I have a passion for people, and I was helping the homeless as best I could. But I had to rename this account to:
DISTURBING THE PEACE
Many times I’ve been astonished by people whom much of the public have written off as worthless. Working with men at a homeless shelter in Indianapolis has been a tremendous blessing, enabling me to meet some remarkable characters. But one incident that happened at a homeless camp in another city stands above all others in my memory.
Tent-city was one of the kinder names used in reference to homeless camps around the metropolis. Although I’d frequented several of these communities delivering relief items, this was the biggest I’d seen. Situated within a forested area along the banks of a slow-moving river, this group left me stunned. They’d named their little community, “Peace-town”.
They even had their own mayor, an elderly black gentleman regally mantled in African motif, topped with a colorful Kofi. Inside Mayor Mike’s huge canvas tent, we sat cross-legged as he proudly shared about his people.
“We have a population of seventy-five. Forty men, thirty women and five children.”
I had questions. “I understand you have your own laws here?”
“We do. Major offenses include theft, hard drugs, and any form of violence. We tolerate alcohol and marijuana, but only in strict moderation.”
“We have three men assigned as enforcers. Chino! Come here!”
Within seconds a heavily muscled Asian man popped into the tent, followed by two gargantuan fellows, a Caucasian and an African American. All three were profoundly polite, smiling amiably.
“This is Chino, our sheriff. The white one with the goofy grin there (pointing) is Harley. And that’s Alan. They also accompany small groups around the city on errands. Chino, tell this man the penalty for committing a major offense in Peace-town.”
“They are permanently banished from the community.” He stated matter-of-factly.
After shaking my hand their police force scooted back outside and I continued.
“You been to college?”
“No, graduated high-school though. I’m self-educated. We do have two men with bachelor’s degrees, and another mastered in music. We even have an engineer. Most have either a high-school diploma or GED. We encourage education, and sometimes we take field trips to the library in small groups.”
Mike held up an index finger with a sudden idea. “How about spending the night with us?”
This was entirely too intriguing for me to leave just yet, so I grabbed a blanket and locked up my little red Chevrolet. Their surreal society was like walking through an exciting novel.
That evening as sparks from a community bon-fire swirled heavenward, skilled troubadours, faces aglow in fire-light, held the camp spellbound with tales of knights, the Incas, and seafaring adventurers. There must’ve been forty people seated around the blaze. Sleepy kids rubbed their eyes yawning, not wanting to miss story time. Around a second, smaller fire, someone softly strummed a guitar. On the other side of camp a smooth alto voice sang, while crickets chirped.
I was honored to lead an evening prayer. They always prayed over their meals like one giant-sized family. Everybody shared what little they had with each other. Their peaceful unity was astounding. Several times I was told, “We’re not homeless, Peace-town is our home.”
They had their difficulties, yet comparing the serenity of this little community to that of society as a whole… Let’s just say that some church congregations could learn from this group. Love, harmony and grace ruled.
I slept all night by the fire. When the sun again peeked through the trees, a married couple in their thirties supplied me with a fruit breakfast and big smiles. Praising God for such a wonderfully, peaceful respite from my routine, the camp suddenly exploded into mass confusion.
Several police cars and a pick-up truck full of men with ball-bats charged into camp like wild banshees. I took refuge in my car and began to leave, but decided I had to see what would happen to my new friends. I hid the car, crept back up to the perimeter and peeked through the bushes.
They smashed everything in sight. Slashing tents with knives, they ripped them down. Tears streamed down the Children’s faces. They were terrified. Chino tried to stop several attackers from collapsing a tent with a young mother and her infant inside. He was horribly beaten for his efforts. When the cops had everyone crowded together on their knees with hands behind their heads, they piled up all the contents of the camp into two giants heaps and set fire to them. All the people’s clothing, food and shelter were gone in an instant.
Peace-town was on county property which had sat idle for sixteen years. The powers that be didn’t like, “Tramps and homeless trash” living free on their unused property.
That night I wept before the Lord as I prayed for those people. And then prayed that the love and grace Jesus brings would cover the earth.