Pastor Bryan Catherman. Salt Lake City.
"I could sure use a coffee pot that I can put over a campfire," the burly man requested of our team. "The old aluminum one we had finally melted." Not only did he want to make a cup of joe, he wanted to boil drinking water for he and his friends.
The west side of North Temple was our area of ministry for the evening and God brought this man to us. Unlike most we meet there, he wasn't hopped up on anything (that we could tell). He was helping a less fortunate homeless woman. We prayed with them and bought them some taquitos. In turn, he shared stories of his living conditions and let us know about some of his homeless companions. "Bear" is his name.
Bear lives in a tent community hidden from view and way off the beaten path. I was invited to visit the city and pray with them. "We sure could use a look'n in on from a man who talks with God" he said.
I prayed and put a call out for a coffee pot. A faithful and generous family in our church not only bought a campfire-style percolator, they also bought some thermoses. I scoped out the location ahead of time and then Pastor Brett and I made our way to Tent City.
"I think it's through there" I said to Brett, pointing through the hazy windshield. He could barely hear me over the pounding rain on the roof of my car.
The trail was sloppy and the bushes were soaked. Trash greeted us before any other signs of life. Then we heard some voices leaking out of the first of what looked like a half dozen tents and tarp lean-tos. I can't say I ever would have considered the spot as a good place to pitch a tent, let alone a homeless village.
"I'm looking for Bear," I said.
"His tent is on the end" we heard from the first 'tent.' After winding our way to the last tent, a woman stuck her head out. She was the same woman I met the night I encountered Bear. "He's not here. He went out for food last night and never came back. I don't know where he is."
Just then we noticed a man scoping us out. He was just slightly up the trail and probably thought we were cops.
"We brought him a coffee pot" I said, "but we can come back."
The woman asked us to crawl down the bank to the door of her tent to look at her shoulder. Apparently she hurt it and couldn't get out of her tent. For a number of reasons, including that we didn't want to be in a tent alone with a woman and the sinking feeling that as soon as we stepped down we'd be jumped by the men living in the tent next door, we did not go to the tent. We prayed for her and then made our way back to the car.
As we drift through our lives--eyes on screens and status updates--we tend to remain ignorant of places like Tent City. Our neighbors are living like they're in a Guatemalan jungle-city. They have no address, electricity, running water, sewer, trash services, or respect. They live on a couple bucks a day. And they're only a quick-winter's day away from death.
For $2.63 in gas money, you can travel to a mission field where the lost and broken speak English. With the money you might have spent on flights elsewhere, you can buy food, tarps, and bibles. In an hour or two, you can be a blessing to the "least of these" who also happen to be your neighbors. They're open to prayer and if you look them in the eye, they'll listen to you as you share the gospel.
We'd love to have missionary help (to the homeless or otherwise.) If you'd like to be a part of seeing Salt Lake redeeming by the power of the gospel, please don't hesitate to contact us. And please, please, keep Rose Park, Fairpark, Glendale, and the rest of Salt Lake in your prayers.