I don’t know if it’s wisdom, but I am crying non-stop these days. By non-stop, I mean 24/7. My cheeks are wet during the day. My pillow is soaked during the night. I have been asked why I cry. The answer is: I don’t know. Is it because of depression, my Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the pain in my back, the general sad state of affairs in the world, the general sad state of affairs in the church, the school shootings, not being able to meet the needs of my friends on the street, … ?
I have been trying for weeks to write a fundraising post for The King’s Jubilee, something positive and encouraging. I am paralyzed with grief every time I try to write. I finally decided to go with it. We have about $250 per month in regular donations. That just about covers auto expenses. We need 10 times that to continue the ministry. I have worked 3/4 time to full time for 25 years with no pay and few vacations. (We had our first vacation, a weekend in DE, in 9 years, last week, due to the generosity of friends.) I am not complaining. I am just spelling things out. There is more than “just Thursday night” going on here. People get upset with me. People believe lies told about me. People disagree with my politics. They punish the poor and homeless by withdrawing support to the ministry.
I will tell you a dirty little secret. Everyone who has served the poor as long as I have has roughly the same politics as I do. I will tell you another dirty little secret. Christians should stop wasting their money on politics. We can make a bigger difference in setting the pace in direct ministry, in Jesus’ Name.
Every dollar given to this ministry is helping the poor and homeless in one form or another. We receive no government or corporate support. We are not hosted by any given church. We depend on your alms. God bless you.
The newest addition to our Lily Gilding series of limited edition art pieces is “Lost at Sea”. It is a bit of a metaphor for my headspace of late. My eyes were crying profusely, as they have been for most of the last few months, day and night. I don’t know if it is because of the pain in my spine or the pain in my psyche due to PTSD, or grieving spiritually for the impoverished state of the fragmented church, or the wars and rumors of wars all over the world; or all of the above; or simply a tear duct disorder. At any rate, it leads to contemplation and it can bring me down. I decided to take a step back and paint with flowers. This is where the bright daylily above led me.
It is a Strawberry Candy daylily bloom as if it had been coated in plastic and caught with a movie camera’s glare, and is in turn, peeking out of an old yacht porthole that is floating in space.
I have not determined yet what form the art pieces will take that will incorporate this print. As soon as I do, this article will reflect that change. I am open to suggestions. Peace.
Someone gave us a fully cooked ham that had not been frozen, so I decided to make split pea and ham soup for last week. We always have a large turkey roasting pan with a vegetarian alternative and a pot of spaghetti with meat sauce, so there would be options for those who do not eat pork. The soup I made was not their grandma’s split pea & ham. Ask my wife. I never do any thing the simple way. I’ll write the recipe, then I will get back to the rest of the story.
4 quarts home made chicken broth
2 pounds dried black eyed peas
5-20 ounce bags green split peas
2 pounds yellow split peas
1 head garlic, peeled
~ 5 or 6 medium sized, sweet onions, diced
2 pounds carrots
1/2 head of celery
2 Tablespoons ground turmeric
2 Tablespoons powdered sage
3 quarts water
~ 2 cubic inches grated, fresh ginger root
~ 8 pounds of fully cooked, reduced sodium ham
35 twists of medium grind fresh black pepper
Rinse the black eyed peas. Dump into a large sauce pan with 3 quarts of boiling water and boil for a few minutes. Then turn off the heat, cover and let sit for an hour. Heat up the chicken broth in a 22 quart stock pot. Rinse the split peas in a colander and add to the stock pot. Press the garlic into the pot. Stir frequently. Add water. Grate ginger into the pot. Whisk the peas vigorously. Add the turmeric and sage and whisk in. As soon as the peas are cooked, mushy and thoroughly blended, transfer the stock pot into the double boiler, canner set up. Wash and cut up the carrots and throw them into a food processor on chop. They should be finely chopped. Add to the pot. Do the same for the celery. Rinse the black eyed peas in a colander and add them to the pot, stirring them in. Cut the ham into bite sized pieces and add to the pot. Grind the pepper into the pot. Stir everything together. It should by just about 1″ shy of the top of the stock pot and very thick. Make sure the canner does not run out of water. Keep it bubbling for hours until you are ready to transfer it to the Igloo cooler or Cambro to take it to the street or fellowship hall.
