December 16, 2014

Will to Value





I love this place.

I love every person who comes through The Well doors to find some rest, food, help of some kind, transportation, a shower, a friend, a restroom, a couch to sit on to watch a movie, or just an outlet to vent.

The ReCycle Bin, where i spend most of my time around here, is beautiful. It’s running like an old machine, reassembled and dipped in oil, slowly but surely working the rust and kinks out of a broken community.

Sometimes it’s hard not to get upset with people who want to take more than they need. But who am I to tell someone who has nothing how much they need? Who am I to tell someone who’s constantly being stolen from and pushed around, that they shouldn't steal things they want, or keep more than the bare minimum? Who am I, one who has the privilege to decide that I have too much, and need to get rid of things, because I have piled up far more than I need, to tell someone that they shouldn't be selfish. What has this society taught them? That selfish people come out on top. The people who get the privilege to be acceptable in public without being criminalized and rejected are the ones who can literally buy into it.

Property equals respect. Attain property and you will be given respect. I can’t get mad when someone steals tools. I can’t get mad when someone builds a bicycle and then sells it for the money. It’s the cost of living, no matter what it’s spent on. Cigarettes, booze, food, a place to sleep for the night, bus fair. Our friends on the streets sell their own blood plasma on a weekly basis because it’s something that they already contain that is worth money. They don't have to acquire residency or a resume to get paid. It may be the most worth some people feel as far as the system allows- The fact that some entity is willing to pay money for something that is completely born of their own bodies. It might even be a source of satisfaction. What future could I possibly expect my brothers and sisters to see for themselves? God forbid, they lose their property, else they’ll be cast out, thrown in jail, rejected, viewed as flawed, less than human, blamed, chased from their own neighborhoods, unworthy of mercy.

No matter how difficult it can be sometimes, I know that what we are doing is important. Every conversation had, every bike built, every skill and grease towel shared is a lesson on how this community can be healed if we work together.


"Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world. But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also. And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree, so the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all. Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self. You are the way and the wayfarers. And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone. Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone."

-- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

October 21, 2014

No Gray

When it comes to serving God
Shortly after I turned twenty-three I decided to rededicate my life to Christ. I somehow thought that by doing this my troubles would evaporate and I'd be blessed with a struggle free life. Oh how wrong was I. 

I found myself doing the same things that I promised God I wouldn't do. 

Blessing people with the same mouth I cursed people with. Speaking words of encouragement to all who needed it, only to turn around and engage in senseless chatter. 

You see, when it comes to serving God, it's either all or nothing,  either white or black.....no gray.

Granted we may not know what God has called us to do in our life and won't know until God is ready to reveal that to us. And so I have learned to use my season of waiting as a way to listen to the Holy Spirit. And by allowing the Holy Spirit to move me, abide in me and then change me, I was able to fully dwell with him and let go all of the earthly things that I was trying my hardest to hold on to. God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He just wants us to be His. 

When it comes to serving others
I had always had a heart to serve, even before I got saved. I tried volunteering at different organizations only to retreat at the last minute. Even though my heart was in it, I couldn't shake this feeling of hollowness. 

When I allowed Christ to lead, he began to show me a thing or two  about serving others. He showed me that although we are all different shades with different personalities; we are all children of the same God. 

 Although it would be more comfortable for some to serve in a nice environment with air conditioner and cable, we are also called to serve to those who haven't seen soap or shampoo in weeks-such as our friends in the Free Market. 

When we humbly serve, not only are we a blessing to those of whom we are serving, but by being faithful with a few things, God will put us in charge of many things. Only then are we able to share in our master's happiness. Matthew 25:21

When it comes to Unity
What I've learned by serving and being in community is that race, gender and ethnicity do not need to be the barriers we make them out to be. What I mean is that hunger does not discriminate, nor does poverty, nor homelessness. And so we must not be quick to turn away our brothers and sisters who do not look like us. We need each other. We need unity. 
If there is anything to be learned, know that although there are areas of our lives that are not yet clarified; and because we do not have clarity, these areas may seem gray to us. But when it comes to sin there should be no compromise. Perhaps it would be nice to do whatever we wanted to do and love the Lord at the same time, but it doesn't work like that....it's either black or white. 

There are many shades of gray; aim to be none of them. 

October 7, 2014

The Revolution: Tilapia, Torches and Pitchforks

As Jon alluded to in the previous post, The Well is now operating a fledgling hydroponics system for the shared benefit of our broader community. This week, a small group of us has the privilege of participating in aquaponics training at Morningstar Fishermen in Dade City, Florida. We are joined by students from around the globe to learn more about using this unique combination of aquaculture, hydroponics and agriculture to create healthy and reliable food sources. In addition to a shared interest in plants and fish, many of those in attendance also have a common burden for communities that struggle with hunger. A fellow student from the U.S. shared over dinner yesterday evening that he too was frustrated with local efforts in his state to criminalize not only being poor, but the efforts of others to feed the poor. He then remarked with a grin that teaching people to raise their own food was his way of "giving the finger to the system." His is a frustration that I know all too well, but I also share his optimism for the growing influence of small food producers on larger systems. I wanted to take this opportunity to share why.

A glimpse of the collaborative economy by Jeremiah Owyang
Over a span of nearly two centuries, armies of "farmers and peasants" in nearly every country on the American continents have fought successfully for independence from colonial powers. This most recent century witnessed the transformation of all workers into what Peter Drucker referred to as knowledge workers, and the erasure of a separate class of laborers. During the last decade, the so-called maker movement has emerged to so enthrall millions of industrious Americans, that they have abandoned traditional education and employment in droves. Even among those struggling with poverty in our own community, we at The Well hear voiced constantly a desire to labor, serve and innovate. Today's revolutionary farmers are more educated in biology, technology and the mechanisms of global economics than any generation that has preceded them. Makers and tinkerers of every kind also have unparalleled access to empowering information from Wikipedia to MOOCs. Perhaps most encouraging to me is the thriving collaborative economy that has emerged in the last few years that indicates a cultural shift toward de-stigmatizing cooperation, shared-use and interdependence.

