Ana’s pain was like a cloak that strangled her hope and joy and gave no shelter from the chilly nights that assaulted her bones as she tried to sleep on the small parcel of pavement she called home. But it was the loss of her children in a custody battle that pierced her soul.
It was a stinging slap to Ana, who raised her daughter and two young sons alone for a time after her husband left. Eventually he returned and sued for custody, finding an ally in Ana’s mom, who didn’t approve of her daughter’s new boyfriend, Gerardo.
|Ana eased the longing for her children by adopting her houseless neighbors.||In the wake of the loss, a remarried Ana faced new formidable foes, the twin adversaries of depression and addiction. Before long she and Gerardo suffered the additional loss of their housing. Ana eased the longing for her children by adopting her houseless neighbors. In those clearer moments when aching didn’t consume her, Ana put her compassionate heart to work for those around her.|
"They were very active in supporting the community," said Paola Resendiz, part of the Cru® Inner City team serving Los Angeles. "She was connected with a lot of people."
Paola learned their story from Doris, a member of Iglesia Pentecostal Esmirna in Highland Park, California. Doris met Ana during a church outreach, and Ana’s contacts provided an invaluable asset as they worked to get resources to those most in need.
"Some people would come up to her and say, 'Hey, thank you so much for taking the time to sit with us, eat with us, and not being afraid of us,'" Paola said. "Then others would apologize like, 'Hey, I'm coming in, not sober. I'm sorry.' Doris was very gracious, saying, 'Hey, I'm just a human. You don't have to be scared or embarrassed with me. It's God we show respect to.'"
Like Ana, compassionately serving the unhoused came naturally to Doris, but she desired to build an even deeper community, one centered around a Bible study. Her dream was hampered by the realization that sharing the gospel with a transient population sometimes proved a bit more difficult — until Inner City intervened with Homeless Care Kits. The curated kits, containing a warm blanket, socks, gloves, a hat, scarf, toiletries, and gospel tracts, are distributed to partner ministries who are already at work in and familiar with their neighborhoods.
Doris was "grateful for the tracts because they made it simple to share the gospel."
Despite being homeless themselves, Gerardo and Ana helped Doris with the kit distribution and, in the end, were presented with their own kits, though they resisted her invitation to attend church with her.
"They were extremely grateful, and it was perfect, as it had been cold in those days," Paola was told.
Several weeks passed when Ana awoke to someone outside her tent, pitched in an encampment.
"Doris is calling you. She wants you to go to church," the voice said.
When Ana looked outside no one was near their tent. Awake now, she and Gerardo decided it was finally time to take Doris up on her invitation. When they got there, they discovered Doris wasn’t even in the country. She was participating in a short-term mission trip. During the service that morning, both Ana and Gerardo turned their lives over to Jesus.
|“While everyone was looking at the food, Gerardo picked up the New Testament out of the Box and began looking through it.”||They discovered that another person from the church visited the encampment that day, inviting people to church, when someone directed the man to Ana’s tent, telling him to mention Doris. A few hours later and thousands of miles away, Doris answered a call from a fellow church member, who shared that Ana and Gerardo came to church and accepted Christ.|
Almost a year later, Gerardo has remained consistent.
"He goes even when Ana doesn't and worships God on his knees with so much passion," Doris said. "He has confidence and doesn't care what people think, even if he is not dressed nicely or clean."
Months later, as Doris used Inner City's Boxes of Love® campaign to further bless the hungry and unhoused, she noticed Gerardo's passion had not subsided. The Boxes, filled with enough food for a Thanksgiving meal for six, also include gospel literature.
"While everyone was looking at the food, Gerardo picked up the New Testament out of the Box and began looking through it," Doris said. "His face showed admiration for the book as he read through it."
Although Ana is not as committed to church attendance as her husband, Doris said she’s seen improvement even as she continues to struggle in the grip of depression and discouragement.
Not long after receiving the Homeless Care Kit, Gerardo, a construction worker, and Ana, who collects recyclables, were able to secure a motor home for shelter as they prepare for the responsibility of more permanent housing.
In the meantime, they continue to serve others, including 20-year-old Luis, whom they helped find a safe place to sleep.
They are "very welcoming people, love listening to others and helping people with any favors without taking anything in return," Doris said. "The city provides trash bags, and they pick up trash and sweep. They also teach others to do the same."
Lori Arnold serves as senior writer for Cru's inner-city ministry.
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