No two Stand Downs are ever alike. This year was no exception. Last year’s torrential rain and ankle deep mud were replaced with heat, humidity, blowing dead grass and dirt, and biting insects. Our great VA and Navy medical teams took care of our allergies and bug bites in between stabilizing patients with much more serious conditions. Several of us commented that the ambulances never seemed to stop coming and going.
Although the final numbers have not been published, I suspect they too will be different this year. Normally a tent holds 25-30 participants and four or five tent leaders. Many of the men’s tents were only half full. That is a very good indication that veterans are getting off the street. On the other hand, Zulu tent was overflowing with nearly 50 women veterans and children. We had only 20 cots and three tent leaders. Since no cots were available from the Command tent, I went door to door telling each tent about our plight. Not only did we get more than enough cots that night, but most of the tent leaders stopped by Zulu tent all weekend to make sure that we did. This is the kind of loving community that we have at Stand Down.
In spite of Barbara Lasure’s baptism last Sunday, she and Dr. Gwen Taylor found time to come to Stand Down. Barbara spent time with me in Zulu tent as a VIP visitor, meeting the women veterans and their children, talking about her baptism, and exploring the camp. Dr. Taylor volunteered in the clothing tent. More importantly she brought one of her clients to Stand Down. Her client has for 24 years thought she had been dishonorably discharged. At Stand Down she received a letter from the VA that proved her honorable discharge, making her eligible for benefits, and replacing years of shame with unspeakable joy. She also reported that she had been clean and sober for one year.
Miracles happen in the clothing tent. Last year one of the women veterans of Zulu tent was offered a job at Stand Down. She had no appropriate clothes to wear to her new job. The volunteers in the clothing tent put together an entire professional wardrobe for her, including coordinated suits and shirts, shoes, purses, underwear, and jewelry. Mary Kaye gave her a makeover and a complete supply of makeup chosen just for her. This year she came back to Stand Down because her teenage daughter was going to her very first job interview on Friday afternoon. Her daughter left perfectly dressed for that interview.
Housing and court are always in great demand. Even before the Zulu families were escorted to the tent one mom wanted to get started. She had two tickets and a conviction she wanted expunged. As she waited in the court area I noticed her two-year old had no shoes. I snuck in the back door of the clothing tent before it opened and snagged him the only pair of shoes in his size. As the legal process dragged on this mom became more and more nervous. Her highest priority was housing for herself, her husband and their four kids, including her other severely autistic son. This family of six had been sleeping at God’s Extended Hand and walking the streets during the day. While she waited for her attorneys, I went to the St. Vincent de Paul tent to find out what time it would open. It had just opened. I learned that there was one and only family room available and they would put her first on the list. Praise the Lord!
After she finished in court we dropped her two-year old off in the kid’s tent, headed to the tent where she could complete the housing survey needed for permanent housing, and then to the VA tent to sign up for a VASH voucher that would pay 70% of her permanent housing rent. Needless to say, this was a very long morning, but God does not waste waiting. He used this time by prompting her to tell me story after story about how badly she had been treated by one church after another. My heart broke when she said she came to church underdressed because she was wearing the only clothes she owned. Her humiliation grew when she was asked to come to the front and answer questions about God – questions she could not answer because she did not yet know God. This was a golden moment to talk about Jesus and his love for common people. While we waited I got to tell her story after story about Jesus. She listened intently and asked questions. I do not know how God will heal these church-inflicted wounds to her heart, but at least she now knows there is a difference between those churches and Jesus.