New book chron­i­cles char­ity’s mis­sion

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Suzanne Ma­jors Davis West­lake Picayune con­tribut­ing writer

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.”


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