Steam rises from four cast iron Dutch ovens cooking on camp stoves. With a wooden spoon I stir through bubbling baked beans while adding in molasses. On another camp stove bacon sizzles and crisps; its smoky maple flavor will enhance my specialty. Pans of golden cornbread and packets of honey butter nestle on a picnic table next to foil trays of strawberry Jell-o filled with sliced bananas.
A tan wicker basket holds plastic zippered bags containing travel size hygiene products.
“Yoohoo, Sister Bridget!” A trio of apron-clad ladies approach across the park, each carrying trays of apple brown betty—a favorite dessert of our guests. I’m already hearing lips smack as they spoon the tender sweetness into their mouths, and am picturing their eager tongues licking the bowls. When you’re feeding the homeless, many lacking teeth, it’s best to overlook these etiquette gaffes.
Following a call I couldn’t mistake for anyone other than the Lord’s, I began this ministry of feeding these needy ones several years ago. Every Friday I set up my temporary outdoor kitchen at the park down town. Sun-browned, sometimes dirt-encrusted, people just keep coming.
Word has spread in the neighborhood churches too. Assistance almost always comes now by way of volunteers—sometimes a Sunday school class, a family or a home-school group or two. They come by my home a few days prior to ask how they can contribute.
When all comers have been helped to a hot meal and are filling their bellies, I share with them something of God’s truth that He’s given me to fill their hearts.
This morning His creation testified to me. In my back yard hanging laundry on the clothesline, I’d welcomed the chance to bring spring sunshine into the bedroom by way of wind-dried sheets. Shaking out a pillowcase, I caught a glimpse from the corner of my eye—a red and white fluttering, and then it disappeared. What’ve you sent, Lord? I’ll be investigating, soon as this laundry’s pinned up.
After my sheets had been set to billowing, I searched for my winged visitor. Bushes, lining the back fence, waved their green leaved branches at me. Hmmm, is that an old brown withered leaf hanging there that forgot to let go last fall? I bent to inspect it just as the old leaf spread itself open.
Now here at the park I ladle my tasty beans onto sturdy paper plates and pass them over to waiting hands.
“In the name of Jesus, enjoy,” I tell each individual. Shuffling along in orderly fashion, they help themselves to the bounty. Today’s three helpers shoo away interested insects and hand out plastic forks, spoons and paper napkins. Few use the napkins, and a lot of the utensils, having been licked as clean as human tongue can make them, disappear later into pockets and backpacks.
The murmur of conversation lowers as the crowd sees me move from my spot by the camp stoves. I hear a few “Shut your traps, be quiet now, Sister Bridget’s gonna talk” as my regulars govern the newcomers.
“Friends,” I say, “God sent me a messenger this morning.”
I hold up a Mason jar, wax paper rubber banded to its mouth. Dozens of eyes turn to stare at the withered leaf inside clinging to a twig.
“This little fellow blew into my back yard and I found it resting on a bush. I’d like you all to meet the Red Admiral.”
As if on cue the splotchy brown leaf unfurls; the Red Admiral butterfly shows off wings adorned with streaks of red, daubs of white and smidgens of blue. A chorus of “ooohs” and “aahs” issues from the folks at the picnic tables.
“This gorgeous creature is a picture of each one of us. God created us to be beautiful on the inside. We might look pretty ragged and even ready for the compost heap on the outside. When we let His love into our innermost being, He makes us beautiful.”
Slowly, the Red Admiral lifts and lowers its wings several times and then returns to its withered brown leaf persona.
“We can keep hiding ourselves away or we can let God’s love transform us. That’s what Jesus came for. Accepting His gifts of forgiveness and grace sets us free.”
I remove the wax paper and tilt the jar until the twig slides out into my hand. I lift it up and the Red Admiral flutters away on a current of air.
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