OK. I started the black eyed peas about 7:30am. About 9:30am, Kevin Paige arrived to help chop for the soup. About 3:30, April and the grandsons arrived with the Vegetarian Mofongo to put in the oven. About 4:30pm, I went to Giant to get iced tea, including some unsweetened for the diabetics. Then I made sure the TKJ-mobile was stocked and ready. About 6pm, we had dinner. About 6:30pm, I recorded the temperature of the soup at 168º & transferred it into the Igloo cooler. We made sure I had a serving spoon and ladle and put those in the vehicle. About 6:45pm Brian Simpson arrived and another car with sandwiches arrived. We finished loading the TKJ-mobile; did a final check: “two sets of keys, Alex’s mail, any phones for Alex, ladle, spoon, hot sauce, hand washing station, brain: optional.” “We’re good.”
By 7pm, we headed off to Philadelphia with 22 quarts of soup, a huge roaster pan of mofongo, a couple hundred meat and cheese sandwiches, 9-1/2 gallons of iced tea, hot sauce, salt, pepper, assorted clothes, etc. Folks from Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Elkins Park, PA, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Wilmington, DE, Holy Ascension Antiochian Orthodox Church, Downingtown, PA, St. Philip Antiochian Orthodox Church, Souderton, PA, and Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, Phila., PA, were there set up, ready to serve with spaghetti with meat sauce, more sandwiches, oranges, bananas, apples, hard boiled eggs, pastries, toiletries, Greek Easter cookies, candy bars, bags, etc.
We finished setting up. Everyone who needed to washed their hands and got their gloves on. People were in their positions. Fr. Chris gave the blessing and we started serving.
I loaded up a bag with a bunch of oranges to go to the back of the line to give them away from the back to the front. I didn’t get very far before I saw Morris. It was like seeing a ghost! I still have his number on my cellphone, but I have several dead people’s names and numbers on my cellphone. Soon they will outnumber the living I was just telling myself on Tuesday of last week. We used to talk regularly. I would check in with Morris on a regular basis. Then there was no answer. Then the phone was cut off. I did search the obituaries, but that is not always foolproof. I have kept praying for Morris regardless. We keep praying for our loved ones whether in this world or the next. Death does not stop love. Morris is a survivor of Desert Storm and has some serious cancers from the chemical warfare that the US used there that the VA doesn’t want to admit to or deal with. The last time we spoke in person we talked about that and he was really down.
On Thursday, I told him I was so glad to see him and that I thought he was dead. He shouldn’t disappear like that. He told me that he finally got help for his PTSD and was hospitalized for depression and finally got the right meds and got things straightened out. He said, “Do you see me? I’m smiling!” I said, “Yes! You look beautiful!” This isn’t the kind of response this macho veteran would usually tolerate. From me, though … he gave me a big sheepish grin, with a tear in his eye.
Morris asked me how I was doing. (He knew all about my health problems. We’re friends.) I told him that I was finally getting treatment for my PTSD. It was a step in the right direction. Two other men were listening and they joined in. They, too, had PTSD. One was a veteran and one was not. The one who was not was a bit apologetic about it and the two veterans were quick to say, “You don’t have to be a veteran to have PTSD!” We ended up having a little support group right there in the line until we got up to the bench where the food was being served. Then I went back and gave away the rest of the oranges.
I then took up my usual position as a bollard, informing the folks of what was in the food. We ran out of spaghetti. Then we ran out of mofongo. Then we were almost out of soup. One man came back, raving over the soup. He wanted more. Sean told him it was all gone. The man asked who made it. I confessed. He said, “You sure put some love into it!” I told him to give me his spoon and hold his cup under the corner of the Igloo container as we prop it up. I scraped and scraped the last little bits of it into his cup. He said that he would lick the bottom of that cooler if he could! It was that good.
We finished serving. Everyone had plenty. We had more conversations with people. I ribbed Fr. Chris as usual. (I mean, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.) You have to love Fr. Christos and Presvy. Joanna! We packed up the TKJ-mobile, including three full grown men and their gear into the back seat to drop them off at their homes. We headed up N. Broad St. to drop off Mark, Anthony & Gregory. Then Brian deposited me and the TKJ-mobile at home a little after 10pm. Then he proceeded home to Perkasie.
I should also mention that we experienced a record number of crazy drivers on the road: people who were texting who were trying to swerve into our lane; a lady who pulled out and immediately tried to cross two lanes into the side of our car; a truck who drove like a sportscar; people not stopping for emergency vehicles, etc. Pray for us as we travel.
