reach. I am constantly taken aback by the wonderful things God continues to do with that ministry and its many disciples. But, now I have taken the initiative to plant another seed. Since moving to middle Tennessee the idea of UBFM Nashville has been on my mind. Last summer I began working on it. I have worked out most of the logistics and the time has come to spread it out. I have reached the obstacle of not having enough help. Not only am I looking for more riders but I am also looking for various contributors.

The primary focus of this new project is not just to help our neighbors affected by homelessness and poverty, but rather to create a conduit for individuals to use their unique gifts to help people that are in need. This year I will be searching for churches, clubs, and various organizations that will allow me the opportunity to present and guest speak about UBFM Nashville and applying unique gifts and talents to help people in need.

If you are interested in joining me in growing and nurturing this new plant, we meet to ride at Green Street Church in Nashville, on Mondays at 6:00pm. If you are interested in having me as a guest speaker, I am taking requests. If you are interested in contributing in other various ways or have any questions email me, tgclark@memphisseminary.edu

There is a light that shines on us all; let us allow that light to reflect back onto the world.

Peace,

Tommy  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

July 28th

It's a long story but I promise it is worth the read! 
Normally I post about my burrito bike ride the night of, but after last night I couldn't put into words how much my heart broke on this ride, so the next day later here we go....204 burritos, 35 hot dogs loaded up in the heaviest backpack I have carried since volunteering. The hour before riding it was thundering, lightening and pouring outside. I didn't think we would be riding with the weather as bad as it was but someone said we always ride no matter what condition is outside, there is a need on the streets. While standing outside waiting to fill my backpack to begin riding, a gentleman came up and asked if we had an extra shirt for him to have. Someone went in the building to get him a shirt and I asked if he wanted anything to eat, he responded by saying "no all I would like is a dry shirt." I couldn't talk anymore, because you how many times I changed my shirt today in between all of the activities I had going on? 4. 4 times I changed my shirt and all this gentleman had was his one wet shirt. He walked away with 3 dry shirts and a bag of food. As the night came to an end, we saw this girl and decided to give her the last of the food we had. We pulled up beside her and you could tell by her demeanor she was dealing with some type of traumatic situation. She was very hesitant to take the food, barley spoke to us and looked terrified. We asked her if she needed anything to help get her at night and she shook her head no. We told her we would be back with a bag of stuff for her. We rode back to the church to grab food, water and hygiene products for her. One of the guys in my group and myself loaded up the stuff on our bikes to take to her while the rest of our group went home. As we approached her, we thought it would be best if I approached her alone. The guy in my group stood away from us but close enough to hear everything going on and be in eye sight of us. I slowly approached her and put the bag down on the seat she was sitting on. I first asked her what her name is. She told me and we continued a small conversation. I explained what was in the bag, what we were doing on bikes, when she can expect to see us around, and if there was anything else we could do for her. She looked at me for the first time in the eyes and said no thank you. I walked away from this girl who looked to be younger than me and my heart just broke. After arriving back at the church the guy I was with got in contact with someone to hopefully get her help. Today I strongly encourage you to go out and make a difference in someone's life, it doesn't have to be a big gesture, maybe it's just the shirt off your back.
This story is by Kristin Decker, a UBFM volunteer.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Simple Luxuries

This is a social media post by UBFM member, Frank Rouse. Frank submitted this the morning after a Wednesday night ride. 

Good Morning! I wanted to share something that I was a part of last night at the Carpenters House. 
As most of you know, we will give our friends whatever we can to make their time on the streets a little more comfortable. Not only do we hand out food, water, clothes, socks and hygiene products; but there have been team members pull their shoes off and hand them over during a ride. We even take requests for things with the promise of finding it during the week and showing up the next week with it. Our friends will hold you to your word too! I've been cornered a couple of times over the promise of a backpack that had slipped my mind. Needless to say, I handed mine over. 
Last night I was asked by a gentleman in the lot there as we were getting things situated if I had a pair of reading glasses. I carry a pair with me pretty much 24/7 and I have about 400 pairs of back ups, located at various places in my house, office and car. When the man asked for them I said yes, I have a pair let me see if they will be your strength. I grabbed the "readers" out of the console of my jeep and he put them on. PERFECT! he exclaimed; followed by a prompt thank you. I said no problem and went on about getting things ready for the nights ride. 
Fast forward to about 10 minutes later and I walked by him again. There he lay on the concrete landing with a western paperback out and his readers on. It seems that he had lost his pair about a month ago and hadn't been able to read his westerns since. It didn't hit me until I got home that night and saw a pair of glasses on every table in every room in my house just how precious those glasses must have been to him. It's just one more reminder of how many things we take for granted in our day to day lives that others look upon as a luxury.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

eTown News

Last December I was invited to be a guest on eTown News in Boulder Colorado. During this visit I was interviewed and awarded the eChievement Award in regard to the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry. I also met some amazing people and it was an honor to part of this great organization.

Here is the video they presented to me for visiting.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdfSg4cLzrE

Monday, April 25, 2016

Compassion

This is a Facebook post from UBFM volunteer David Page:

Any of you ever find yourself saying "thank you" after giving food to someone out there? I have and I have heard others do the same. The first time I did it, I caught myself and thought "why did I just say that"?
Then, I realized what I love so much about this ministry. Being the hands and feet of Christ, and doing acts that connect people with the love of Christ feels so amazing, that it leaves you with an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness.
When I was contacted about Cassy Colunga's Bucket List, and was told that one of the things on it was to feed the homeless, I got it.
It was my pleasure to help get the bags that members of Crosspointe Baptist Church in Millington had prepared on Cassy's behalf to the UBFM last Saturday. What I didn't expect was the response of the UBFM members who came and took part in handing these 60 bags out, telling our downtown friends about Cassy's story and that she wanted to bless them with these gifts, and arranged a team to follow along and document the whole thing on video. This will allow Cassy to see what was done on her behalf in the name of Christ.
I was very proud to be a UBFM volunteer! Pretty amazing stuff!
Cassy and her supporters send their thanks to all of you and so do I!