Abuse, Lucky Strike, and a Phone: Days 31-33: 40 Days of Haven: Reflection:

The below reflections from 2012 come from a stretch of nights that were very intense. I remember like it was yesterday. People who are experiencing homeless and living on the streets are extremely vulnerable and face constant abuse, violence and intimidation. The post “Abuse” from 2012 is one of a two part series that ecompasses some of my first days transitioning from life in the shelter and more on the streets of San Antonio.

As a wrote earlier, I am spending the nights of Holy Week 2022 away from my home and reconnecting with the unhoused and marginalized communities. On the third night, I spent some time reconnecting with my good friends Neville and Joe.

Last night, we all met up at Corazon’s weekly recovery circle at Travis Park Church and had dinner. After dinner, I hung out with Neville to catch up and watch a movie we been planning to watch together. Neville has been a client who has seen great transformation with the help from outreach workers from CAM, Corazon, and SAMM. Our original hope was to help Neville return to his home country of Zimbabwe, but his plans were altered after COVID-19 changes in Africa and Neville’s ability to find shelter at a SAMM shelter. Now, Neville is off the street and living safely inside a comfortable room. I will write more about Neville in the weeks to come.

After spending some time with Neville, I walked over to the Riverwalk and found my friend Joe. Joe currently lives on the streets of San Antonio. He is an active member of our Alamo City Street Choir that meets at Corazon and plays a mean trumpet! He is also an active client in our recovery circle and small groups. Joe is a very loyal man who has a big heart but struggles with addiction. His addictions, like many of our clients, keeps him from proper services and programs. Joe has been on the streets since 2012 (the same year as my 2012 lenten journey – ten years ago). He was 34 when he landed on the streets and has been stuck in a repetitive cycle ever since.

Last night he showed me all the places he stays downtown and we eventually found a spot to sleep near the River. After laying our stuff down, we spent many hours talking about life, addiction, faith, and our families. He told me jokes and made me laugh all night. More seriously, we also spoke about the gaps in the homeless response system and how the system is often set up to fail clients like Joe due to the lack of funding for proper treatment, detox, and recovery. As a non-proft provider, I must do a better job finding the care that will work for people like Joe. He a treasurer in our community and we should cherish his presence and gifts. He is a divine image of God. I have full confidence that he can be transformed if the system was set up in the right way. We have lots of work to do!

Please reflect on these posts from 2012 and remember the difficulties our friends face living on the streets: The old post below may trigger some. It still triggers me to read. I often wonder about Christi and where she is right now. Is she in danger? Is she alive? Is she still on the streets? Im afraid one if not all those things can still be true.

We must get better.

Abuse: Posted on : (Bridge Night #1, Part 1)

Since returning back from my youth retreat, and during the second part of my journey, I have slept more “on the streets” rather than staying at the outdoor shelter. After weeks at the shelter, I have made really good friends around town…learning from their experiences has made me more educated about the street life and they taught me how to manage my time and decisions.

Life away from the shelter has been a nice change…but also a challenge. The streets are much more difficult to manage and personally control, but the increased freedom is nice. (Although there are limitations to that freedom and liberty depending on city ordinances.)

I have stayed in sheds, barns, and campsites, but until last Monday, I have not fully slept under a city bridge. I needed to experience this for multiple reasons.

After I finished Edison Young Life Club on the South Side of San Antonio, I planned on finding some of my friends who sleep under a bridge near a city park. Sleeping with friends is much safer and informative…

My plan was to walk through the park (near the bridges) around 9:15pm, find my friends, and learn where to stay. In the end, if I could not find them…I would keep walking to the outdoor shelter and make it in before curfew at 10pm.

A full proof plan. Now I had to enact that plan.

I arrived at the park at 9:30pm after checking out a few bridges around the area. No sign of Georgia and my friends.

I had a choice… Go through the park to get to the outdoor shelter or take the main road. (Both ways were paths my friends took before…it was a 50/50 chance to find them.)

Something told me to go into the park…and turn left…so I did.

100 yards into the park, I saw two shadowy figures, who could have been my friends, sitting on a park bench. As I got closer, I realized it was a random boyfriend talking with his girlfriend…but they were not talking…they were arguing.

In fact, they were arguing a lot.

The arguing increased to verbal fighting and right before I could move any closer…the boyfriend spat in the face of his girlfriend and walked away yelling and screaming.

I was frozen. (This all happened within seconds) I said to her silently, “Please don’t chase him or provoke him even more,” but immediately she ran to him, pushed him from behind, and he fell to the ground. Just as I started to get closer to step in…he got up and started punching her multiple times and hitting her over the head with a bottle.

It happened that quickly.

My mind was racing…but all of the sudden I found myself charging the dude and getting ready to take him out.  I kept yelling… “Back off!”