February marks the 25th anniversary of The King’s Jubilee. I dug out a bunch of the old newsletters and other literature today. The hand traced logo is from a newsletter I did in marker in 1996 after people complained about the print quality of my printer. In 1994, our entire annual budget was less that $4,000. With that we served over 9,000 meals in Philadelphia, Pottstown and Stowe, and led a Monday Evening Bible Institute, two prison Bible studies, established a Spanish ministry in Graterford Prison; printed an inmate newsletter; established a new homeless ministry in Upper Darby; provided personal care kits via our Project: Lydia program in the Northampton Co. Women’s Prison. I have never received a salary for this ministry. I have basically worked at it pretty much as a full time volunteer. I started to write another paragraph about the various ministries we have done or attempted through the years, but decided to do it as a bullet list, instead. I’m not sure of all the dates.
Wednesday, General population Bible study, Graterford Prison, 1989 – 1996
Christmas morning at Graterford Prison with Bethann & April, 1989 – 1995
Serving hot meals and sandwiches to the homeless and poor in Center City Philadelphia, along with clothing, blankets & toiletries. 1987 – present
All day Music Festivals with free food for the poor and homeless and the community. We called them “Victory Parties”, because we were sounding the trumpet, to declare Jesus’ victory over homelessness and poverty, in the early nineties. Twice in Philadelphia, Pottstown, Phoenixville, & Upper Darby.
Film with discussion series on various social issues, held in different church halls.
TKJ Monday Evening Bible Institute, 1993 – 1996
Established Spanish language ministry in Graterford Prison. It continues to this day, although not under our leadership. We were just the catalyst to open the door.
Inmate Correspondence Discipleship Course
TKJ Inmate edited newsletter
Sunday evening support prayer meetings / house fellowships in East Greenville, Pottstown & Upper Darby, PA & Columbia, SC.
“Clothesline” free clothing ministry in East Greenville. We facilitated it, found its new home and ran it for a little while. April designed its logo when she was in high school. They still use it. Peace Mennonite Church still operates it 20 years later.
Project: Lydia, personal care items in hand made drawstring bags distributed to all of the women inmates in the Northampton County Prison. Only for a few months. Then they disallowed us.
Serving hot meals and sandwiches, etc., in Pottstown and Stowe, 1990 – 199?
Serving hot meals and sandwiches, etc., in Columbia, SC, 1991 – 199? (We got it started, then entrusted it to a local church. We are not interested in empire building.)
Serving meals to the homeless and poor in Upper Darby. 1992 – 1996
Power Packs, relatively non-perishable snack bags for folks to take with them for the next day, 1992 – present
Stocking cupboards with staples and basic utensils when people move off the street. 1995 – present. We are launching an organized program to do that, now, called “Jubilee Pantry”.
I’m sure I forgot some things. That’s OK. Through the years, we have also helped several homeless students buy books and computers to complete their studies. One man presented me with his graduation program and a thank you note when he graduated cum laude as a nurse. We have helped other front lines ministries with materials, computers and funds. Once we even delivered a used, electric golfcart to Ora Love so she could get around the project with all of her books and equipment to teach her students.
During Mayor Rendell’s years, we were investigated by undercover police at least three times that I was aware of. I told them that we were willing to go to jail before we would quit, because we had to obey God rather than men. Fast Eddy Rendell thought that the homeless were like dogs and that if we would only stop feeding them, they would go to someone else’s city. I assured him on the three occasions when I met him that no one was on the street because the food was that good! Since then, I have been told that my soup is better than what they serve at The Four Seasons. I still stand by my statement. We have been chased from one park to another. Policemen have harrassed us. Once I was told that Fairmount Park was private property . I took that officer’s name and badge number. He got a civics lesson from his commanding officer the next day. We have witnessed knife fights and fist fights and one shooting. Brownie shot Peaches in the butt with a 22. Most thought she had it coming. The two of them have been more or less happily married for over 15 years now. Ain’t love grand!