Specifically as it pertains to nourishment, demand has exploded in the last few decades for foods that are grown locally and sustain both healthy bodies and a robust ecosystem. A growing number of visionaries are now working to take the energy and creativity of the masses and combine it with a knowledge of local food production that is sustainable, scalable and enormously subversive. As a result, the balance of power over what we eat is slowly shifting from monopolies and global conglomerates to the local producers who treasure our planet and value an intimate relationship with those for whom they produce food.

Viewed together, these trends converge into a single "mega-trend" that could be described as the democratization of the means of production. Put simply, everyday workers increasingly have all of the knowledge necessary to produce every material thing that we need to live full and abundant lives. It is only natural that, as a fundamental need and the basis for a healthy mind and body, food should lead the way in this revolution. People who are not hungry have the time and energy to be creative and pursue other interests - interests that may include creating and building things, or more ominously for some, the energy and determination to undermine and tear down systems of tyranny and oppression.

The hope for our own efforts to cultivate fish and plants is to both feed and educate those in Tampa's urban neighborhoods who struggle with food insecurity. The familiar image of a revolution may be an angry mob with torches and pitchforks - but the sense of generosity, gratitude and peace cultivated by growing and sharing food serves as a reminder that ours need not be a violent revolution. After all, the greatest revolution was started using a few loaves and fishes along with the admonishment to be kind to each other and serve those in need. We live in an incredibly exciting time, and despite the resistance posed by self-serving institutions and the powerful few, we have every reason to be encouraged.

To you who are already laboring with this mission: Let your torches shine boldly from the hilltop and keep your pitchforks working toward the more abundant future we know is possible. 

To any who still dare resist this revolution: No matter. The farmers and peasants are coming. 

October 1, 2014

Who Owns the Pond?


There was a time when those who would work with the poor would concern themselves with giving fish to the hungry. Over time our thinking about development work improved as we began to speak in terms of teaching people how to catch fish themselves. Because, as the cliche wisdom goes, "if you teach a man to fish he can eat for a lifetime" 

Today we are continuing to learn more about what it takes to see communities become autonomous and sustainable. While it is important to ask how folks can learn to catch fish we are becoming increasingly concerned with the question of, as John Perkins has put it, "who owns the pond." Ownership and control are necessities if we are talking about developing self sustaining communities. It doesn't matter how good of a fisherman you are when all the ponds are on unwelcoming private property. Behind the needs we hope to meet we must face the issues, like lack of access, which are perpetuated by systemic attributes like legislation

While we agree that teaching someone to fish might empower them to eat for a lifetime (if they are permitted to fish in ponds they don't own...which you will increasingly find that the poor are not) we are beginning to realize that teaching people to fish is not enough. Going a step further we have come to realize, after a visit to Morningstar Fisheries, that teaching people to raise fish can feed a village for generations. If you are going to invest in and raise your own fish though, you need to have ownership or control over the pond in which you are nurturing life. 

While the Well does not have our own pond (our community actually owns and controls very little as of yet) we do have a little swimming pool that we picked up for just over a hundred dollars that we own and control. In that little pool we currently have over 300 young tilapia living and fertilizing four beds of vegetables. We were inspired by The Sustainable Living Project, who have been a model and friends to us as we have installed a similar system. We are sowing seeds today and preparing ourselves to steward much more tomorrow.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
-John 21:10-12 


September 24, 2014

A Gift Economy

People often come into the Well and wonder how we are doing everything that we are doing. While the reality is that it takes the blood, sweat, and tears of a missionary community, the real question people commonly have is a financial one. The answer to this is not unlike the one above, we exist by the commitments of those who make personal sacrifice for the sake of this mission. We are completely community supported. People like you, who value the existence of this oasis of hospitality, make pledges to partner with us financially. Some give out of their poverty and others give out of their abundance. This is how it works in the community of Jesus. 

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. -Acts 2:44-45

The monthly gifts of our partners range from just a few dollars per month to pledges that have commas in them. We trust the community to do what they can and we trust Jesus to move his people toward mercy and the grace of giving. We receive gratefully and use every penny we get to share abundantly with those who come to our doors seeking that mercy and grace. 


God has been faithful and we have been able to give and grow aggressively. Sometimes provision comes a day or a week after we would have liked it to and this reminds us to look toward Jesus at each step as we pray, as He taught us, for our daily bread. Ours is a gift economy in which we give freely and trust. 


There are many initiatives that we have started and neighbors that we have met which naturally result in a growing need. This means we must constantly move forward in faith and trust Jesus and His people to make the necessary personal sacrifices to meet the needs of our community. Sustainability is always more important to us than growth though the truth is, recovery is the real call. As more broken people and broken systems make themselves known to us the necessity and call of mercy grows with them. Recovery takes resources and our community has a long way to go to see justice and equality in Tampa. Please join us in this struggle. Stand with us, walk with us, sacrifice with us. 


