“A guy came by and said, ‘What you looking at?’ Man, I wasn’t looking at nothing. But he was pick and pick and pick at me and I wasn’t having it.”

This guest had starting sharing his lament as soon as I crossed the street to Manna House. He told me that he had avoided two fights as he waited for me to show up to start the coffee.

As I unlocked the gate he continued.

“Then another guy came by, and I was just standing here waiting, and he wanted to get into it with me. “Why you staring at me?’ I wasn’t staring at no one. I just looking at the street.”

As we came into the front yard he said, “I guess I’m not safe until I get inside this gate.”

I thought about a guest from a number of years back. He would arrive each day in tattered and dirty clothes. Even if he had showered the day before and gotten clean clothes, by the next day he was a mess. Kathleen finally asked him, “What happens to you when you leave here?”

His response was to point across the street through the front door, “You see those dogs over there? They get me.”

There were no dogs to be seen.

Kathleen asked, “Do the dogs ever come in here?”

“O no,” the guest said, “they wouldn’t dare come in here.”

Sanctuary. A place of refuge. A stronghold. A place of safety.

A guest came today to share her grief. Her cousin, a former Manna House guest, had died. They had been raised together like sisters by the cousin’s mother. Lengthy hospitalizations and time in a nursing home were now over for her “sister.” I did not know the guest who died very well, but Kathleen did. She knew this death was coming, but still this was hard news.

And in the midst of this, I thought of a faithful volunteer who just lost her mother. We had prayed for her and her family when we opened. We had also prayed for guests in prison and in the hospital as we held hands, guests and volunteers together. In our prayers we want to extend God’s sanctuary beyond the gate of Manna House.

A guest came to tell us of another former guest who was just diagnosed with liver cancer. The prognosis is not good. His friend said, “He wants people to pray for him but he doesn’t want his name spread all around.” When I assured her of our prayers, she added, “He’s all worried about the funeral. He doesn’t have anything and he knows his family can’t afford it.”

“Tell him not to worry about that,” I said, “Manna House can help.”

A former guest who is now housed and working came just to talk and to be heard. She had a few things to tell us about her life. She wanted to share some good news about how well her job is going. It was good to hear some joys.

Later I was out in the backyard and saw a guest praying silently in the chapel area. He was alone, sitting on one of the benches there. He was bowed over making his supplications. “God hears the cry of the poor,” I thought.

Sanctuary. A place of refuge. A stronghold. A place of safety.

After I came inside from talking with the guest at the gate, my day had started with Psalm 46 as I listened to the coffee pots begin to percolate creating a kind of Manna House style Gregorian chant:

“God is with us;

God is our stronghold.

God is for us a refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in times of distress.”

We shall not fear though the earth should rock,

though the waters rage and foam,

though the mountains quake at its surging.”

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