Once, the Fruit of Islam at Graterford put a hit out on me, and some other inmates put out a counter hit to protect me, stating that if anything happened to me, Nation of Islam inmates were going to die. They apparently circulated my photo around Phila. Les Bucher & I were coming home from serving one night and we were being ambushed, with a car in front and a car behind and a man in a long coat in the summertime with a big gun in his pocket came running up to Les’s side of the van. He started to raise the gun. He spots me in the “shotgun” position, and says, “O, it’s you, Cranford. Have a nice night!” A signal was given and the car in front moved and we were allowed to leave. Another time, I was taken at gun point from my workplace by an ex-offender so I could get him admitted to a drug rehab while he was high as a kite. Interesting times.
Working in prison and on the street changed me and changed my theology. This has alarmed my old fundamentalist friends. However, a theology that bears bad fruit in the real world is invalid. If it leads me to see my brothers and sisters as “other” or inferior or “market” and not simply as somebody’s children, who are trying to muddle through as best they can figuring it out as they go like I am, then I don’t need it. “Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.” (Kahlil Gibran)
Through the years, I worked at various jobs to support myself and my family. I always needed something with a flexible schedule so that I could do this work. Finally, I started “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art in January 2001 thinking it would be flexible and could grow and support the ministry. I was doing this out of our half twin in East Greenville, making the icons in a tiny space in the basement and finishing them in a tiny spare bedroom, which was also the office and mailing center. We finally decided to take the leap and move closer to church, to a place with an outbuilding that we hoped to house the business in in May 2006. It required major rebuilding. I set to work to do that. It took money. Some money came in, but then was delayed for a year. By the time we received it I had serious health issues, so I could not do as much. The business also got interrupted repeatedly by my health issues, an infection on my spine, then reaction to the antibiotic that nearly killed me; six months later migrainous strokes. Then debilitating strokes for three months, etc. Finally, the business went under in July of 2013, after never really showing a profit. A major flaw in my business plan was that my main competition was monks.
In 2012, we had to sue Mayor Nutter and the City of Philadelphia, after he decreed that serving free food in the parks to needy people was illegal. We won an injunction and that decision has become a landmark for other groups to fight and win against similar oppressive regulations across the country.
Dr. Jerry Burke & Dr. Peter Psomiadis organized the Hummus Open Golf Tounament. We had the 2nd Annual in 2012 where we debuted the most unusual trophy in sport, The Garbanzo. In 2013, we took it up another notch and introduced commemorative tournament hats.
We have been featured a lot in the press lately, since Charli Riggle encouraged me to do a Gofundme to save our home from foreclosure in conjunction with the almsgiving Facebook group drive she coordinated. She started the press connections as well. It eventually made it onto both the very local and the national scene. We raised over $45,000 and were able to save our home from foreclosure as well as a neighbor’s, for now. We raised the profile of the ministry and gained a few more monthly donors. We need many more to make this truly sustaining. I have been essentially working two full time jobs for nearly 25 years. No wonder I had a dozen or more strokes! We can end homelessness in Philadelphia. We need your support to be able to work at it to do that, without having to worry about not having insurance for Bethann and losing the house again in another year. Please make a monthly pledge. It’s easy and automatic on Paypal. If everyone who liked us on Facebook would give $10/month, we would have more than we have ever had to work with, ever. That is a McDonald’s meal (blecch!) skipped for you, which would allow us to move forward, full time to develop the ministry in some marvelous ways! We cannot do this ministry without you. We just give your alms away.
On the morning of January 31, I had a terrific migraine. I realized it had set off a stroke when I was eating my soup at lunch and it was dribbling down the right side of my beard. The right side of my face was numb. The migraine continued for four days. The numbness in my face remained. Plus I have intermittent times of feeling like I was going to fall for no good reason. My typing has gotten even worse with my fingers grabbing totally random keys on the keyboard. I seem to lose small pieces of time. Intermittently I cannot focus on words. The type shakes. This afternoon I felt shaky, but I wasn’t shaking. I have been having a more difficult time finding the right word, so have been talking more slowly; occasionally forgetting to finish sentences altogether. The brain is a strange world.
Several of my friends have been telling me to see a doctor for over a week now. Every time they have seen me, they told me I am not right. And they add that they mean more not right than usual.
I finally called my neurologist today. I spoke to the nurse. She listened to the way I spoke on the phone, then the Dr. listened in for a bit. They told me to go to the ER. They observed me in the ER and felt I was still exhibiting symptoms of experiencing stroke. I had an inconclusive CAT scan. They kept me for observation and an MRI tomorrow.
