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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

-Blog post by Mary J., a Kindness Investor from Houston, TX

When I read Reed’s invitation to share in his daily $10 give on 29Gifts.org, I knew immediately I would be an investor. When I told my mom what I was going to do and suggested she participate, she thought I was nuts.

After reminding me that I’ve been unemployed for two years, my husband and I are in debt, and that my husband won’t be too happy about me giving away $70 to strangers, she added, “We taught you kids to never talk to strangers and now you want me to AND give them money?  Are you crazy?”

Maybe.  But I’m in good company.

I was drawn to my first Kindness Investment, Patricia M., while standing in a very long line at the Post Office.  She was wearing a pink baseball cap, food-stained Donna Karan NY sweatshirt, jeans, and a fanny pack around her waist.  She had near her two fully stuffed backpacks and held an old, scuffed up handheld radio with the earbuds in her ears. She counted her change several times before deciding which services she could afford to add to her shipment.  My first impressions were that she was very well-spoken, very tall, friendly, possibly homeless and had an eye problem, as she leaned in closely to where the clerk’s finger pointed, showing where to sign on the delivery confirmation slip.

After her transaction ended, she turned around several times, asking question after question of the clerk already serving other customers.

“Oh, another question – How do I get a P.O. Box?”  “I’m sorry, one more question. How much does it cost?”  “May I have the forms to get one?”  “Thank you!”  “Bless You!”  The clerk appeared more than happy and patient to answer her. The long line of customers was drawn to her, as well, as we pitched in to answer more questions.  “How much is this?,” she asked aloud to no one in particular.  I told her the shipping box she held was $3.75. Another customer said she gets them for half that at Walmart, so she thanked them and put the box back on the counter.

As she turned to collect her backpacks, I introduced myself.  “Hello, I’m Mary. I have a project I’m working on I think you can help me with.  If you’re not busy for the next 15 minutes or so, I’d love to tell you about it.”   Without hesitation or hint of suspicion, she said, “I’m Patricia.  Yes, I’ll help you.  My bike is in the front lobby with my other things.  I’ll wait there for you.”

After adding the shipping box (the one that Patricia decided not to buy) to my purchase I found out it was half-price!  I approached Patricia in the lobby, told her about Reed’s Year of Giving project and asked if she would accept my $10 kindness investment for the day.  “YES!  God Bless You. I will gratefully accept!  You don’t know what this means to me!  I ABSOLUTELY accept your $10! Thank you!”

“I also saw you needed a box, so I got one for you.”

“Praise the Lord! Thank you!  Oh my God, this is unbelievable”, she said.

I invited 55-year-old Patricia for pizza next to the Post Office and offered to help carry her bags, which were heavier than I thought possible. I could barely carry one and she carried several while riding her bike.   It turns out Patricia is legally blind –  legally blind, toting heavy bags and riding a bike! “This is going to be a very interesting meeting,” I thought.

Patricia is an African American born and raised in Austin, Texas.  A straight-A honor student, she loved learning and reading.  She transferred to Houston in 1978 with her job at the time and has been here ever since.

Things took a downward spiral in 1987-88 after her mother died.  “I lost control of life and reality.  I locked myself away and started destroying myself”, she shared, using the cuff of her sweatshirt to wipe away the tears.  “I was around 38 years old, five months pregnant with a broken foot, the father had abandoned me and I got arrested for probation violation.  Then God intervened.”

During time in jail, she read the entire bible in 60 nights, from sundown to sun-up.  “God planted seeds in me back then and now they’re sprouting”, she said smiling.

Back in court, the judge had just sentenced her to 15 years in jail when she went into false labor.  Seeing she was pregnant, he threw out the sentence and sent her to a rehabilitation center called The Shoulders, a home for pregnant women in trouble.  It was there her daughter was born and “everything became new.”

She and her now 17-year-old daughter were evicted from their apartment last year and have been living in hotels. She has two sons, but didn’t say where they lived. She receives Social Security Disability Income, after losing her sight last year during a routine eye exam to treat what the doctor diagnosed as glaucoma.  Patricia believes she has cataracts and that the glaucoma medicine is what blinded her, so she stopped using the prescribed drops.

