In with the new…
You may know of Lolly Colombo, our new VP/Client Service. You may have even met her before. But have you heard any of Lolly’s amazing stories?
Well, you’re about to!
Rather than just telling you about how wonderful Lolly is and how glad we are to have her leading our Client Service Team here at Brewer Direct, we wanted you to hear a story from Lolly’s own life. Now you’ll really understand why we’re so glad she’s here…and how wonderful she is!
It’s an incredible – and just plain inspiring – story of a young woman learning to trust God in the middle of a Phoenix, AZ shelter…alone, penniless and sleeping on a cot.
Pick You up in Three Days
It was the autumn of 1984. Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s We Are the World would soon top the charts. All I wanted was to go feed hungry kids! Images of children with distended stomachs literally brought me to my knees as I searched for a way to make a difference.
I agreed to go on the mission field with Food for the Hungry. Part of my training was to endure two weeks of desert training outside of Phoenix. And after a week of living in a corrugated tin shelter and laboring under a hot sun, the dozen of us altruistic 20-somethings were routed to a van. Our valuables were confiscated. We were dropped off in a plaza in downtown Phoenix.
“Pick you up in three days,” said our chauffeur as he smiled and drove away.
Homeless in Phoenix
Many had friends in the city. I didn’t. So I looked for a harmless, homeless person to follow home. I was soon following an elderly man with a patch over one eye, a wooden leg and a crutch who led me to a very crowded emergency shelter.
Everyone in the dark, smoky room looked menacing, especially a young woman with scars across her neck and arms. She glared threateningly across the room. I decided I needed to act just as tough to survive the night.
I stood in line, signed in, received a cot assignment, a dixie cup of red Kool-Aid and a piece of bologna between two slices of Wonder bread. I had shelter for the night.
My New Friend, Linda
The ladies’ shelter was a large room with about 40 cots. There was a Bible on the bedside table, and I started reading the Psalms to my elderly neighbor on the next cot.
The menacing girl from earlier was across the room…and slowly moved closer until she was sitting on my cot, looking over my shoulder. Her name was Linda. She was a runaway from Wisconsin, caught up in drugs and gangs, living on the streets since her youth.
She challenged me about some of the things I was reading. I just told her that Jesus was amazing and totally worth following.
A Homeless Perimeter
Out on the streets the next morning, my new friend Linda and I walked for miles and ate nothing all day. We ended up at the notorious Phoenix Tent City near Library Park, an area in downtown Phoenix so particularly volatile in the mid 80’s that the police formed a perimeter around the park to contain the evils within.
By nightfall, drunks and drug dealers, disabled veterans and young families with small children – fallen on hard times and sleeping in cars – cohabitated there as a community.
That night, back on my cot at the shelter, I could hardly sleep. With my middle-class background, I had never been exposed to this world. Yet, for these people and thousands more, this was their world.
A bus sent by a local mega-church came by the shelter. I convinced Linda to go with me – hopeful that she would hear from God. When we arrived, we were herded into Sunday school classes.
I was conscious that I hadn’t showered in 10 days, hadn’t eaten more than a bologna sandwich or two, and was wearing torn, filthy jeans and an old stained t-shirt. I had never been to church dressed like this.
A worship singer was visiting from a well-known Atlanta church, a church where (I love how God does this) my brother was on staff. I stopped to say hello and exuberantly said, “You must know my brother!”
He gazed at me and cooly replied, “There is no way I know your brother.”
I was stunned. He saw a transient. He saw nothing beyond my dirty exterior. I suddenly realized how simple it is to become a part of the homeless community; and I embraced it.
Back to Reality
I knew the van would be back around to pick us up that evening, so I had to come clean. Somehow I had to tell Linda I was not who I seemed to be. I hated to and a part of me was ashamed to.
She took the news in stride. I scratched my name and home phone number on a square of toilet paper. She walked me back to the plaza. I hugged her, told her to go home, shed tears and jumped into the van, back to desert training.
A week later, when it was time to fly home, I asked an old friend who was driving me to the airport if we could swing by the shelter on our way, so I could find Linda. When I inquired, I was told that she’d been taken to the hospital after a fight. They didn’t know which one.
One Sunday morning, nearly five years later, now living in Santiago, Chile, my phone rang.
It was her.
She didn’t have to explain who she was. I knew instantly when she said, “It’s Linda.”
She had saved my number on that piece of toilet paper all those years.
Linda had found my number and was calling to tell me that all those years ago she’d gone home, reconciled herself to her family, found God and got her life on track. She wanted me to know.
A homeless shelter was the venue of that miracle. I was blessed and privileged to have been dropped on the streets that weekend, followed that elderly man home, met Linda, and witnessed just one of the amazing things that God does every day!
Several years after my experience on the streets of Phoenix, I encountered the worship singer from that Phoenix church at my brother’s wedding. I was able to tell him who I was – and he learned something unforgettable that day! God is good!