Last night was like a little “homecoming”. Several of the ‘old heads’ that we knew from the early days on the street came out to see us on the street. They have moved off the street into housing a while ago, so I haven’t seen them for some time. A few of them I have known since 1985 when I started as a chaplain in Philadelphia prisons. Two of them continued with me at Graterford State Prison. After they were released, I saw them on the street. I saw John shoot Peaches in the butt with a .22 pistol in front of the family court building on a rainy night 20 years ago. Sadly, everyone sort of agreed she had it coming. They have been happily married for over 15 years now. Brownie asked me for prayer for his wife, “Bunny”, as she has been diagnosed with cancer and has started chemo. Her given name is Ledger. Pray for her.
I have known these men for nearly 30 years. We have aged together. When I met them, they were rough and rowdy young bucks, and I was a young idealist. We were cocksure we could take on the world and win. Now, look at us. The wrinkles are starting to show. We are just hoping to make it through the week and happy to see an old friend or two.
Most of the time when people tell me that what we do is special, or that I am a special person for what I do, my response is, “We have fun!” And I am being serious when I say this.
Jesus told us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The word blessed can mean happy. Doing something that makes you happy is kind of the definition of fun. I can tell you from experience, Jesus did not lie. Now the world has us all excited about receiving. And receiving things can be pretty happy sometimes, especially if we are in a tight spot and they fill a crying need. Well, to be the one who gets to fill that need is even happier! We don’t have much of anything of our own. What we do have, we share. So to do this ministry is such a joy. We have time and some cooking skill, so April and Kevin and I cooked yesterday. And I get to be a delivery person for what you all give, and thus, share in the fun!
Today is St. Nicholas Day. Last night we gave out the dollar coins to the people to celebrate this. I asked for special prayer, because last year things got out of hand and about $300 was stolen. Now I was there to give it away, so it wasn’t a loss to the ministry, but it wasn’t a good scene and wasn’t good for the soul of the persons who stole it. God answers prayer. We didn’t have such a huge crowd. I waited until we were just about done serving food. I did not try to tell the story to the crowd all at once. I did not carry the rolls of coins in a bag. I wore my winter coat that was entirely too warm, but had the right, zippered pockets, and carried a few rolls of coins in each pocket at a time. I just wandered through the people and handed out three dollars to each, remembering their faces. Soon someone asked why there were three coins. So I told them about St. Nicholas inheriting three bags of gold and the three daughters of the poor man. The poor man could not afford dowries for his daughters, so Bishop Nicholas, on the eve of when each of them were to be sold into slavery threw a bag of gold up and over, so that it fell down into the hearth, thus providing dowries for each of these girls in turn. Someone else asked, so I told them again, only this time I mentioned the St. Nicholas’ Cross that you see on all pawnbrokers’ shops, because he redeemed the maidens, and one always hopes one can redeem one’s possessions from the pawnbroker. I had way more than enough coins for everybody. I ended up giving to people twice and some more than twice. Steve and I started to go to the other end of the park and distributed there.
I went back and got more coins. Anthony went with me and we circled two blocks to where people were camped and gave out coins. I handed three coins to one older man saying, “In honor of St. Nicholas, God bless you.” He looked at me kind of startled. Anthony told him that they were dollar coins. The man was just so surprised and grateful. He said, “I’m a Muslim, but I understand some things about Christianity and you’re a righteous man. God bless you.” Then he said to Anthony, “Stick with him. Out here, it could get messy.” I turned back to him and gave him three more dollars and asked him to pray for me. He had tears in his eyes.
When we got back to the benches where we serve, the Project HOME outreach van was there. I reached in the window and gave the volunteers coins for St. Nicholas Day. One of them had come out with us a couple of years ago as it turns out. It apparently was when I was in the hospital, because someone else was in charge. She had very nice things to say about The King’s Jubilee and they learned some things about St. Nicholas.
I also talked to Sadie. Sadie and Daniel are two of the sweetest people you would ever want to meet. Please keep them in your prayers. They have had the worst couple of years. Daniel wasn’t allowed to come out on the damp night, because he has walking pneumonia. Sadie just had surgery for stomach cancer and has started chemo. Earlier this year she had a heart attack and stents and a broken foot. Their 14 year old special needs daughter was repeatedly raped by a fellow special needs student. They had finally moved off the street, then lost their place, because they had taken in a brother-in-law who had a criminal record that got the whole family thrown out of public housing. They were being good Christians to help their nieces and nephews, and they get penalized for it. They are off the street again. Thank God. They maintain a positive and cheerful attitude through it all. They are amazing people! Daniel’s Birthday is tomorrow. I sent extra coins home with Sadie to help celebrate.