“Have you ever been in a burning house filled with smoke?” she asked me.

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well you’re lucky”, she laughed, hinting that she may have.  “That’s what I see – outlines of things, but the details are very dark and smoky.”

“But you ride a bike,” I said in astonishment.  “Do you ever fall or run into anything?”

“Of course!  I’ve even been hit by a car.  You’re gonna fall and roll around in ditches, just like in life. But you get up and keep going.”  Patricia doesn’t see her blindness as a curse, nor is she afraid to die.  Her favorite quote is, “To be absent from the body is to be present with God.”  She believes her purpose in life is to share God’s word, because her life is testament to His promises.

“When you find your life’s purpose, you can live fully and lack nothing, regardless of what’s going on around you.”  After a lifetime of struggling, Patricia knew she was in the presence of God when she finally found rest amidst the turmoil and chaos and blindness.  “You may see me as homeless, but I have everything I need.  I’m in submission!” She’s not sad about being blind.  Her doctors told her she could wake up totally blind any day, but that doesn’t bother her, either.  “The evil that took my eyesight isn’t going to break me.  God gave me other senses.”

Patricia is going to use the $10 towards credit on her bus fare card, as she takes her bike, backpacks and computer with her everywhere she goes.  “I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve been assigned a mission from God and I’m going to fulfill it.  They said Moses and Noah were crazy, too. No one believed them, either,” she laughed.

Her mission to bring attention to government and social service corruption began in 2006.  She needed the box to start shipping legal documents she’s been collecting as evidence.  “I’ve carried this burden long enough.  Literally!  Those bags are HEAVY,” she laughed.  “It’s time to let go and let someone else carry on that part of the mission. God’s got more for me to do.”

Her greatest wish is to find a way for her and her daughter to make a home in San Diego, California.  She wants her daughter to experience more of the world and see that “the sun doesn’t shine any differently on Oprah or Michelle Obama.”  She’d also like to find her long lost older brother, another moment that brought great sadness, as well as rekindle a relationship with her estranged younger brother, who lives just outside of Houston.

Patricia has a presence about her; a pure sense of purpose that pours from her soul.  I felt I was in the presence of courage and greatness and I was very inspired by our meeting.

Her current mission is to make a change.  She loves our country and wonders if Americans really know what the words to our national anthem or pledge of allegiance really mean.  She asked me if I knew the words to The Star-spangled Banner. “Yes, I think I do,” I replied.  “Let’s hear it then.  Start singing.”  So there we were in the front lobby of Pizza Hut singing The Star-spangled Banner at the top of our lungs.  “I love and believe in this country, but we need to fix it.  We can’t keep trusting someone else to do it for us”, she said.

“I want to go to Washington and touch President Obama and he will look around and say, ‘Somebody touched me; who touched me?’  I’m going to draw from his power to make positive change,” she said.  “I’m going to make a change in this country.  God told me to.”

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Today I went to donate blood and was on my way home when I saw a man named “Happy Pappy” standing on the side of the street when I was at a stoplight. I detoured around and parked at a nearby McDonald’s and headed across a few streets then under a bridge to speak with him. I explained the project to him he accepted the $10 and said “Proverbs 28:27 He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses”. The next words he spoke almost left me speechless. Pappy said, “would you like to know what I think about those on unemployment, I think they have got too used to the check coming to them without having to do anything that they just don’t want to work. There is work out there, I’ve mowed lawns, painted houses”.

Pappy decided it was time for him to head to McDonald’s to warm up. I walked back across the way with him and sat in a nearby McDonald’s and we sat and talked for an hour until he said he needed to go.

The conversation with Pappy was very broad. He is 61 and a Vietnam War Veteran and showed the scars on his legs from where he was hit with shrapnel. He has been married twice and has children. Currently he was renting a room nearby but has been on and off the streets for 12 years. He spoke of coming home from Vietnam and working as a Publisher at the local Veteran’s Hospital and then having to return to the Veteran’s Hospital for nearly 2 years of rehabilitation therapy after being in a car accident and didn’t know if he was going to ever walk again.

