This is a picture of "Homeless Mary", a well known,"person of little means" in Chicago. When I lived in Chicago(from age zero to thirty) I knew many "colorful characters". In my neighborhood there was "Chee Chee Anny" She mostly said "chee chee". There was the old "Prostitutes in the park" lady. She would lash about with her umbrella, railing about the "prostitutes in the park". Harry Gomala lived in an abandoned semi trailer by the tracks a block from my house. What i remember most vividly about Harry was the first time we went to roust him to buy wine for us. He was not well, he was never well, but his partner was nervous about all us kids there, so he encouraged Harry to come out. "C'mon Harry, a hammuger anna cuppa caffee would do ya good". Harry came to the edge of the trailer, swept his arm over the garbage dump that was where his traier was abandoned and said, " Behold, my vista, boys." I have never forgotten that moment. Harry got down from the semi-trailer and we headed toward 39th street. At the curb, he stumbled and fell. I grabbed his arm and said to my friend, 'Norb, grab his arm" and my best friend, Norbie Ruczinski, said "I ain't touchin' that nasty old fucker". I helped Harry up and he got us our wine. We gave him half a buck because that's what a pint of port or muscatel cost then. For half a buck you could get a hamburger, french fries and a cup of coffee and still have a dime left over. I suspect Harry bought wine. I suppose we went back to roust winos to make runs for us other times, but I don't remember. I only remember Harry that first time. As clear as Christmas.
This was the type of Christaian I aspired to be when I was a Christian. It takes more cojones than I ever had. I don't believe in proselytising, but if you believe you have found the means of eternal joy this would be the way to share them.And to start with here is a quote from Brandt's blog, Adopt-A-Jesus "We cant help people hoping to change them. We love people, and love brings the change, and if no change occurs (in our eyes), we love anyways."
From The Huntington Post by Tony Rutherford
Huntington, WV (HNN) – Brandt Russo, a college graduate, quit his job, sold his stuff, and began ministering to the poor and homeless from a bus run on grease. “I don’t feed the homeless,” said following a screening of “Adopt a Jesus” in Marshall University’s Smith Hall Auditorium, “I eat with them.”
Actually, Russo does more. He once prevented the killing of a homeless man by “five kids who thought it fun.” The man suffered broken bones, but survived. “I feel safer in God’s will in a ghetto with a gun point at me than in a church building,” the non-conventional minister told an audience of 75 to 100 viewers.
He carefully retorted a strictly evangelical approach to winning the homeless to Christ. Russo believes you must first show them love, meet their immediate needs, then, you have the potential for leading a soul to Jesus.
Russo, along with local filmmaker Bob Wilkinson (a WVSU alumni) and producer Charessa Wilkinson (a 2001 MU alumni) followed Russo through the south in a bus than ran on used cooking oil, often salvaged from dumpsters behind fast food restaurants. They pick up hitchhikers, listen to their stories, share food and fellowship, and in the words of Christ, love their neighbor [a stranger] as yourself.
The easy-going Russo lists Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi , Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus among those who have inspired him the most. “Deny yourself, take up thy cross and follow me,” the 20something man has done.
Prior to the screening his toes showed through a pair of tattered slip on sneakers. To him, they symbolized the necessity to become one of the homeless in order to minister to them.
The film resonates with a special one-of-a-kind spirit. Somehow with cameras rolling, you know that Russo’s not embellishing the portrait for viewer’s benefit or empathy.
Warned that they found most of their food for the trip in dumpsters, my stomach turned as he invaded the first unit. A sigh of relief followed when he brought out a hose to siphon grease for the bus. He did not ask permission to shuffle through the trash. He knew what the earthly answer would be. Instead, he stated, my permission comes from Jesus.
Perhaps, the most alarming and poignant scenes occur when he encounters church members. During his trip through the south, he would try parking overnight on the large lots of churches. But, in spite of his Heavenly ordained mission, his long, unkempt hair, tattoos, rings in his nose, and second-hand clothes brought shame not to him, but to so-called fine, outstanding Christians.
You see, they did not want him or his bus on their plush parking lots. Often he would be asked to leave. Some called police. He spent a night in jail. Followers from across the country arrived, however, to make his bail.
