Tag Archive for: homeless

Matagh for a Vow

Untold stories from the Youth Ministries Center

Today’s episode: Matagh

Armenians have a custom, which is blessed by the Church, of making vows which are paid for by sacrifice to the needy. It is called “Matagh” (Մատաղ). The idea is simple enough, you make a vow to feed the needy for a goodness that has been granted to you. Good health, prosperity, children’s achievements, are some of the reasons, and sharing the goodness with those who suffer is a way of expressing gratitude. The Church blesses this gesture with a prayer over the offering. We believe, God’s blessings shower on those who give. (Acts 20:35)

In the early days of the Youth Ministry Center we met a young man named Haig. He was a Clark-Kent type, in that during the day his work demanded a suit and tie, and in the evenings he’d don is “working clothes” to do some super work: feeding the needy and providing for the homeless. His presence at the Youth Ministry was the perfect fit, especially since we had just started the In His Shoes mission which emphasized our resurrection as a people and the Christian mandate to celebrate by helping others. Imagine that, the once-starving Armenians were now feeding others.

The game plan was this: We’d boil 20 gallons of water. Mr. Mehrabian had furnished us with an industrial kitchen, making tasks like this easy enough. The water would go into large thermoses and into the back of a car. We’d pile into two or three SUV’s or vans, along with boxes of soup-in-a-cup, spoons, and some staple food. We’d head out to downtown Los Angeles’ “Skid Row” where we’d park on a corner and distribute a hot meal, of soup and more. Sometimes we’d take clothes and shoes, from collections we’d organize at the center. We’d make a few stops in downtown, and people would come to the vans.

The contact with the homeless was often strangely festive. There would be casual chatter about life and always ended with a lot of gratitude. We were like a small brigade – we’d arrive to a corner, jump out of the cars and do our work. Everyone had a job: drivers, secure the area, open the soups, pour the water, offer food and bottled water, show clothes and shoes. We’d drive away always with the joy of helping, but with a deep sadness that it was only a temporary fix and we’d be back next week.

Finding volunteers for this homeless run was always easy. Tell them you’d want them to serve on a committee for an upcoming event, you’d get blank stares, ask them to go on a “skid-row run” and we sometimes had to turn away volunteers. We’d start and end each run with a prayer, asking God for strength as we went to meet our brothers and sisters on the street.

One night a man came up to our soup-distribution graciously declined the soup. Instead, he asked two of our volunteers, Anush and Suzie, for a sandwich and “maybe salad.” They explained that the night’s offering was soup and a snack, and even offered to provide the dry soup, ready for a meal tomorrow. Once again, he politely refused the soup saying he didn’t want to take it away from someone who might be hungry.

The kindness we witnessed on the street was exemplary, it’s the kind you point out to your children. “Please,” “Thank you,” “God bless,” were the words we heard, even when we didn’t have what they requested, in this case, a sandwich.

We continued with our distribution, when suddenly a car stopped by our van. “Do you guys need some more food to give away?” yelled out a voice. “We were at Starbucks at closing time and they were giving away their unsold daily food, we figured there’d be people who could use these.” Anush and Suzie responded in unison, “Sure, what do you have?”

“Sandwiches and salads.”

Suzie accepted the goods and Anush found the man in the crowd.  When we came over and we presented him with his requested meal, his reaction was not one of surprise.  He was grateful.  He took the sandwich and salad, and right there, dropped to his knees on the sidewalk, raised the food to the heavens and gave thanks.

Another time a man asked for a size 8.5 shoe.  We tried to find a fit, but a size 9 was the best we could do.  He tried it and it wasn’t a good fit so he thanked us and went his way.  At the next stop we found a person who could use the size 9 pair.  He tried them on.  They were perfect. In trade, he took off his shoes and donated them to us saying someone else could use them. The shoes he gave us were a size 8.5.   We found the first man on the street, brought him the shoes, they were a perfect fit.

Stories like this motivated us and pointed to something greater at play during these distributions. The streets of Los Angeles have since gotten scarier and a few years back the police advised us to stop the distribution. We now distribute at a local shelter, and do so in the name of the Armenian people as a form of matagh.

Join me tomorrow as we explore more stories of faith and community building from our time at the Youth Ministries Center.