Right now we are, as has been the case, completely leveraged financially. Our monthly expenses are actually pushing just over our monthly pledges by about $1,100. We are sustaining because we have been given some extremely generous one time gifts to balance out the shortfall. This won't last forever and we are in need of at least that amount more in monthly pledges to sustain at our current operating expense which is just over 6,000/mo. This is a very lean operating budget which in reality should be well over 10,000/mo. We are trusting Jesus to provide as He will and operating as simply as possible for as long as He would have us do that. For example, we currently have 5 staff sharing 2,200/mo for their income. Luckily we have the Well to get food from! 


We are living lean and sharing aggressively because we believe Jesus would have his people sacrifice to see the Kingdom come among the poorest and most vulnerable in our city. Would you consider tightening your own belt and sacrificing with us to make sure that this Well never runs dry? 


He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? -Micah 6:8

September 18, 2014

The Taj


Today is special day for our community. It is a day set aside in our annual schedules to honor and be grateful for our sister Tajhah. Tajhah is kind of a big deal around here. She is a strong and beautiful woman who is following hard after Jesus. The Well is lucky enough to have her with us as she does, by our side in community, worship, and mission. Tajhah is a light in our Family Room, she is a special member of our team who is particularly good at sitting with guests, listening to their stories, remembering their names and following up with them. She is a model for other volunteers and staff when it comes to these relationships and hospitality, she is also a gift to those who come to our door often more starved for affection or attention than any kind of food.

Would you join us today in thanking God for Tajhah, her smile, her heart and her faithfulness. Often folks give gifts to one another on birthdays, today we appreciate the fact that Tajhah's birth was a gift to all of us. 

We love you Tajhah! Hairy Buttday!

September 15, 2014

A Letter to My Street Warriors


To my warrior friends,

You've been on the street for some time now, and your at a point where you are about to give up. I guess the Christian thing for me to do would be to talk you out of it. However, I doubt that there is anything that I could say that you haven't heard all ready; so I'll spare you the words that you'll disregard anyway and spare myself the amount of time it would take to come up with a good enough excuse, when I know that there isn't one.

You're sick of living on the street. Only God knows what goes on out there. At this point you are ready to give up on everything...

But before you throw in the towel, hear me out.

There are not many places where you are welcomed. Your story is one of great length but you can never find the right time or the right person willing to listen. You are criminalized for being homeless. You go days, weeks even, without a shower. You get food wherever and whenever you can, and you are no stranger to skipping meals. The longer you live on the street, the more it feels like you are losing your mind.

Living on the streets is something you can never really get use to. It's wet, dirty and most importantly unsafe. With no safe place to go you are all out of options. Your wondering who cares enough to be concerned about you.

Would you believe me if I said I feel every frustrating thought that you feel? Is it hard to imagine that when your heart breaks, mine does too? And that when you are being taken advantage of, I too, am being taken advantage of?

Maybe I haven't a clue as to what it's like to live on the street. I am certainly no expert compared to you. But I know pain and I know suffering. I know what I see from volunteering at the Free Market. And after closing on each day, my heart breaks a little more for those who are back to the street until we open the next day.

So no, I have never slept on the cold concrete or have had to track down something to eat, only to come back and find my stuff stolen.

But because I am aware of these things, I am steady trying to change them. There are others who feel just as strongly as I do, and if nothing else warms your heart, I pray that knowing this does.

It may take time, time that you may or may not have. Just know that you are not forgotten or lost and that we hear you. God hears you.

With that being said,  can you hold out a little longer? A selfish thing to ask, I know. But its important that you do. Realize that I need you more than you need me. Know that there are those who have no willpower to fight, and that when their strength is lacking and drained, it is you who uplifts them.

I hope that this letter finds you in time. And that you will heed my words carefully. Know that I am right here on the battle field fighting not against you, but beside you.

Sign,

Your Warrior Friend


Street Warrior- one who faces the unimaginable while living on the streets, and yet, in spite of what happens, is able to persevere with awe inspiring determination; he or she possesses the courage and
willpower to press and move forward, all the while combating the never ending tribulations that occur as a result of living on the street.





September 8, 2014

Exhausted



Sleep, along with food, water, and air to breath, is one of the most important and basic physiological human needs. Not getting enough good sleep causes people to have trouble with their temperaments, mental health, memory, digestion, concentration and even their motor skills. It's something that those who have a consistent place to lay their heads often take for granted, and something that those who live on the streets consistently go without. This has become increasingly obvious to me since I've been coming The Well and spending time with people who basically never get a good night of sleep. It's impossible. They have so many elements against their chances of getting the sleep they need: rain, their belongings being stolen, their personal safety, lack of comfort or quiet, and the list could probably go on and on, depending on who you're talking to. It's a huge problem, and it's something that I would personally like to work towards fixing...This passage below was written by one of our guests describing the obstacles he faced just during the period of one single night. Imagine what constant struggles all people who are on the streets must face every single night. 

"I'm tired and exhausted, and sleeping is not an option. I'm out here with no place to go. I just have a bag of clothes and a bike. I'm starting to feel tired, so I sit down on a bench at a bus stop. I'm starting to nod off. This old lady comes up and sits next to me. For the next 15 minutes I learn about her poodle who only eats chicken and refuses to eat dog food, and how Obama has taken her medicaid. The bus comes by and the lady leaves me. My eyes grow heavy. Two minutes later someone comes by and asks me, how long for the bus? It just left. He sits down and starts explaining how he's going to be late now. I move on.
I make my way down town and sit down on a bench. People come up to me, and ask "what do I have in the bag?" And "how much for my bike?" I wonder what's that funny smell coming from what they are smoking? I don't like how they are eyeing my stuff. I move on.
Okay, here we go, a shelter. After waiting 2 hours, They tell me they've all filled up try again tomorrow.
I can't sleep among all these people smoking this weird stuff and eyeing my stuff. I move on.
It's getting dark out. I find my way to a quiet street next to the water, this bench will do. I finally fall asleep. Is that water I'm feeling. I better get out of the rain.
Daylight comes. I can't stay in this neighborhood. It's too nice. I'll get a vagrancy charge. I move on. Park benches and libraries are out of the question, they don't let sleeping.
After a couple days of this, the shelter lets me in. Wow it's loud in here. No way one can sleep right now. Nine o'clock arrives. The lights go off. I drift to sleep. It's midnight and dang it, I have to go pee. I return to my bed. Is that snoring? Or did somebody open a Harley shop? After a few hours I drift off to sleep despite all the noise. The lights click on. Someone says, "It's 5 O'clock. Time to get up."
I'm tired, and exhausted, and sleeping is not an option."