He related his experience at a large church with 40,000 members. When he entered with a backpack for the Sunday service, he was escorted out of the sanctuary by security. He was sitting too close to the front. He was within view of the television cameras. After enduring a search, he was escorted to a seat in the rear. Russo, like Jesus, wept.
Ushers understood and tried to comfort, but the experience was an indictment beyond Brandt Russo. He learned that the church removed five or six homeless looking people a week. He knew that some of them would later take their own lives. One church told him that’s why he couldn’t park on their landscaped lot; a man had taken his own life there earlier.
As Russo’s ministry spread, some of the larger churches tried to make amends. One lengthy scene has him setting up a table just on the edge of church property. He has pictures of homeless people in Houston. As the congregation files in, he asks for them to take a picture --- adopt a Jesus --- “he’s hungry and homeless wearing wet, mildewed clothes, does anyone want to feed him, give him a place to sleep?”
Tens of thousands of church members pass.. Seven stop to take a picture of one of the 3,000 on Houston’s streets. Russo views his days ministry as successful.
“Adopt a Jesus” tramples on additional sacred cows. It speaks of --- through the voices of homeless --- of how the Bible can be a beloved Holy Book or a weapon. “Don’t beat me and scare me s---less with the Bible,” an older man states. He recalls “young kids” committing suicide. “So many were beat to hell with a Bible.”
Whether moving down an interstate or a small, dusty road, Russo’s bus opens its doors to everyone. He has a network of community gardens and food kitchens on which he can count, but , the dumpsters of grocery stores often provide morsels. He wonders why boxes of unopened food were tossed due to cosmetic damage to the box?
Speaking of growing food as “part of the creation process,” Russo remarked that rescuing it from the garbage is “part of the resurrection process.”
Smiling throughout the film (and the Q and A that followed) , on film he explains to viewers preparation for a day of ministry --- handing out burritos to the hungry in Texas, goofing off, and getting to know people. The third part --- listening and befriending --- allows him to hand out a blessing, as he does not judge remarking that rich or poor everyone suffers spiritual and emotional pain.
How did “Adapt a Jesus” become a flick? Charessa Wilkinson, producer, told the audience she met Brandt on MySpace. From there on, everything that happened in her words, “it was a God thing” with the film coming together on less than a shoe string budget.
The film emphasizes that spirituality and faith does not need a glorious, massive church building for the worship of God. Be it a camp ground, a rehabilitated crack house, or space under a bridge, all these locations become “churches” to some. God speaks through those who have the courage to reach out and listen.
A photographer, Russo continues on a cross-country tour showing the film FREE where requested. The list has grown far beyond expectations. At the showing, DVD’s are for sale ($15), money from which will go towards a sequel but Russo will not return to his “feed the homeless” bus. He’s selling it to someone who wants to follow in his footsteps.
Despite humiliation, Brandt remains Christ-centered. He pondered dealing with injustices. He conjectured if someone stole his wallet, he might give them his jacket too. But what came next has a rubric of faith: Suppose someone broke into your house, he said, adding, they obviously are not ready to go to Heaven (as a Christian). But, inside, a believer exercising his gun owner rights, shoots and kills the intruder, who happened to be just a kid. And, at the thief’s home, there is a child, maybe two or three years old who now has no father.
And, like the Biblical story of a rich man asking Jesus how he can enter Heaven, Russo calmly deflects the traditional Romans road Salvation plan as the essential portion of his meeting with a stranger. He has to show love and get to know them before he can talk about Jesus.
Once, he was asked by a college student, what could she have in her car for someone homeless, poor, or hitchhiking. “What practical things can I give them?” Naturally, Brandt Russo’s response instills a bit of fear, he answered her question with a three letter word: YOU.
You see, Brandt believes that following the steps of Christ no one can hurt you. Even if they kill you, you go home to your Savior’s Heaven.
To purchase a copy of “Adopt a Jesus,” or learn more about the production: http://www.adoptajesus.com/blog.html.
e-qua yona, Cherokee for 'big bear' is the only nick name I've ever had, at least one I liked. One of my favorite ever students called me that when I taught for the Eastern Band Cherokee. It is Mato Tanka in Lakota.
I have lived a nomadic life and have enjoyed most of it so far.
Seeking balance with the universe or great mystery is what life oughta be about.