He’s attempted suicide twice, and showed me the scar across his neck from his most recent attempt in 2001. Pappy attends church 7 days a week and spoke of the 3 different churches he attends service at. He shared how he has been on many prescription drugs due to illnesses, one of those being Hepatitis however he decided to heal himself through God and garlic herbs rather than healing himself through pharmaceutical companies.

He spoke of getting caught panhandling without a permit which has a fine of $154, he went to court and his punishment was making him wait 1 year to get a panhandling permit so he is still on the streets with no permit. He says he has figured out the best place to stand where he can see in all directions and if he sees the police he folds his sign up and walks away, so far this tactic has worked for him.

Pappy said he was going to use the ten dollars for food.

Unfortunately the picture I took of Pappy wasn’t clear. I’ve tried going back to his spot but was unsuccessful in finding him.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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Yab with all of his belongings (photo: Reed)

Today is my brother’s 39th birthday! Happy birthday Ryan. He has helped me in so many ways with my Year of Giving; from suggesting that I start on the anniversary of my mother’s passing to countless hours of computer and camera support to reading every blog post and pointing out mispelled words that I missed. He has been there with me the entire journey. Thanks LB! I love you.

Often times when I speak to someone about the Year of Giving and the conversation turns to the homeless people who I have given to people assume that they use the money for alcohol or drugs.  Of course that has happened.  However, sometimes you would be surprised what a homeless person does when they are offered $10.  I was certainly surprised with Yab’s response.

On this particular day I was walking along 23rd Street near Rock Creek Park in northwest DC.  I saw Yab lying on some cardboard on the side of the road.  He was sleeping.  I took a chance and went over and spoke to him.  He took a second to wake up and I introduced myself.  I explained what I was doing and we started talking.

Yab hasn’t shaved since 1997 (photo: Reed)

Originally from Ethiopia, Yab told me an amazing story about his life.  He patiently invited me back to the year 1943 when he was seven years old living in Ethiopia.  It was July, the cold season, when one morning he volunteered to take some of his family’s cattle up the mountain to graze.  When he got to the top of the mountain, he came across a man standing outside a cave.  “There’s a hyena inside there” the man told young Yab.  He walked cautiously over to the entrance of the cave and peered inside.  Sure enough, there was a massive hyena lying inside.  The man suggested that they build a fire to drive the hyena out.  Yab started to gather sticks and small logs to build the fire and the man came close to Yab and touched his arm and out of nowhere the wood caught fire and the hyena fled the cave.  It wasn’t until 50 years later on President Clinton’s inauguration day on January 20th, 1993 that he realized who that man was.  “I didn’t know it then, but that was God there with me.”  Ever since this realization he has lived a deeply spiritual life.  He shares his message asking everyone to accept Jesus into their life in this short clip.

So how did Yab get to the US from that mountainside in Ethiopia?  Well, in the 1980s Yab was in Somalia working on some oil ventures when he was captured and taken hostage by terrorists who were against the country’s leader Siad Barre, who was later overthrown in 1991.  When the UN and the Red Cross got involved he asked for political asylum to the United States.  Since he had lived in the US briefly in 1958 he was given priority and offered asylum in Minnesota.  He said he didn’t really want to go to Minnesota but they promised him free housing, free education, food, a Pell Grant, etc.  However, when he arrived, he said that the assistance only lasted for about a month and then he was asked to leave the Mayflower Church where he was staying and told that he would have to go. 

He eventually got them to give him $1,600 and a ticket to Washington, DC where he even got to meet with then Mayor Marion Barry before Barry went to prison in 1991.

Later that year Yab became homeless and has been so ever since.

