Faces of Restoration

by James Wu

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fter fifty years of working as a pastor, the Restoration Project’s Chaplain Harris Lee maintains his devotion to helping the poor. Lee’s journey to Central Lutheran Church was an unexpected one. Although Lee said his family encouraged him to be a farmer, he said his experience in the Korean War redirected his lifestyle towards religion. “I grew up in a farm, and I was groomed to be the farmer, and when I came back [from the war] after a little less than two years, I told my dad ‘I don’t think I’m going to be a farmer after all,’” he said. Lee said his only payment is the inspiration he gains from the gratitude of those he helps at the Restoration Center. “If I gain anything, I gain some satisfaction,” he said “Many acknowledge that they’ve been helped, and they appreciate it and say ‘Thank you.’ I’ve been doing this for three years, and I love it.”

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by Jenny Friedland

ome was a Salvation Army bed for Christopher Sanders during the four months he lived as a homeless Chicago man. Now, Sanders has found housing and temp work in Minneapolis, where he also volunteers at the Restoration Center located in the basement of Central Lutheran Church. Sanders said that though his living conditions have improved, he volunteers because he could easily be homeless again. “I got a job, I’ve got a place to stay, but that don’t mean I’m different,” he said. “[Having been homeless] makes me more humble. It makes me see that you can be on top of this hill, and that you can just make one little stumble, and you can just fall right back down.” Rolf Lowenberg-DeBoer, Director of Community and Ministry at the Central Lutheran Church, agreed that success is hard to maintain. “Stability is kind of precarious for a lot of different people,” he said. “You can gain stability, but there’s a lot of things you have to keep doing and a lot of things that have to keep happening for someone to remain stable for a long period of time.” Lutheran Central Church works with sixteen other congregations as part of the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness. “It’s helping us to move … from a charity model to an ending model, more of a justice

model, recognizing that people have needs today, but they also have needs in the future,” he said. Lowenberg-DeBoer said that the Restoration Project in particular shows that homelessness should not alienate one person from another, as volunteers often come from difficult circumstances themselves. “We have a lot of volunteers. Some are experiencing homelessness. Some have been. Some are millionaires,” he said. “People are coming together and bridging those gaps of race, of class, of gender.” Harris Lee, who works as a chaplain at the Restoration Project, said that the program also ameliorates short-term concerns such as finding shelter. “They have these shelters in different places in the metropolitan area, and … [the people staying there] have to get out by 7:00 in the morning, so that’s why some of them come here to sleep,” he said. According to Lowenberg-DeBoer, the Restoration Project provides a social network that is necessary for the homeless to find jobs and shelter. “We believe in America that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps, which is actually bullshit because you need community, you need family, you need money.” To that end, the Central Lutheran Church provides meals, financial assistance, women’s groups and men’s groups. Besty Burns, a Restoration Project volunteer, said that the homeless deserve such services because every-

one has a back-story. “People become drug addicts or they become hookers because of generational poverty, because of abuse, because they had to get out of a really painful relationship. Just shit. And they don’t deserve to be treated like shit.” Burns said she too has experienced pain in her life, which the Restoration Project has helped her overcome. “These women have actually helped me just by being there [following] my husband leaving,” she said. “Just having their support and their love has saved me.” Sanders said that he volunteers to give back the support that he received in overcoming homeless and finding housing. “I still go down to the Salvation Army, and people keep asking me, ‘Why you keep coming down here if you’ve got a place to stay?’ I said, ‘because at one time I was like you guys.’” Lowenberg-DeBoer said that the Restoration Project and Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness ultimately aim to bring people together. “It comes down to building community, to bridging gaps,” he said. “We might pass each other in the hallway and look down. There’s no reason it has to be like that.”

hrough a single act of generosity, George Holtan learned how a little help can truly go a long way. A former teacher from Southern Minneapolis, Holtan said he joined Central Lutheran when he and his wife moved to a house two blocks away from the church. According to Holtan, he had been an active member of Central Lutheran for a year and a half when a man approached him for help. “I was out in one of the gardens, ... and this man came by the gate and asked about the Restoration Center. He said, ‘I need an iron. I’m going to have an interview, and I need ironed clothes.’ I said, ‘We’re closed, but come with me.’ So I brought him down, gave him the iron; he was most thankful,” he said. “The next spring, I was out on the same garden, planting for the year and this man stopped me and said ‘Do you remember me? … I’m the one who you gave the iron to. I just wanted to thank you because you actually saved my life. ... I got the job, and now I have an apartment.’” Holtan said he joined the Restoration Center soon after the conversation. “The homeless are just like you and I,” he said. “They’re human beings. They need us and we need them, because we can learn from them, and they hopefully learn from us.”

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To read more about volunteer Christopher Sanders, and to hear his personal rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come”, visit our website at www.thelionsroar.com
photos by Ari Ebstein

elping others is in Judy Schlaefer’s blood.According to Schlaefer, when her grandmother emigrated from Austria to Michigan in the 1900s, she had few prospects for success. “She came here with no skills and couldn’t speak English. She had three kids, and her husband was an alcoholic, living in a horrible part of Detroit,” she said. “She had to make bathtub gin to survive, and it’s not much different from the means of survival I see today.” Inspired by her grandmother’s resilience, Schlaefer now leads a nursing center for homeless woman at the Restoration Center. According to Schlaefer, the nursing center provides a safe space of respite for women in various states of poverty. Schlaefer said she was dissatisfied with the state of government-provided healthcare and wanted to try to give back in her own way. “I’d rather try to fix things and make them better and advocate for people who cant speak for themselves,” she said. “ I’d love to be the change I want to see in the world.”

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