By Carissa Wolf
WesCom News Service
BROOKINGS The smells of chili and freshly baked honey corn bread wafted through the homey dining room on Chetco Avenue in Brookings.
Soon, some 20 hungry people lined up for a bowl of free chili, fruit salad and corn bread at His Banqueting Table. They all came to the newly opened soup kitchen to fill their stomachs. Many came to fill their souls.
"People who don't have enough money to have a good meal, they can come here and have at least one a day," said Outreach Gospel Mission Executive Director Chuck Fidroeff. "If they're hungry and cold, they have a place to go from 12 to 2. And they can hear the love of God."
The Outreach Gospel Mission opened the doors of His Banqueting Table for an inaugural feast this week, welcoming the hungry regardless of socio-economic class or religion.
"Everyone is welcome," said Carrie Nelson, who lives at the shelter and volunteers in the kitchen.
Nelson spent Wednesday morning stirring an industrial-size pot of the chili concoction. She added chunks of meat to the hodgepodge of chili beans, vegetable soup, sun dried tomatoes and whatever else she had on hand. She couldn't follow a recipe. She had to make do with what ever donated canned food items she had on hand.
The name of the Mission's latest outreach service to the poor, homeless and hungry pays homage to a scripture, Song of Solomon and to the Bible song, "His Banner Over Me is Love." In the popular church verses, the chorus proclaims, "He calls us to His Banqueting Table. His banner over me is love."
To the men, women and children who cook and serve and eat at His Banqueting Table, the chili is as full of love and hope as it is of beans and sun-dried tomatoes.
As His Banqueting Table heralds a new beginning in the Brookings-Harbor social safety net, the volunteers and Mission shelter guests who staff the kitchen find new beginnings of their own.
Milissa Joe Good spends her days scraping paint from the peeling exterior walls of His Haven of Hope, cleans tables during His Banqueting Table hours and offers soup and bread to strangers who quickly become friends. Like many of the volunteers, she's quick to offer hugs. And she'll ask you to call her "Missy."
Her days at His Banqueting Table stand in stark contrast to the last 20 years of her 36 year life.
"I got high on my birthday which was March 7. I didn't want to do it anymore, so I moved here," the recent Crescent City transplant said.
"Meth was my drug of choice," she continues, then proudly announces that she's been completely clean for 30 days. That's the longest her body has gone without a hit of something to give it a synthetic boost.
Methamphetamine and a little of everything else minus heroin pulsated through her veins since she was a teenager.
The meth use helped Good numb the pain of a gang rape she experienced at 16 years old. And in the years that followed, the meth raped Good of her family and her sense of self.
"I had nightmares," Good said of the rape. Then she found meth or what was then known as "crank."
"And that was the end of the nightmares," Good said.
But new nightmares began.
Good married, had a family, held good jobs and even recently went to college. But she also stole, robbed and hustled the streets for cash to buy her next fix. And Good's addiction eventually robbed her children of a mother.
Good could have continued down that path if she hadn't gotten sick or found His Haven of Hope, she said.
"This is the best I've ever felt. I want to give props to God," Good said.
In a little over a month, Good has put on weight, the sores on her neck have healed and a bright complexion has returned to her face.
But just months ago, Goods spent her days high and, like many meth users, she had compulsions to pick at her skin. At times she would hit a creative high and pour out verse after verse of lyrical poetry.
She also contracted methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, an antibiotic resistant staph infection. MRSA commonly infects hospital patients and healthcare workers but has recently been linked to methamphetamine use. The infection colonizes on the skin's surface, in the nasal passage, sputum or urine passages. It's easily passed between meth users who share straws to snort the powder and have a weakened immune systems or skin wounds. The infection left Good with an ulcer on her back.
"I just got scared so I went to my pastor," she said.
Good's pastor referred her to His Haven of Hope where she found gospel-based recovery and other women hoping for a better future.
Good met 15 year-old Jacquie Nelson and her mom, Carrie. The two battled years of homelessness and addiction. Jacquie bounced around on friends' couches and lived with whomever would take her in. Sometimes it was a friend, sometimes it was an older guy. Most of Jacquie's living arrangements put her right in the middle of a drug scene.
"I lived around it, so I thought, why not do it?" Jacquie said.
His Haven of Hope helped mend the Nelson family and His Banqueting Table gave the pair a new purpose and a vision for the future.
"I can see myself having a job and a car," Jacquie said.
She even found a way to dream like a teenager again. Jacquie jokes that she'd also like to be a model and a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and a country singer. She also dreams that her best friend would stop using meth.
And Good found something she lost long ago: Herself.
"People can look me in the eye and not wonder if I'm high or not. What's it called? Dignity."