The former electrical engineer now carries signs around with him with messages on them that definitely make you look twice.  I asked him to explain some of the signs; most of which seemed too bizarre to be true.  One said:

Monster Obama must stop cuttin’ human throats at the expense of:

1. Dupont Circle chess players 

2. Oprah Winfrey – Arsenio Hall – Horton – Barry   

3. Odinga PM of Kenya.

One of Yab’s signs (photo: Reed)

Probably the most extreme thing he shared with me was that he believed that President Obama was with the CIA and tried to kill him when he was in the concentration camp in Somalia.  “I know it was him, I saw him.”  I tried to understand his thoughts and messages but it was difficult to follow his logic.  It reminded me a little bit of John from Day 121.  Both men are extremely nice.  Both have turned to signs to spread their message.  And I think both are greatly misunderstood because their choice of messages.

photo: Reed

I finally asked the bearded 74-year-old what he planned to do with the $10.  Would you believe that he gave it back to me and said that he wanted me to have it.  He said that he hasn’t accepted money from anyone since he became homeless in 1991.  “God will take care of me,” he assured me.  I tried to convince him to keep it or give it to someone else, but he said he wanted me to have it.  Faith and dignity are strong stubborn things. 

I’ve walked by that place several times since I met Yab but haven’t seen him again.

Update 12/Oct/2010

I ran into Yab on the streets of DC today.  He was doing well, seemed in good health and good spirits.  He recognized me and remembered our conversation well.  Pushing a cart full of personal items, he was walking south on Columbia Rd. toward Dupont.

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The day had finally come that I had to return to Washington after almost two weeks of incredible work in Manizales. 

I am working on a collage of photos of my trip that I hope to post soon.

I left the coffee and banana finca for the last time and made the way up the mountain.  Four-wheel drive is a must.  I hopped out as we got to Adriana and Augusto’s store and switched the ten dollar bill and we continued on our way.

It’s a pretty drive, wrapping around the mountainous roads of Colombia’s coffee belt for two hours. 

I arrived with plenty of time and started to make my way through the check-in process.  Now I have been to Colombia before and am familiar with the multiple revisions that they do of your luggage, but this time it went a step further.  I had purchased some coffee and other goods to bring back as gifts for some friends.  They poked holes in almost every item I had and tasted it.  They opened up the Colombian rum that I had purchased and poured some over their finger to make sure that it wasn’t liquid heroin!  I know the man was just doing his job and that he is doing it for all the right reasons, however, it’s frustrating to watch someone open and damage all of your gifts for others.

While I was being searched I noticed another man that was being searched who looked familiar.  I asked the customs officer who he was and he said that it was Tego Calderon

, a well-known Latin American Reggaetón artist.  I had heard of his name but couldn’t say that I was familiar with his music.  Anyway, I thought he might be an interesting person to give him my $10. 

Tego Calderon

On board the flight from Pereira, Colombia to Panama’s Tocumen International Airport I saw Tego again.  He was being moved up from coach to first class.  We arrived in Panama and were met on the tarmac by a shuttle bus that took us to the terminal.  As I squeezed into the crowded shuttle bus I found myself shoulder to shoulder with the Puerto Rican musician who appeared to be travelling with his wife and some friends or band members.  I asked him how the concert went in Pereira and he politely replied that it went well.  Then there was a little silence and he turned to chat with one of his friends.

So many of you have written to me talking about anxiety to approach someone and give them $10.  Well, let me tell you…I was very nervous about Tego to accept my $10, but I did.  He accepted my card and read both sides of it.  “So what is it?” he asked in Spanish.  I explained very quickly the concept and he replied, “Man, I don’t have time, we got to catch a flight to Santo Domingo.”  I assured him it would be fast, but he just smiled and laughed and shook his head.  As the doors opened and he exited the shuttle bus he said “I’ll check out your website.”  He and his entourage quickly vanished.

While waiting for the flight to depart, I tried to give my $10 to Alfredo, a COPA Airlines pilot, but he just didn’t feel comfortable.  He asked a lot of questions but didn’t seem to get the giving project.

I boarded my final flight, COPA 488 from Panama to Washington’s Dulles International Airport.  I had seat 14A which is by the emergency exit and doesn’t have a seat in front of it.  As I approached my seat I saw that someone was sitting there.  After double checking tickets, it turns out that Roey was supposed to be in 14B: the middle seat.

