New book chronicles charity’s mission
Alan Graham is well known for feeding and housing homeless people, but he’ll tell you his real job is connecting souls.
Last week, his first book debuted. “Welcome Homeless” chronicles the journey that began with several parishioners of St. John Neumann Catholic Church after a retreat almost 20 years ago. One of the men at the retreat was Houston Flake, who turned out to be a cherished friend and spiritual guide of Graham’s.
“This pot smoking-cussing-street guy better demonstrated the characteristics of Christ than anyone I have ever met,” Graham said.
Flake, now deceased, introduced Graham to the world of street people and transformed his life forever. After deciding to take food and necessities to homeless people, the team of friends who originated Mobile Loaves & Fishes discussed what to put on their first truck. One member thought prepaid phone cards would be a good idea. Flake, who had lived on the street, nixed that saying, “They don’t need phone cards. No one wants to talk to them. They don’t want to talk to anybody. You need to put socks on that truck.”
While Flake had the practical experience the group lacked, Graham offered an entrepreneur’s mind with a servant’s heart. Once Graham committed to the project, he left his successful real estate development life behind, captured the conscience of his community, perfected the delivery and plotted the ministry’s growth.
To date, more than 4 million meals have been served. The next logical step was to find a real solution for the problem of homelessness.
“There is virtually no greater Gospel call than to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead, and we’re not doing it,” Graham said. “We might write a little check every now and then, but if you really want to live the call of Jesus Christ, you have to be relational. This book is all about participating in the lives of some of the most broken and battered humans on the planet.”
Graham also reminds readers that Christ was homeless on earth.
Graham says churches proclaim the word of God, “but they’re not putting the meat on the gospel. You and I are leaving the church on Sunday, going to the Macaroni Grill, spending the day on the lake, and calling it a Christ-like life. To me, there’s not much about that that mirrors the life of Christ.”
He believes in action, and agrees with Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
For Community First Village, the journey began in 2004, when Mobile Loaves & Fishes bought its first used RV to lift one person off the streets.
After years of resistance, the nonprofit’s 27-acre master planned community opened east of Austin in December 2015 for the chronically homeless and disabled.
Graham said “the people at Community First come from obliterated families,” but this community becomes their extended family, providing them with emotional and spiritual support. Everything they need is right there: gardens for food, chickens for eggs, laundry facilities, an outdoor movie theater, medical clinic and more. He’s hoping his concept will grow. “People come from all over the world to study our prototype, but mainly the U.S.,” Graham said.
Graham’s favorite part of the journey is seeing “that spark of transformation, when people who think they have it together encounter ... people we perceive don’t have anything together. That breaking-down of stereotypes is the greatest thing to watch.”