August 25, 2014

Calling Home by Jenny Pan




The following guest post is from Jenny Pan, who until moving recently was a core volunteer at The Well. 



When I first discovered the Well, and the Tampa Underground for that matter, back last December, I related to the guests of the Well on a level that most people didn’t know about. I lacked a true home even though I did have a roof over my head. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for the blessing of a physical home, but my heart craved a place of belonging too. As human beings, one of our fundamental needs is for connection. As much as we try to be self sufficient, no man is actually an island. 

Why does belonging mean so much to me? For the last two years, I was in a rotational leadership program for my company so I was moving to a completely new location every 8 months. I would move, get settled and then move again. While I grew immensely from moving around for work, it was painfully lonely. With much difficulty I opened myself up to coworkers, friends and church community at each location only to feel the inevitable feeling of loss when I had to say goodbye. Even during my first rotation in Raleigh, NC, I was telling everyone that I had an expiration date to make sure that the expectations were clear. I set those expectations because I wanted to be honest about my situation but also, I didn’t want to get too close to people because saying goodbye and letting go is one of the hardest things for me to do. 

Tampa was the third stop on my journey. I was used to the moving part by this point; however, my heart was weary from always being on the move. Nowhere felt like home and I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Not even the gorgeous sunset vistas and abundant palm trees could convince me to forget my deep sense of loneliness. But God has something planned for me that I couldn’t fathom because He knows the innermost longings of my soul and He loves me like no one else can.

Through some incredible measures, He led me to the Tampa Underground and subsequently the Well. Immediately, I knew this was the sense of belonging God wanted me to have. What a sweet embrace the community gave me too! Regardless of my expiration date, the Well community freely welcomed me like family without expectations of me returning the hospitality. Serving the guests at the Well was life-giving as well. I needed the guests and the community’s perspective because it revealed to me a more complete view of the world that God was trying to show me. It helped me step out of myself and the narrow perspective I had. Hearing the stories of our guests and the Well community strengthen my faith that God works tangibly in the lives of the people He loves. It inspired me to love this rare and beautiful community more not only because of the lives it was changing, but because the Well gave me a place of belonging that my soul desperately desired. A realization that hit me hard was that I didn’t call the Well home, but the Well was calling me home because belonging is acceptance by someone or somewhere. And acceptance can't be self-declared because it is an act of grace outside of oneself.

So where am I now? God knew that Tampa wasn’t the last stop on my journey. My 8 months on the west coast of Florida ended as quickly as it started but I can confidently call the sanctuary that is the Tampa Underground and the Well home. I moved to Durham, NC in mid-July and started a new job here and I have taken the lessons I have learned about being called home to heart. Though it took me 2 years to return here after graduating Duke University in 2012, God ultimately knew that it was Durham that was calling me home. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from T.S. Eliot, 
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

It did feel like I was knowing Durham for the first time because it was finally my home. I recognized the sense of belonging I have here because it is the same feeling of belonging that I felt at the Well. Though saying goodbye to all of you was hard, I know that when a place is home, goodbyes are temporary and insignificant. I will forever be grateful to the Well for calling me home. Thank you! 

-Jenny Pan

August 14, 2014

A Reflection from one of the Firm Believers Crew



The following guest post is from Violetta Pavlovna Remeslova, about her work with The Well's Firm Believers outreach in and around Downtown Tampa. This post was originally posted on Violetta's personal blog.



As I reflect on my experiences with the poor in the past year, I realized the amazing effect these people have had on my life. This is just a small summary of the amazing lessons I have learned on the streets of my city.

I have been going out with my friend for a while now, and have met a lot of people in the downtown areas as well as built deeper relationships with a handful of them. I have noticed that as I keep going out weekly or a couple times a week, I am more and more involved in their daily struggles. These relationships are so beautiful and vulnerable, but naturally, they also cause a great deal of tension as I leave my friends at the end of every outreach, knowing that I am going home to my comfortable bed while they have to find a spot to sleep with their switch blade at hand.

Realizing that this tension will never go away has been a hard lesson to learn and on so many occasions, I have felt absolutely helpless to their situations. Feeling like I cannot offer anything to my brothers and sisters breaks my heart. And the things I am trying to offer are not actually making any kind of change to the system which is always going to title them as less than human, dirty, and forever marginalized. Honestly, overtime, my heart has become hardened to this reality and before starting [the Underground Institute class] Urban Theology, I was feeling weak, tired and wanting to give up on the outreaches we do every week. It felt more and more hopeless every time we ran out of food before everyone was fed, or we didn’t have the things they needed, or we couldn’t provide a real release from the struggles they face daily. Being in class has opened by eyes to gods amazing power and to the suffering he calls us to.

I have embraced the tension I will forever feel and let it propel me to further action, for a louder voice to speak on the behalf of the voiceless. I have looked for every opportunity to embrace them and reaffirm their purpose and their dignity and to never be the one to rob them of that. There is so much they have taught me about simplicity, patience, endurance, importance of deeper relationships, and so much more.