Thank you all for enabling me to deliver a bit of happiness to some of our brothers and sisters on the street. We really are having fun!
“I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.”
Adlai Stevenson sent this “prayer” on his Christmas card after he was defeated by Eisenhower. One of the people who received the Christmas card was the famed Dr. Howard Rusk, founder of the “Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine” in New York City. Rusk had the prayer, which was then known as “The Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier,” placed in bronze and entitled it “A Creed for the Disabled.” It was also published in Time magazine in December 0f 1956.
A friend posted it on Facebook today and it spoke to me. I have been thinking about my path. I’m in a tight spot and in constant pain, due to damage to my spine from an infection most likely picked up from ministering on the street. But it has been an interesting path and I have met so many lovely people and helped along the way by so many gracious souls. I would not choose a different path. I am a man most richly blessed.
What can I say? Our rent party and kick off to our Virtual Rent Party was somewhat less than fantastic. We are grateful for those who came and a few generous souls who gave, but it is not enough. We raised a net of $525. We needed to raise about $4,000. The mortgage company will not take partial payment. We received the notice of foreclosure from their attorney today. People ask us what we are doing about our situation.
Bethann has been looking for work for over a year since the bank let her go. She went through training for a dental assistant. They did not tell her that she would need to be certified as an X-ray tech. to get a job and that they were not offering that course for another year. It’s amazing to us how people just play free and loose with other people’s lives. She is now going to school for medical office administration. It is a year long course. It is pretty intense.
Over the last four years, I have had some pretty intense health challenges. It started in October 2009 with what we thought was MRSA on my neck. It had to be lanced and treated with antibiotics. I had bad reactions to some of those. It was the first Thanksgiving I missed with the family.
On Tuesday morning, October 19, 2010, I landed in the ER with inexplicable pain in my back and 103 fever. They took vials of blood and lots of X-rays and sent me home at 2am on Valium and Percocet. Later on Wednesday, I went back for a complete MRI of my spine. It took over an hour. Thursday, a Dr. called and told me to stop the Valium, because he thought I had cancer and I had to be Valium free for 10 days for them to take a biopsy. I found someone to cover for me for that night for the city. The Percocet did not cut it. I was literally screaming with pain. They had found what they thought was a tumor the size of a large plum attached to my spine at T-11, T-12, L-1. That Saturday morning the hospital called me and told me they looked at it again and considered my history and thought it was more likely an infection. Come to the ER right away. They started me on IV Vancomycin. They also put me on a morphine drip and a Fentanyl patch. I spent a week in the hospital, then left to continue the IV treatments at home. I ended up back in the hospital, because my PICC line got infected. I had to have it removed and a new one installed in the other arm. They sent me home again after a few days. Then I started to react to the antibiotic. So I went back to the hospital. I was a real puzzle for Dr. Jonathon Cohen, since I was now allergic to six classes of antibiotics. They decided to give me a brand new one.
It was my first day there and Dr. Jerry Burke was just stopping by to visit. He is my good friend, not my doctor. He looked at the monitors and saw that I was crashing, He grabbed my bed and started to undo things and called the nurse and said, “This man is moving to ICU!” She asked if he had doctor’s orders for that. He replied that he would get that in good time. Meanwhile they were moving me. This was the second time Jerry saved my life. I spent nearly a week in intensive care with kidney failure. I also had respiratory problems while in there. They were afraid I was going into Steven Johnson Syndrome, so they put me on Prednisone. I was sent home the weekend before Thanksgiving with a much simpler IV that did not require a machine. I missed another Thanksgiving with the family. I was still reacting to drugs well into December. The Prednisone put my blood sugar all out of whack. That was a long road back with an adjusted diet. Everything finally seemed fine, then I broke out in hives from head to toe in the middle of January for no known reason.
When I came out of the hospital I had a clamshell body brace and a walker. I used the walker to walk around the block. My neighbor, John Haggerty, had moved all of my tools into his shop to make my icons to keep my business alive. He did not know the shipping and billing end of it though. So we had missed an entire Christmas season. I was trying to catch up on orders and to catch up on bills.