The flight was just under five hours and was scheduled to land at 12:55AM.  So I knew I was going to continue the streak of 174 days without missing a day of giving, I needed to find someone on this flight and give them the $10 before we land.  

The plane took off and I pulled out a notebook to try to write some of the blogs from the previous days.  I was so far behind (and still am) and needed to get caught up.  I didn’t have my notebook out one minute before Roey, now in 14B, asked, “Do you journal?  I have more than 2,000 journal entries.”  Inside I was smiling as I realized that I just found my day’s recipient!

Roey (Photo: Reed)

Roey is 29 and lives in Bethesda.  Originally from Israel, he moved here when he was five.  He is passionate about his religion and his heritage and shared openly with me.  When he is not out pursuing some adventure in Costa Rica, Roey works in information security for a firm that specializes in auditing government information systems for compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act.  

He was traveling with three friends on their way back from a trip to Costa Rica.  They met on Gesher City DC, a social website that according to the site is the “one-stop connection to all things young and Jewish in DC!”  They had been on an amazing eco-farm while they were there.  Roey got his camera out and showed me the many photographs he took while visiting this beautiful natural paradise.  Here Roey talks a little bit about his general impressions of the “Ticos” – that is the name given to the local people of Costa Rica.

We talked about coffee, as I had just been on a coffee plantation and some of the people that he met on his trip were in the coffee business.  It sounded like the highlight of their trip was a day that they visited the Cacao Trails in Cahuita.  Roey said they got to see the entire chocolate making process.  And no tour apparently is complete without tasting the final product.  “It was the best chocolate I have ever tasted,” Roey told me.  He explained that the flavor is so much better because they do not extract the cocoa butter like many commercialized chocolate manufacturers do. 

Roey wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the $10 but he said he planned to do something for someone else.  I look forward to hearing how it was used.

We talked the length of the entire flight.  I met his two friends Julia and David too (the fourth friend took a different flight).  In fact, I even gave Julia and David a ride home.  They didn’t live too far away from where I live so it was nice to be able to help them out.  Roey stayed behind as his parents were on their way to pick him up.

Roey fresh off the plane (Photo: Reed)

Roey is a guy who likes to make connections.  He loves to think of the people that he knows that might be able to help you out or simply be a good friend.  I think I left with a half-dozen names of people or places that he thought might be of interest to me.  I haven’t followed up on them yet, although I should.  Roey loves to meet new people and if you are in the DC area and open to meeting new people, I know Roey would love to meet up!

An interesting tidbit.  The following day the blog was accessed by somebody in Santo Domingo.  I don’t have too many visitors from there, so who knows, maybe it was Tego!

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John at the corner of 34th and Massachusetts Ave. (Photo: Reed)If you have ever driven by the Vice President’s official residence here in Washington, DC you might have seen this man. 

His name is John and every day for the last 12 years he has been holding signs on the northeast corner of the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 34th Street in Northwest DC. I myself have seen him many times during the afternoon rush-hour, but last Wednesday I decided to stop and meet him. 

John is a simple man; his entire outfit purchased from thrift stores.   He stands about 5’7” and holds his sign for hours on end. For the next two hours I listened intently to John share his life story with me. 

Born during wartime in Warsaw, Poland in 1943, his family moved to Milan, Italy in 1947 where he spent most of his childhood and attended Jesuit school. When he was 15, he says he was sexually molested by a Catholic Priest.  He shares with me intimate details of the account. This event changed John’s life. 

Before the molestation, John says that he was a happy 15-year-old. Even in pictures, he says there was a marked difference before and after the incident. He later moved to Canada and eventually ended up in Washington, DC in 1965. 

Through all of this time, he says he had turned inward and shut out others. He shied away from girls and led an unhappy life. In 1968 he went back to Poland where he said he “married the first girl he met.”  He is now separated from his wife, but keeps in regular contact and says that they are good friends.  His children are grown and although it sounds like he doesn’t have a close relationship with them, he talks very proudly about them.  He says that he was not always the best husband and father due to the emotional stress he suffered over the years. 