As I begin entering into a relationship with them, one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had is listening to their dreams and aspirations for the future. The poor’s pursuit of luxuries and unnecessary comforts is virtually nonexistent. The things they want from life are as simple as a job that gives them dignity, a place to live that is simple but safe, and reconciliation with family who have not forgiven them or quickly forgotten them. Some want to change the world and the systems that have been against them for years and others simply want to remember what it is like to have peace. Some want to lead rallies and speak prophetically about the injustices while others want to buy a trailer and park it on the beach.

Their dream is simply to have choices, to regain their dignities, and almost always, to help other as they have once been helped. As they so patiently wait for these dreams to come true, for justice to be served and for promises to be fulfilled, they have trust, in God and in people. Even after years of abuse and unfaithful promises, they are still hopefully that one day everything will change, one day people will do what they promised. And I see their despair when a promise does not come through or when a plan to finally get off the streets falls apart.

It is painful to watch them being let down over and over again as their destinies are in clenched in someone else’s hand. And I know I have let them down too. I also have been part of the “just like everyone else” statistic that the homeless are far too familiar with. But even in my shame and embarrassment, I come back to see them, maybe have a conversation or two if they will allow it, but they welcome me with open arms every time, as if old friends are once again reunited.

I am still only brushing the surface of what it means to live in solidarity with the poor and honestly, I don’t think I’m even close. But still, I cannot live without the poor. I need them way more than they need me. I would be the one who is less than human without them.

July 22, 2014

Reinstitutionalization

Three strike laws are statutes enacted by state governments to deter recidivism. They basically increase penalties on habitual offenders or career criminals so as to dissuade such career paths or habits. While these statues are predominately issued to give life sentences to repeat first degree felons, or more decades to second and third degree felons, the logic of the system has worked its way down to quite petty offenses. This can make way for unfortunate rulings against 'crimes' associated with the condition of being homeless at the city or county levels.

The last post on our blog, written by Kineci, told of one such situation for a friend of ours who lives on the streets in Tampa. He has been arrested many times for trespassing. Trespassing and loitering become a perpetual state for many on the streets because they have nowhere to go. (which, BTW, is precisely why the Well is determined to create an oasis of hospitality) Our friend was trying to leave town because he knew the next arrest would mean a more severe punishment. He never made it out of town (which never really was a great solution anyway) and was arrested on Saturday. Now he is facing much more significant jail time because he is a 'habitual' offender. You see he is chronically homeless.



Many years ago our society ran asylums where they would put people that were considered mentally ill. These hospitals were heavily criticized as they were often very poorly kept up, understaffed and filled with very difficult individuals. After some exposure of the conditions of these places, where entire segments of the population were segregated, there was much demand for deinstitutionalization.  Under Ronald Reagan the call was made that these asylums be closed, and they were.  While it is not hard to praise the end of such horrific conditions for some of our societies most vulnerable people it is sometimes hard to take a sober look at how such moves have played out in our cities.

Deinstitutionalization basically flushed these mental hospitals out into our streets. The idea was that within our communities folks with mental disabilities could live less isolated lives and find local community mental health services to assist when needed. What we ended up having in many of our cities is an open asylum where those who needed such hospitalization or care are left to wander the streets alone. We do have many mental health services in Tampa, though you are seen, assessed, and turned out almost immediately. There is no place to stay and be safe, which is precisely what so many with paranoia and anxiety need.




Where we once hospitalized we now criminalize. Where once people were put in institutions run by nurses and doctors they are now ending up in institutions run by police and wardens. While deinstitutionalization was a move made for humanitarian reasons (giving the benefit of the doubt) it never served society or those that needed the help. What we are seeing now is some kind of twisted repentance or undoing of deistitutionalization. What we are seeing today is the reinstitutionalization of our most vulnerable. Though now they are not in poorly kept hospitals but highly profitable penal institutions.

I assure you, we are not better off.

July 14, 2014

To Sleep or Not to Sleep


I recently had a memorable discussion with a visitor at the Free Market. Before going into detail about what we discussed, I'd first like to say that sometimes the staff of the Free Market have to take the stories we hear at face value. We are not always able to validate the situations that are told to us, and I do not believe that it is up to us to do so. We have a certain level of trust and respect for our visitors and can be assured that there is some truth to the things that are told to us.

This guest asked me to look up the price for a round trip bus ticket. As I did so, I asked him if there was a situation. Due to his fourth citation and third time being arrested for trespassing, he was looking at the prospect of between 6 months and a year in jail. My first thought was, "ok….you were trespassing and were probably doing something you weren’t suppose to do." Why else would the police pick on him, right? He further explained that these citations were issued because of where he was sleeping. 

It turns out that he's homeless, and has no family or close friends to room with. He tells me the shelters are no safer than sleeping on the street, so he picks a spot that he considers to be safe enough to sleep and tries to steer clear of private property and inner city buildings. There are supposed to be green flyers posted in places where the homeless are prohibited from sleeping or hanging about, he tells me, and yet most of these flyers are no where to be seen. Even when no notice is posted, the first trespass is a written warning and other violations after that is 30 days in county jail. 

As I looked at his his face and listened to his story, I realized I had no words to respond. I consider myself an intelligent individual, and yet I could not find a good enough excuse to explain away what had happened to him. There simply wasn’t one. It’s absurd, it’s unfair, and it’s so hard to accept that stuff like this happens to people all the time. 