We had been waiting for the money to be released from the church to finish the barn. It finally was, so John and I went forward to get the permits and buy the materials and planned to get it done that summer. Then the weekend before my birthday, I had a terrific migraine that lasted for three days with visual effects lasting all through it. I went to the Dr. and she sent me over to the hospital for an MRI on my birthday, June 14, 2011. The next day, I got the results that I had had three little strokes and that I was to report to the hospital. I spent a week on the telemetry unit having every imaginable heart test, scan, image, with contrast, without, etc. The debilitating migraines continued all summer long, for days, sometimes weeks at a time, with no more than 8 days without from June 11 to Sept. 11. I was hospitalized two more times with a 3 or 4 trips to the ER besides, that summer. I had 12 documented strokes. At HUP, we discovered that the migraines caused the strokes. So that was a whole summer shot in the head. We still don’t know what causes the migraines. Since then we have adjusted my medication and vitamins and minerals several times to try to prevent them. I have had an estimated 30 to 50 little strokes with some permanent damage. So we didn’t get most of the work done on the barn that we had planned.
So we try to pick up the pieces of the business again and work on a new drug and vitamin regime, with regular visits to the doctor and the neurologist. The migraines continue with more strokes. At times, I can’t work for a week at a time. 2012 was taken up with the lawsuit against Mayor Nutter and the City of Phila. and that whole mess. I cried the whole months of June and July, because of that. I went through the trial with no support whatsoever from my priest. I had an MRI on my birthday again, because I thought the infection on my spine had come back, because of the exquisite pain. That’s when I learned that the infection had eaten into my spine and I have significant arthritis. The migraines continued. I started 2013 with a bad case of bronchitis that laid me low for three weeks. So I was behind on orders. Then I was in pain. The migraines started again. Then the main iconographer whose work I carried withdrew his work from my site, notifying me by email. By July, it became apparent that with all of my illnesses and the reduced collection, the business was no longer viable, so I closed it.
This summer, my spine started hurting continually. I am in constant pain. My eyes are almost always involuntarily tearing. I cannot take enough painkiller for it, nor do I dare to. I take a lot of turmeric and ginger. Most nights I have to take a Percocet to sleep a couple of hours.
We kept plugging away, serving more meals. The population on the street has gone up. We are serving more than 200 meals each week. Plus we are helping several men transition off of the street. If we can survive economically until disability kicks in, in a couple of months; and until the new insurance exchange kicks in on Jan. 1, we will be in a much better situation to handle things. Once Bethann finds a job in a physician’s office, we will be OK. It would be a shame to lose everything after coming so close.
Right now, we are paying $1450/month for mortgage plus escrow and $1100 for Cobra insurance per month. I write all of this to answer the questions. We have been serving the poor, the homeless and the imprisoned since 1984. Anyone who really knows how we live knows that this house is a base of operations for service and a place of hospitality and respite for any in need.
I did not write this to be a downer. It is not too late. Please help us save our home and the base of operations for this ministry. The King’s Jubilee is in its 25th year. Please don’t let it go down for lack of an adequate safety net. This ministry is needed now, more than ever. I cannot believe it would be God’s will for it to fold now.
Please pray and consider what you can do for an emergency gift now, and then for a sustaining pledge monthly. God bless you as you bless the poor and homeless in Jesus’ Name.
It is becoming apparent to me that this ministry is really not valued by the church. There are a few who are involved and are faithful, but not enough to sustain it and make it effective to really meet the needs that need to be met.
Soon I will be homeless. That will end the Thursday night meals. No one else has bothered to get the food prep certification. There has not been real organizational cohesion. People want to piggy back on what I have done and the battles I have fought over the years to do their own thing, but don’t embrace the over-arching vision for the ministry.
I have been trying for over a month to write some sort of article that would move people to give. I did write the article about when the money runs out. Then I wrote about Poverty Porn. We received a lot of likes, but no donations. We have been promoting the golf tournament, but no one has registered. I have occasionally wondered how I would know it would be time to stop this ministry. I have given others the advice from Scripture that it is “accepted according to what one has and not according to what he does not have.” (2 Cor. 8:12) One cannot and should not give what one does not have. It doesn’t make sense to me that it should be now that we should stop. We won the court battle. We have an opportunity to really make a difference and possibly end homelessness in Philadelphia. But clearly the resources have run dry. I receive no support either pastoral or budgeted from our church or any encouragement from the leadership, quite the contrary. I get only discouragement there. I finally make the move to rebuild the icon business into a modern shopping cart and it totally tanks, so I closed it. Bethann has been trying to get a job for a year to no avail, even though she got additional training, so insurance costs are through the roof.
