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Jun 12, 2012 | Ashley Harper-Oberle

Commentary: Outreach to Homeless Gives Youth New Perspective

Under the BridgeIt was a rain-drenched morning when we set out for Austin. Fierce storms had rolled through the night before, cooling the air and watering the earth but not dampening the children's spirits about this trip.

We had planned months ago to visit The Church Under the Bridge in downtown Austin. A meeting place for Austin's homeless population offering a church service, music, food and fellowship. Making the trip were myself, Amy Sugeno (our fearless leader), Lee Dernehl, her daughter Alicia, Sarah and Ellie Isaack, and the Oberle boys. 


We arrived in Austin to find the clouds gone and the sun shining. All of us were a little apprehensive about what was to come, but after a short (and effective) 'pep' talk from Amy, we dove right in. 


The site was alive with activity. The sermon had just started when we arrived and so some of us sat to listen. Another group immediately began interacting with Joel, a man who had been homeless for some time. He is suffering from brain tumors yet was extremely positive. He shared much with the children: his love of music (he played the drums), his ability to craft beautiful things from carving bamboo and his optimism. He allowed that he now considered the streets his home and in fact, he was 'houseless' not homeless. 


I met a lovely young woman named Daisy and her foster dog, Oreo, who was a lovely St. Bernard/Husky mix. The puppy allowed us an easy introduction and Jack and I chatted with her for a good while. She had been living in her car for a long time on some abandoned property that allowed her room for the dog. She spent any money she acquired on shots and veterinary visits, and she rescued any animals she saw being neglected or abused. It is, she feels, her calling and brings her great joy. She was not held down by her situation, but rather lifted up by the work she feels compelled to do. 


Lunch was provided that day by a local Chinese restaurant and handed out by the many volunteers. Every week food is provided by a different restaurant generous enough to donate meals for well over a hundred people. 


The older boys noticed several different 'groups' amongst the crowd. There were those with bibles out and at the ready, listening intently to the sermon and the words being spoken. The seemingly outcast people who sat on the fringe of the crowd and didn't interact much with anyone, full families with small children, and people who obviously have been 'houseless' for awhile who had formed families of their own with their friends under the bridge.


We spoke to a very kind man named Larry who had been on the streets for 23 years. He finally had a home of his own. When asked why he still came to the Church Under the Bridge, he simply replied, "this is my church and these are my people." 


We left feeling engaged and enriched from our time there. After, we all shared lunch of our own and fellowship discussing what we'd seen. We talked a lot about what it means to be without a home, how meeting those folks made us feel, and how our visit impacted those we met and ourselves.

In the weeks since, I've noticed my children being more aware of what is going on in our community, in their schools and all of us having more conversations about how different all people's journeys may be. It's these tiny shifts that let me know the mission trip was not only a success, but something we should continue to do and grow with more parishioners and more children.

I am reminded of Luke: “And the crowds asked him,“What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

A great big 'thank you' to Amy for her devotion to this ministry and for giving us all so much to contemplate and remember. 

-Ashley Harper-Oberle is a parishioner at Trinity, Marble Falls, and regular contributor to their newsletter, Trinity Trumpet