His public defender informed him, “Well at least when you're serving your jail time, you won’t be homeless.” Of course, his response was that even with guaranteed meals, clothing and a bed to sleep in, none of it was worth losing his freedom. For the crime of sleeping, the comfort of a jail cell could never justify having his rights taken away for something so natural - something that we all must do. 

I'm struck by the realization that he is only one such person. Can you imagine the amount of people who fall prey to similar situations such as this one? Are the homeless always going to be victims of this kind of tomfoolery?

I haven’t the slightest clue of what will become of this situation, but I am glad that this individual is not playing victim and plea bargaining out. There are many homeless people who think they have no voice and feel they have no rights. They think that no one cares or no one is going to want to hear their story, but they're wrong. I care. The staff of The Well care. Many people in ministry care. But is that enough? Is it enough to merely care and show some sympathy? 

I’m not going to offer a spiel of things that you who are reading must do or believe. What I will do is issue a challenge both to you and to myself to refuse to fall victim, whether minor or major, to this type of injustice. I challenge all of us to also help those around us to not fall victim either. 

I know it sounds cliché, but there is great truth to the saying that education is the key. By learning the local statutes, we are equipping ourselves to fight back when we're being taken advantage of. We're better prepared to ask questions. We are then able to object to both unfair treatment and unfair laws, and we know better how to make our voices heard. Because we do have a voice, and together our voices are powerful. 

July 7, 2014

Yes, All Women at The Well


At The Well, we don't make people listen to sermons, and we don't sprinkle every outreach or conversation with "Bible talk." We do hope, however, that every person who walks through our doors or meets someone from our community experiences the peace of Jesus during that encounter. We hope this equally for every person, regardless of gender, race, or socio-economic position. At the same time, it is important to recognize that to make this possible for some groups of people, their unique circumstances must be acknowledged and their distinct needs be met. The women who work at The Well and every woman who passes through our doors belong to one such group. 

During the last several weeks, an outcry over the global treatment of women was embodied on Twitter by the #YesAllWomen hashtag. The trending topic garnered much attention on social media and served as a catalyst for many constructive (and instructive) conversations both online and offline. All of this dialog centers around the sobering reality that women of every nation and background continue to be subjected to objectification, marginalization, and the ever-present threat of violence.

Like everyone who comes to The Well, women come seeking to have physical, emotional and spiritual needs met by our community - all needs that Jesus himself cares deeply for. Providentially, the Gospel of John (Chapter 4) offers us a perfect model of this experience.

When we look at Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well - and other women throughout his ministry - we find that, like all people, they are objects of love and forgiveness. But a closer examination reveals that in each of those encounters, Jesus' posture with women was also both contrary to the current culture and particularly instructive to men.

There are two key ways in which I believe Jesus is teaching us to make him real to the women who work at and visit The Well. This a call to anyone who longs for justice and equality, but is especially an appeal to the men in our community.

We Must Make a Safe Place

To experience love, you must first trust the one who extends it. In so many of Jesus' encounters with women, he begins by first breaking down the present-day social barriers between women and men. We must do the same. At The Well, we don't enforce gender roles regardless of our individual beliefs. Our community strives to recognize gender as a part of each other's identity without making it a condition of our individual value. 

As men, we must deliberately unlearn the patriarchal language and patterns of speech that pervade our communication. You don't need "balls" to be courageous, and to a woman even common terms of endearment like "honey" and "baby" often serve as an oppressive reminder that you're "just a woman." We need to stop making excuses about culture and upbringing - our allegiance is not to culture and upbringing, it is to Jesus and each other. 

Jesus also was very intentional about protecting women from men who exerted physical power over them. As an ally who treated them with dignity and respect during times of threat from other men, his mere presence provided great comfort to them. The first step we must undertake is to simply be present. Among staff and volunteers at The Well, women outnumber men 2-1. We desperately need more men to make themselves present on a reliable and ongoing basis. 

Many of our female staff and clients suffer persistent verbal and physical abuse at the hands of men. Women under threat are frequently unable to correct a male abuser for fear of immediate and potentially violent retribution. A man from the community who is present can more safely correct a male abuser, or at the very least ensure that the woman correcting him is safe from retaliation. Again - this is only possible if men from the community are present. 

Even beyond overt physical and verbal abuse, posture and non-verbal communication are often used to intimidate and dominate women. Within our community and our facilities, we must have no tolerance for even the most subtle abuse. Many of our guests endure hellish conditions of abuse and exploitation on the streets, and The Well should be a place where they are free from that, even if only temporarily.

We Must Call Men to a Higher Standard

Part of the reality within which we operate is that men often respond better to authority exerted by other men. Anthony, a regular volunteer at The Well, must only stand up from his chair to quiet the room. His willingness to play this role has earned him a nickname, "The Peacemaker." The mere presence of a male staff member or volunteer in the room is enough to prevent most abuse from male guests and the resulting confrontations. 

The real beauty though of the male peacemaker, is that they also serve as an example of a man who submits to the leadership of the women in the room. As much as men have a responsibility to protect women from other men, we must take care not to slip into the same paternalism used to marginalize and exploit women for millennia. Even as we advocate on women's behalf, we must both learn and teach the truth that both men and women are equal in the eyes of God. As both men and women, we are charged to set the tone of equality and live out example of a healthy male-female relationship dynamic. As both brothers and sisters, we must treat each other as such. 

Beyond correcting bad behavior and setting a positive example, we also must explicitly teach those who come into or pass through our community how to treat each other. That's the reason for this post, and it's why all of our leaders - men and women, staff or volunteer - should be mentoring others in this regard. 