Jesus Blankets

It was 20 years ago today:

Between the years 2003 and 2016 we ran an experiment in an area of Glendale, California known as “Ground Zero,” a place that Armenian organizations had ignored and forgotten, a place where education, identity and prayer came together.

These are the untold stories from the Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center.

Today’s Episode: Jesus Blankets

The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church is truly a holistic experience engaging all of your senses. The melodies of the hymns captivate the ear (when sung properly). The vestments and shiny brass dance before the eyes. The olfactory senses are alerted with the frankincense. Greeting one another with the “Holy Kiss” calls our touch and feel into play. And of course, the culmination of the Liturgy comes with tasting the Holy and Precious Body and Blood of our Savior. Five of the carnal senses are at play every Sunday in our churches, and many other senses that we feel but shy away from defining. They are all real in the church, though they may not be seen, like the stars that are all around us during bright sunlight.

When we first built our altar area at the Youth Ministry Center we used a very heavy fabric for the curtain. It was a red velvety material with golden colored ropes and brocades. For our little church on the corner it was truly a majestic accent to the otherwise humble offerings around us in the church. It was also fairly difficult to open and close since it resided on a circular metal rod that had to be supported with extra garters because of the weight of the massive curtain. The deacons often pulled and pulled, sometimes in an awkward display of physical energy in front of the congregation. After a couple of years and a few hundred jerks and tugs at the garment, the curtain was showing wear and tear.

One of the members of the church donated new fabric for a lightweight curtain to be sewn. It arrived shortly after the order was place. We decorated the expanse of the curtain with beautiful cross brocades. Most importantly, now the curtain could easily be opened and shut with minimal effort.

While everyone was excited with the new arrival to our church, I had to figure out what to do with the old curtain. I knew old vestments had to be burnt and I figured the same was true of this huge curtain. Through the years, the curtain had absorbed the incense, smoke and prayers of thousands of faithful people whose cares and difficulties were expressed in prayer before this holy altar. The curtain was sacred and could not be put out for curbside pickup. I contemplated a huge bonfire in front of the church, inviting the neighborhood and community for a sacred burning, but the hassle of getting permits from the City of Glendale, which was already annoyed by our presence there, made it easy to opt out of that choice.

That week, during our homeless feed, we were going through the streets of LA’s “skid row” when it hit me! The curtain could be divided into several blankets for our homeless brothers and sisters! And a project was born!

Several women from the Ministry brought over their sewing machines, others brought sewing shears, irons and manual labor. The church was converted into a sewing factor. I swear that there was music playing in the church that day, but I know it was a happy hum of the ladies doing what they knew was right.

They sewed and manufactured 50 blankets from fabric that smelled like incense and the housed the hopes, dreams, prayers and answers of the thousands. These Armenian gifts of hope were cleaned, wrapped and delivered to the residents of the street, with a small note of explanation and a prayer by St. Nersess Shnorhali. It came with the compliments of one group of people who were once homeless, to another group, that they might find hope for a better future.

On our weekly trips through skid row I would keep my eyes open to see if I would spot someone wearing or wrapped up in a piece of curtain or donning it like a cape. I thought what a beautiful expression of Jesus’ command to clothe the naked, to have a person walking the streets with an Armenian curtain, now turned blanket.

I never saw pieces of the curtain again, a tragic reminder as to how large the homeless population is in the City of Angels. That winter, I was sure that there were at least 50 people snug in a sacred blanket unlike any other. From an apostolic era church, the love of Christ was shared on the streets. It was one small miracle that came from the Armenian Church Youth Ministry Center.

Join me tomorrow as we continue with more stories of faith and miracles that were, 20 years ago today.

Extending a Hand to the Extended Hand

Next Step #355: Reaching for a hand – it can pick you up or you can pick him up – An Armodox look at the Passion of Jesus in terms that tie us to history and today. The 100 Souls project explained – Darfur, Artsakh, Syria, children, women and the homeless – commemorating the Centennial of the Genocide by stopping one now. Would you let this priest repair your brakes? Learning Brake Repair, Brain Surgery and God by reading?
Song: “Heyroor” Parik Nazarian from “Cycle of Life
100 Souls in His Shoes
100 Year Journey
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