According to John, the molestation stifled his entire life.  He didn’t really even make the connection that his social and personal struggles were a result of the molestation. It wasn’t until he learned in 1997 of a Catholic Church pedophile scandal in Texas that he started to recover the memory of his tragic past. “After becoming aware of the damage, 39 years of misery, I wrote to the Vatican Embassy. I was ignored. I made a sign of a big question mark and stood outside the nunciature.” 

And so he started in 1998 to protest in front of the Vatican’s nunciature to the US, which is an ecclesiastical office of the Roman Catholic Church. Basically it’s a diplomatic post of the Holy See, whose representative is called the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States and has a similar rank as ambassador. I always thought he protested there because it was across the street from the Vice President’s house, however, come to find out that he is actually standing directly in front of the nunciature. 

Over the years, John has had many signs. Some of the signs he has had over the year say…
          “MY LIFE WAS RUINED BY A CATHOLIC PEDOPHILE PRIEST”.
          “VATICAN HIDES PEDOPHILES”
          “VATICON PATHOLOGY”
          “VATICAN’S STUPIDITY – CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY”
          “SOCIOPATHS HIDE PEDOPHILES” 

Copy of the 1997 letter to the Archbishop

John shared with me so many different facets of his time in front of the nunciature. He gave me a copy of a letter he sent to the Archbishop of Washington, DC. He showed me a paper that he keeps with him that details every interaction he has had with the apostolic nuncios (currently Pietro Sambi) over the years. Next to each interaction, he has written the time, date, and what happened. It was sad to see that many of the interactions ended in the nuncio calling John stupid or an imbecile. 

So I asked John what it was that he wanted? I was surprised to hear that all he wanted was financial retribution. I feel that he probably is a voice for others who have been sexually abused by members of the church. I asked him, “If the Catholic Church gave you appropriate financial compensation, would you still come out here tomorrow with your signs?” The answer was “no.” He said that was all that he wanted. 

This got me thinking. Maybe he needs to take a new approach. Since it wasn’t clear to me what he wanted, maybe the Catholic Church isn’t aware either. I suggested he change his signs to reflect what he wants. I don’t feel that the signs that he currently has foster an environment where he and the Church could openly talk. Maybe you say that the Catholic Church would never offer a financial settlement, I don’t know. He claims that a priest came out of the nunciature once and told him that he had no case because of the statue of limitations. 

John holds his banner during the afternoon rush-hour (Photo: Reed)

I don’t know what you think about this whole thing. Please share your comments. Do you think he is going about his crusade in the right manner? What would be the most effective way for him to get the financial reparation that he feels he deserves? If he continues with the signs, what would be the most effective message? 

You might think John is crazy. You might think he is wasting his time. After spending two hours with him, I can tell you that he is extremely passionate about this. Many times he struggled to tell me things. Sometimes it was because he didn’t know the right English word for things (his first language is Polish), however, many times language wasn’t the issue. His emotions were so strong that he simply couldn’t express his true feelings. I feared that he was taunted by many of the people who walk or drive by. The truth is that I didn’t see any of that. In fact, many cars would honk and give him the thumbs up and shout praises to him. I know that must motivate him to travel an hour each way every day, taking two buses, and then withstand the elements. 

John has received numerous death threats, but that hasn’t stopped him. He asked me, “Do you think I should give up?” I said, “You are so passionate about this, you need to follow your heart.” His mouth tightened a little and he looked toward the ground and nodded his head. He didn’t need to say anything…we both knew that he would never give up. 

John will use the $10 to make copies of some of the materials he hands out to people who stop and speak with him. 

You can read more about John on his website or visit him in person every day from around 4:30pm until dark at the corner of 34th and Massachusetts in Northwest DC. 

UPDATE: April 23, 2010 

I met with John on Wednesday and he asked me to post this quote from Winston Churchill.  (I have also seen this quote attributed to John F. Kennedy, not sure who originally said it) “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”

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