Actions Speak Louder Than Words
On a rainy November Saturday night, three years ago this week, the Portland Police Bureau moved into the park Occupy Portland had seized. At the time the LifeChange resident leader, Travis Gonzales, had concerns for the mentally-ill occupants regarding how they would emotionally navigate the darkness, heavy rain and police in riot gear (along with anarchists eager for a fight).
He found an ally in me and we walked from Union Gospel Mission down to Portland’s Plaza Blocks (Lownsdale Square on the north and Chapman Square on the south). What a scene! Ecumenical Christians gathered on the west side of the park singing hymns. We stopped for awhile, sang with them and moved on. We walked down near the main point of the resistance at SW Third and Salmon. Although 10 blocks from the Mission, we felt like we were in another country’s war zone.
The armored personal carrier sat ready to roll after the midnight deadline. A loudspeaker screamed the voice of an Occupy Portland leader calling for justice, but avoiding any idea of nonviolent resistance. Travis and I knew the time had come to tend to those caught up in the movement who did not have the endurance to complete the ordeal who we had met at the Mission.
We walked through the park finding a number of men and women scared and confused. Travis knew most of them by name. I awed at how much trust he had earned through running UGM chapel programs and day room services at the Mission. They truly trusted him.
I particularly remember standing supportively while Travis talked to a man paralyzed with fear sitting in the chaos of the park crying. Travis gently asked several questions. “Hey, I know this is freaky, do you want to move to a safer place? Do you have a place to go? Do you want to use my cell to call for help? Can we put you on a TriMet bus? Is there any other way I can help you?”
The man stood up from the mud and we bundled his gear together. No one lectured the man about his choice to tether his wagon to an anarchist fed movement. We simply packed in silence and walked to the bus. The man never really looked at me, but he took the time as he boarded the bus to turn around and thank Travis.
We assisted a woman and another man. Each one listened to Travis making good decisions to get out of harm’s way escaping the terror. I had worked at the Mission for 21 years; Travis had worked for three years. However, Travis invested time alongside these pilgrims (while I presided from above). Our system reflects, “Each one, teach one.” This was peer driven and grace-based ministry at its best.
As the police moved in after midnight, we moved back toward the Mission. We walked and prayed, and then the most stunning moment of the night happened to me. We walked upon a man up in the Entertainment District only a few blocks from the Mission. He shivered in a T-shirt, soaking wet in the cold rain. I felt less compassion for this man than I had felt for the mentally challenged caught up in Occupy Portland.
I felt sorry for him but not moved. Travis remembered the feeling to be, “Out-of-it” and shaking on the streets whereas I did not have this experience. As the priest, I walked around the beaten man. Travis, the Good Samaritan, peeled off his brand-new Columbia coat and said, “Here man.”He showed his gratitude, and we did not say much as we finished our walk back to Third and Burnside.
I do not know what happened to the people we helped put on the bus or even the man who walked off with Travis’s jacket. I know what happened to Travis -- God blessed him with an amazing wife and job while continuing to rule his life. The righteous live by faith and giving away your new coat takes faith. You have to trust the way of Jesus to dominate over materialism. Travis kept quiet about it, but I can’t!
UGM Street Stories are by Executive Director at Union Gospel Mission, Bill Russell. Bill has been a leader at Union Gospel Mission for 25 years. He is the co-founder of Union Gospel Mission’s LifeChange recovery program. LifeChange helps men, women and children escape abuse, addiction and homelessness to transform their lives.
[share facebook="true" twitter="true" google_plus="true" linkedin="true" pinterest="true"]