This is how we ensure that all those who come to The Well experience peace and love. In doing so, we can counter the cultural meta-narrative that reduces women to nothing but objects, and men to nothing but animals controlled by sexual urges. Imagine for a moment a community where all of those made in God's image work together in harmony building his kingdom, and misogyny is a thing of the past. It is worth the hard work and the uncomfortable conversations - but more importantly, it is a new reality that we are called to make real. 

Get Involved

You don't have to subscribe to all our beliefs to help. This is a special appeal to all men who share our commitment to creating a place of safety and dignity for women. To learn more about getting involved, please call Lam Robbins at (813) 528-1959, or email lam.vu@vrobb.com

July 1, 2014

2014 Summer Update



The Well moved at the end of April and opened on Florida Avenue at the end of May. Our doors were closed for a few weeks as we made the transition - you wouldn’t know it by looking at our numbers though! We’ve seen unprecedented numbers of visitors and corresponding needs since we re-opened. In addition to the many lunches and dinners served that first week, we shared over 2400 lbs of groceries - more than the entire month of February at our previous location! This new property is situated centrally to some of the most acute needs in Tampa, and since that first week, each day has set a new record in the number of guests. June has already seen over 1100 visits, double the average month’s numbers for the previous year!

A Growing Need

Word continues to spread of The Well’s new location and expanded services. As more of our neighbors turn to us for mercy and assistance, we in turn look to the rest of our Tampa community for help. The needs around us are substantial and go much deeper than a need for groceries or a bicycle, but it is in meeting those needs that we enter into relationships with these neighbors in hopes to meet those more profound hungers too. As new leaders emerge to champion this work and resources become available, we hope to meet more and more of these needs.
Below is a summary of activity during the first half of 2014 in terms of groceries given (visitors served):

January February March April May* June
2,997 lbs
(745)
2,153 lbs
(602)
3,143 lbs
(678)
2,438 lbs
(699)
2,462 lbs
(239)
5,483 lbs
(1,258)

*    Only open for one week during May



Operating Budget

With the new facilities, our expenses have increased as anticipated. The overwhelming response from those in need however, has far exceeded our expectations. We are grateful to be entrusted with this responsibility, and are now working to fill a modest shortfall in our operating budget.


Yearly Monthly

Fundraising Goal (Operating Budget) $116,059 $9,672

Monthly Pledges $80,560 $6,713

One Time Gifts $20,795 -

Total Raised      $101,355 $8,446

Percent Funded 87% -

Current shortfall:            $(14,704) $(1,225)


Ongoing Material Needs

In order to keep operating and marginal costs to a minimum, we provide for most material needs through donated goods. We have ongoing and increasing need for many of the staple items we try to keep in stock to share with our neighbors.
ü Canned Beans
ü Canned meats
ü Canned Fruit
ü Canned Vegetables
ü Prepared pop-top canned foods
ü Cereal
ü Pop tarts
ü Oatmeal
ü Coffee & tea
ü Sugar & creamer
ü Long shelf-life snack items
ü Dry rice & noodles
ü Dish soap
ü Disposable razors
ü Flashlights & batteries
ü Men’s short sleeve T-shirts
ü Women’s/men’s jeans
ü Women’s/men’s shorts
ü Women’s/men’s underwear
ü White socks
ü Feminine products
ü Mosquito repellent
ü Bags (paper or plastic)
ü Duffel bags & backpacks
ü Toilet paper
ü Sunscreen
ü Toothbrushes
ü Towels
ü Shampoo
ü Conditioner
ü Soaps
ü Toothpaste
ü Deodorant
ü Shoes
ü Bikes
ü Bus Passes


Unfunded Initiatives

In addition to our current operations, there are currently a number of initiatives which we are excited to begin as soon as we secure funding. These items are not included in our current budget.

Initiative Start Up Cost Ongoing Cost

Organic Gardening Program $3,000 $400/mo

Mental Health Counseling & Case Management $0 $1,000/mo

Aquaponics System (fish & vegetable farming) Raised $500/mo

The Re-Cycle Bin (bicycle gifts & repair) Raised $200/mo

Chickens (egg production & waste reduction) $600 $50/mo

Food Truck (commercial kitchen & mobile services) $25,000 $2,700/mo

June 18, 2014

They That Wait


Patience for most does not come as easily. It is often the one thing we lack and some circumstances without it we aren't able to accomplish very much.

 For most of our visitors at the Free Market, patience, in most cases, is a necessary evil; necessary for the various trials that often occur as a result of living on the street, evil in a sense that although it is required in basically every area of our lives it also difficult to endure.

One thing I can say about the many people who visit the Free Market is that patience is something they have become accustomed to. Is it wrong to say I envy them? Here I have more than what some would have their entire life (of which I am very thankful for), and yet I still find myself wanting more....more of what I don't really need. My patience is thin but getting thicker (God is good), and I have yet to master the altitude of patience that our visitors in the Free Market have. I am in awe of them. I take lessons and aim to be like them. They inspire me. They humble me. In a world where everything is at our fingertips and more this and more that is what we are constantly after, it is refreshing to be among those who lack things in the physical but exude patience in other areas of their lives.

God reveals things to us in his timing. We are not always going to have the answers to every question. I believe it is purposely intended to be this way for if we had the answers to everything then there wouldn't be much use for a God. Isaiah 40:31 says, "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." I cannot stress how important being patient and waiting on the Lord is for those who aim to be like him. I have no idea how the visitors in the Free Market have and continue to master this, but I do know that I plan my schedule carefully to be at the Free Market so that I do not miss out on an opportunity to learn from them.

Some could argue that those who are homeless have no option but to be patient, but I could argue that they are not the only ones who struggle and that it is those who are more fortunate who struggle the most with being patient! I for one am constantly learning and I do believe that I have the best teachers...my fellow visitors of the Free Market.