Mind you, I never have been in a fight.
Not even growing up.  When I was a kids, I always hated play fighting or wrestling….I was the kid who always got hurt.
But tonight, I was ready to go!

Come what may.

Before I could reach him and take him down…he ran away.

I was surprised. Even impressed.
I am not that intimidating.

However, I should not be flattered.
Most abusive men are cowards.
He was a coward. No room to take on another man…just the woman.

When I approached her, she was crying and badly beaten. I said to her, “you are safe now, you can trust me…I am safe.”

Now, my statement made sense to me…I knew I would not hurt her. Nevertheless, as you might guess, she was not too sure about me…and I don’t blame her.

After some time talking…I told her I was a pastor. “You are?” she asked back.

“Yep, I know it’s crazy…but I really am….and I can help you.”

“That means you were suppose to be right here at this very moment.” she replied.

“That’s what I am afraid of,” I said back in totally honesty, “let’s get you some help.”

She was bleeding from the head quite badly. There was a lot of blood. She was also getting dizzy. So I helped her to the main street and had her sit by a tree.

She debated going to the hospital or to a women’s shelter. It was her choice. I told her I would do exactly want she wanted and sought to find the safest option.  But she was hesitant to receive any official help from a shelter or a hospital.  She was afraid they would ask more questions at the hospital and get her boyfriend in trouble, but I said they will ask questions anywhere… ( I really didn’t know this…but I was assuming as much without knowing all the facts…)

She eventually chose the hospital. I called my friend Emily to pick us up and take us to the hospital. Emily was gracious and kind to help.  I had to pull out my iPhone to call her…and locate exactly where I was standing.   Randomly enough, my friends pulled up to me on their bikes to check out all the commotion.  They knew who the woman was…and her boyfriend….(actually common law husband they said)… They were gracious to help for a minute, comfort her, and help her get situated in my friends car.

(I was afraid they would be confused about my iPhone…but they have never mentioned it since….I guess it didn’t bother them I had a smartphone or a friend to call who has a nice car…)

Emily and I drove her to the closet hospital in downtown San Antonio.  As I checked her in at the ER…I realized the nurses had to assume I might be the abuser…it was an awkward feeling… I have never been treated like an abuser before…it was a strange feeling.  It made me think about the men who really treat women in such awful ways….

After a few minutes of observation, the nurses realized I was helping her and assisted her to the ER…so they became more accommodating to my presence.

As we were waiting for her doctor, she told me her life story.

Her name was Christi. She was born in Abilene, Texas. Her father beat her as a child and her mom taught her to sell, cook, and do meth as a teenager.  By 16, she had already been raped multiple times, grew accustomed to abusive boyfriends and family members, and learned how to live life on the streets to survive.  At 17, Christi left Abilene and began living on and off the streets in South Texas. The drug use intensified, the violence got worse, and she went to jail for cooking and selling Meth—-the trade her mother taught her back in Abilene.

My heart was breaking as she told me her story.
All I could do was listen and pray.

My mom was raised in Abilene, TX.  Christi and my mom went to the same high school. (Obviously years apart….)   My grandfather worked as a pastor and taught in the Bible Department at Abilene Christian University for decades.  I went to Abilene almost every year at Christmas and Summer breaks (staying at the Embassy Suites near the mall she would sell most of her drugs) to visit my mom’s parents.  I don’t know why I was surprised to hear she was from Abilene…but all I kept thinking about was my mom.  She is a woman too…

Also, it was not comforting to know that Christi would most likely go back to the same guy after all of this was over.   This broke my heart even more.  I wanted to control her decisions for her…. Sure, I was helping for now…but I could not change the entire situation.

The nurses checked her vitals, cleaned her wounds, and a few hours later discharged her back into the streets.  The Hospital cared for Christi well…but they have no authority over the abuse… so after the care was completed Emily took her to the indoor shelter where Christi stays most nights.

The time was 11:45pm.

Bad News.  I was way past my curfew…so I needed to get back and find my friends.  (They were nice enough to point out the general area where they would be sleeping under the bridge when they ran into me and Christi before we went to the hospital.)  I was glad Emily was there to take Christi back so I could find my place before the night got even later.

As I walked back to the park…I realized there was a good chance I could run into Christi’s boyfriend or common law husband.  So, I prepared for the worst.  I didn’t want to see him…but kicking his tail was an emotion that was real inside my soul.  It gets ugly out there.  Even for a passive pastor.

As I entered the park again (trying to get to the bridge where my friends sleep), I saw a man at the same park bench.  I hesitated, backtracked, and tried to discreetly take a different route…but before I could find another way….

The man screamed, “Hey you…yeah you…where the hell do you think your going!”

My heart stopped and I was preparing to get my butt kicked by this man.

Come to find out….my first night under the bridge was just getting started…..

I was in the thick of it now!