Very few people have embraced the vision of this ministry. We are not just there on Thursday nights occasionally to assuage our middle class guilt or to provide an opportunity for our kids to do their required community service hours. We are there to meet Christ and perhaps to be surprised by grace. There is more going on than just Thursday nights. There are the furniture and Operation: Clean Start deliveries, the midnight phone calls, the emergency food deliveries, the counselling of people in crisis, the help with rent and phones and prescriptions. Then there is the cooking of the soup and the beans and rice, the coordinating of volunteers, writing the blog and the newsletter, trying to raise support. Suing the city just to continue serving with the meetings that that involves, networking with other ministries and organizations. Developing a long range plan to end homelessness. Trying to work with Mount Moriah Cemetery, but lacking volunteer support to do so.
People have said, why don’t you work with FOCUS, as if the money would magically appear from somewhere else, if we did that. We tried to do that, several years ago. They said we did not meet their criteria. We have been serving for 24 years. We have people involved from all different Orthodox jurisdictions. They didn’t like that we were located outside the city and travelling in. I pointed out that almost all of the members of the city churches, and many of the priests, were in that same category. This is part of our mission, to get resources from the suburbs into the city. Philadelphia is a region. We did not fit their cookie cutter, so they are exploring something that fits their cookie cutter view rather than helping strengthen a going concern.
Thanks to the GOP sequester, Bethann’s unemployment compensation has been delayed and reduced twice (which is a breach of the social contract, since that is an insurance that employees pay for). It is not even enough to pay for health insurance. It may barely cover utilities. Now contributions have stagnated, even though I put out a mailing to thousands of customers and church members. I am told to be positive. I am sorry. I just don’t see how. I have been thinking for weeks trying to see how. And just seeing our state and federal governments doing one nasty thing after another to hurt the poor and the middle class to benefit the super rich and big corporations; I don’t see how me speaking out will hurt things any more than they already have been. Why should I just quietly become homeless, without at least trying to make some people understand that what is happening in our state and in our country is mean-spirited and hurts real people.
We have been working hard to try to make things work. We get criticized for the decisions we made. I felt wrong for keeping extra money that was given generously to help. I used it, I thought, in a synergistic way to hire a brother, whom the church was neglecting, who was on the verge of homelessness, to help modernize my business, not knowing that the rug was going to be pulled out from under me by my former best friend, in an email.
At this juncture, I am looking for some type of full time employment. I don’t know if I can handle it with my health and the migraines and the strokes. We can’t live on nothing. The King’s Jubilee receives enough in monthly support to keep the tank filled with gas, insure the TKJ-mobile, and to buy the paper products, iced tea and produce, etc., for Thursday nights. If I get a job, I will have to close down the ministry. It’s as simple as that. I can’t do both. This is extremely painful for me, literally.
Once again, we are three months behind on our mortgage, but this time there are no orders at comeandseeicons.com Somebody came to our rescue and paid our insurance for June, We squeaked by for July and nothing for any of our other bills. We can’t let coverage lapse with Bethann’s pacemaker and my history of strokes. And, no, there is no government safety net.
The right wing lie was the government should get out of the business of helping people because it was getting in the way of the church. Well, it’s out of the way now. I don’t see the church anywhere. The need has multiplied. We should be out there. But it’s just the same token service on our terms.
I am sorry that I have failed so miserably. I am not attractive and upbeat. I am not a sports or TV star. I am apparently not charismatic or persuasive. So the homeless will continue to suffer on my account. The 30 to 50 strokes have made me even more dark and intense about things. Sorry. On the bright side, we may be losing our home and our internet connection soon and this website will come down and you won’t have to hear from me any more.
We looked for the church for 25 years so we wouldn’t have to stand alone in ministry. We thought we had found it. Yet, when we and this ministry were facing the worst trials we had ever seen, we stood utterly alone, with no pastoral support or encouragement. And now the money is gone and I am just so tired of the criticisms and of having to beg and of people telling me they won’t give to help the poor, because of this or that or the other of my personal decisions or statements. What does it matter what I say?