June 2, 2014

From One of the Crew

The Well is a community of all kinds of different people. Though we are all different, all of us have needs and all of us come to The Well to encounter Jesus in one another. The whole operation depends on individuals who come here to both give life and receive it. We have many beautiful people that make up the mosaic that is this community, this representation of the body of Christ. Allow me to introduce you to one such individual. Kineci is champ. She is here at least two days every week and is always willing to engage guests, get her hands dirty in the back room, or coach and lead newer volunteers. She is a joy to be around and an inspiration to all of us who have the privilege of calling her a partner and friend. I recently asked her to write about her experience here and it turns out that she already had on her own blog! Here is what she had written:

To read more from Kineci check out her blog here
I learned about The Well during a bible study session at the University. I started serving here in October of 2013. Words cannot express the amount of joy I have serving in this ministry. It's an indescribable feeling I have when I feed those who are hungry, give water to those who are thirsty, and clothe those who have nothing other then the clothes on their backs to wear.
The most important part about serving with The Well however, is meeting all of God's people where Jesus met most of his believers, on the streets. You see people misconstrue what exactly it is that we do here. Most of our visitors who come to The Well daily think that they need us and are thankful that we take the time to care for them, it is us who need them though. I need to feed those who are hungry and encourage any who have lost faith.
God is not dead, he is yet alive and through this ministry I am able to do the very thing that God has called me to do. And even though I do not deserve to hear it, I look forward to the day that my father tells me, "Well done, my good and faithful servant"
-Kineci Jackson

I am sure there will be many more posts from Kineci in the near future so stay tuned!

May 29, 2014

Be Ye Doers

When I young, I worked at a local grocery store. To this day, I still get excited about things like grocery pickups and setting up our free market in large part because of my memories working at the grocery store. Over the years that I worked at the store, I worked in many different departments and got to know many different people as well. One of the people that I really connected with was my friend Chris Doers. We worked stock together for years and interacted a lot when we were both in different departments too. We would also get together outside of work to go fishing from time to time. Chris was always a good dude that I really enjoyed hanging out with.

My car accident, that nearly took my life, happened at age seventeen after a shift at the store. Chris still recalls seeing me that night just hours before the wreck. Not long after my accident, I quit working at the store to focus on college (partying). After just a few years of being away, and after starting to follow Jesus, I came back to work at the store again. Chris was still there and we continued to be friends. We would still fish and talk and hang out pretty often. I eventually began going to a 'house church' at Brian Sanders house, the first house church of what would one day become known as the Underground Network. I think we jokingly referred to ourselves the "underground church" then too. I invited Chris to come over and check it out one night, and he did. I remember him thinking that I was insane, and that our group was a little weird, and the fact that I was about to move to the inner city was just stupid. Needless to say, he wasn't too impressed, but he didn't forget the experience either.

Fast forward to 10 years later, and Chris and I have lost touch with one another. Recently he has been getting more involved with his church community, and getting more and more serious about following Jesus himself. The other day he was on the phone with a friend who told him he was on his way to visit the Underground. Chris remembered me and the house church he visited and asked his friend, "You mean that weird church that meets in some dudes house?" His friend replies "Brother, there's a lot of houses now."

Chris then set out to hunt me down, which didn't take too long as I heard from a few sources within the next day or two that he was looking for me. We got in touch and he came by. It was great to see this old friend and he reminded me of much of this story from his perspective. He just thought that it was crazy to see what all those insane, weird and stupid choices I was making back in the day have turned into. As we toured the neighborhood, and I showed him the houses and the gardens and all the work being done, he seemed to understand more and more what we were up to.

I told him all about the Underground and the work that I now do with The Well, and he promised that he would come visit us at our Thursday night meal called The Banquet. The first night he popped in, I wasn't there but I heard that he came and after the meal, and then I saw this post on Facebook.

Just a few weeks later, Chris came back with the whole Doers family. His wife and kids jumped right in to serve and talk with guests and just be here. It was a great night and we were so grateful to have them here with us. That night, after he left, I saw another post on Facebook that honestly made me tear up. Chris posted again about being at the meal, but what he said in his comments communicates exactly the thing that I hope those who join us to serve will take away. While many homeless folks need some dinner and come to meet that need, many of us who serve do not realize the needs that we have that are fulfilled here. I think Chris's comments help illuminate our need a bit, our need that is made known by coming and sitting at the table with others that we otherwise, often, do not see or know. 

Here you can see his post and the comments that follow:

(And by the way, his daughter in the pink/purple dress, is a cage fighter known as The Reaper!
So that's kinda awesome! )

He writes:
"It's amazing you think you're going to go in and help someone that is truly less fortunate then realize the conversation was probably more important to me. It just puts it in perspective how truly blessed my family and I truly are..."
And then:
"You know I went into it thinking I was going to do something nice but I honestly believe it's a privilege and a gift that I had the opportunity to be there..."
 And after a friend comments, "OMG Great Job," he writes:
"I feel that going there once or twice is almost self righteous, opening your doors to complete strangers everyday without question and without prejudice that's a great job." 
We pray for those who visit us would leave transformed and filled. Challenged in areas of prejudice and entitlement, encouraged toward gratefulness and  appreciation, and inspired to open their own doors and lives to those who used to seem so Other. We are in the business of building bridges and Chris is a great example of what we hope for all of our friends to leave with. We expect to see more of him around here but better than that, we know God has done something in him that will go with him to his own neighborhood, church and relationships.

In reflecting on this story, I cannot help but remember and repeat those words of St. James:
"Be Ye Doers" -James 1:22