Lucky Strike: Posted on : (Bridge Night #1, Part 2)

The man screamed, “Hey you…yeah you…where the hell do you think your going!”

My heart stopped and I was preparing to get my butt kicked by this man.

Come to find out….my first night under the bridge was just getting started…..

I was in the thick of it now!

The man kept yelling at me to stop walking away from him.  At this point, I really was scared for my safety…so I kept walking away.  As I kept walking, he started to run…and for some reason…I didn’t run.   When I looked back, I realized there were more people there than just this man…four to be exact, 3 men, 1 woman.  They were all intent on talking to me…So, I turned around to face their questions.

As the man approached me, he said, “What were you doing coming into this area and sneaking around all suspicious-like…I have never seen you around here before.”  It was then I was almost certain it was not Christi’s boyfriend…but I was not 100% positive…

“Just looking for my friends, Georgia and Jesse” I said back calmly but certain. “They told me to meet them around here for the night…”

The man paused and believed me…”They sleep around here most nights…yes…but why were you looking into our area?”

“I thought you might be them just hanging at the park…and when I realized you were not them…I walked away…no worries man…I am not here to interrupt your night.” I responded while trying to stay cool and collected.

“My name is Cowboy” he aggressively stated. “I can be your best friend…or your worst nightmare…If you don’t cross me….I won’t cross you…I will even give you the shirt off my own back…I can be that good to you…but don’t you ever cross me…got that?  This is Jackson, Bolton, and Samantha…they are always here with me…making sure nobody causes trouble or interferes with our business…”

It felt like I was in a bad movie scene…but this conversation was real as can be…

Despite his lecture and my response, Cowboy still didn’t trust me…and was very forceful.  So, I resorted to my go to “trick of the trade” when I want to talk to someone I don’t know or calm someone down.


I have learned that if you offer someone on the streets a cigarette…they always accept and friendship can develop…and most of the time calm the person down.  It has worked many times for me over the past 38 days.

I know…it’s crazy.  I don’t even smoke…

A youth pastor passing out tobacco.  I might get fired!   Well…

I’m not that worried about what my church will think.  I work at a church that still allows it’s staff to smoke outside on campus.  There is even a large plastic cigarette container outside our youth ministry entrance for employees to take a smoke break.  I even went to a University and Divinity School that was funded by the largest tobacco estate in the nation.  Duke….who owned American Tobacco…  Mr. Duke and I helped fund one of the largest church movements in the nation!

Cigarettes cause major problems…and I find it disgusting.  They are also very expensive.  Most people on the street don’t buy Marlboro Reds…but they buy the cheap brands at the bottom of the gas station shelf.

After I passed out my cigarettes…small changes took place in our conversation.  The talk became calm and friendly.  After the break,  they helped me find my friends…and even said they would take me to Church Under the Bridge the next night to get some good food.

Small Change!

It’s amazing how something as simple as a smoke…can change someone’s attitude from rage to relaxed and calm.

The night continued….

Matthew 11:28-30: Posted on 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”(The Message)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (NIV)

iPhone: Posted on 

For the first three weeks of my Lenten journey of homelessness, I gave up my iPhone for a simple Go Phone. No data plan. No Internet. No google maps. No ESPN updates. No Facebook. No tweets.

The main reason I gave up my smartphone was for safety. I did not want to get jumped over a phone…. (However its amazing how many homeless people have Go Phones…even prepaid Smartphones.)

Giving up this idol was a much harder thing to do than I anticipated. I could not check Duke games. I could not find the VIA bus schedule online. I could not check my email away from work. It was like going to drug rehab…I was away from my usual fix!

I was very disconnected from my usual plug of information.

It amazing how our society is addicted to connectivity..To massive information…To data…To instant communication.

At first, I thought not having my phone would be less stressful…but not having it made me more stressed?


When I went on our youth groups Spring retreat to St. Louis, I needed my iPhone back so I could communicate properly with my church and parents. I even used it to drive around St. Louis.

I had my drug back. It felt amazing!
But…also sad. I was getting used to not emailing my work after working hours. It was beginning to become peaceful. That feeling was gone now. I had my iPhone back…back to the life of information overload.

When I returned to my journey 4 days later, I kept my phone. I needed to take photos and document some of my journey through live blogging. It has been really helpful. I got some amazing pictures and stories.

However, during Holy Week after Maundy Thursday I am limiting my iPhone use for the last days of my journey. I need to take a step back and fully reenter the disconnected life.

I don’t know…but Easter is just around the corner.

Back to 2022:
Here is a fun video of the Alamo Street Choir:

One thought on “Abuse, Lucky Strike, and a Phone: Days 31-33: 40 Days of Haven: Reflection:

  1. Pingback: Day 34 & 35: Detained & Jesus: 40 Days of Haven: Reflection | Pastor Gavin's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s