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Alan Graham: Creating Home for the Homeless

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Alan Graham, founder of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, shares his journey on this episode of the Jesus Calling Podcast.

Alan Graham is the founder, CEO and President of Mobile Loaves & Fishes. Sixteen years ago, a desire to help the homeless led Alan and 4 friends to purchase a catering truck. With this, he began to go straight to those in need and provide them with food and clothing. Since that time, the organization has grown to 20 trucks in multiple cities and serves over 1200 people daily. Alan shares a little about his background and the life-changing moment that led him to want to make a difference in the lives of others.

Alan Graham: Creating a Home for the Homeless – Jesus Calling Podcast 33

Alan Graham: What does it mean to be home? What does home mean? If you want to understand homelessness, you have to understand what home is. You have to understand that you might be comfortable in your middle class, upper class, three, four, five bedroom, multi bath home, but you can literally be homeless inside that place. It’s coming to a biblical understanding of what it is that Christ wants you and I to understand about home.

Narrator: Welcome to the Experience Jesus Calling podcast. Alan Graham is the founder, CEO and President of Mobile Loaves & Fishes. Sixteen years ago, a desire to help the homeless led Alan and 4 friends to purchase a catering truck. With this, he began to go straight to those in need and provide them with food and clothing. Since that time, the organization has grown to 20 trucks in multiple cities and serves over 1200 people daily. Alan shares a little about his background and the life-changing moment that led him to want to make a difference in the lives of others.

Alan: My name is Alan Graham. I’m the Founder, CEO and President of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, which was founded about 18 years ago in 1998 by myself and four other white guys, I like to say, from a pretty high income neighborhood, thinking that we were going to take a catering truck, put a little TLC into it, and take it out onto the streets, load it with things that were given by people who have abundance, to be distributed to the men and women that we see out on our street corners who lack that abundance.

Simply, that was the beginning of, what I now see, is a pretty large kingdom movement.

Phenomenally Dysfunctional: Alan Recalls His Childhood

I think when you look back at what I call, the seamless garment of the Body of Christ, and the thread that I play that’s woven into that seamless garment, it goes way back. My mom was profoundly mentally ill and struggled very deeply. I tell people that the only memory that I have of my mother and father together as a husband and wife under the same roof, was when I was about four years old and my mom was standing on a bed with a knife in her hands threatening my dad.

The next thing I know, my mom is in a hospital. Now, mom’s kind of out of the picture. During that period of time, my dad divorced my mom. Served her with the papers while she was in the hospital and unleashed the Armageddon of a custody battle, attempting to strip my mother entirely of her maternal rights.

She gets out of the hospital, me and my brothers are back with her. Her mental health was never going to be strong enough to raise four boys. By the time I’m in 3rd grade, she’s spinning out of control again. She’s re-institutionalized. We’re back with my father and now stepmother. He unleashes another custody battle that he loses. She gets out, we’re back with my mom. This is now basically the late ’60s.

By the time I’m in junior high school, juvenile delinquency is just rampant. I’m arrested for car theft. Me and my friends started joyriding with people’s automobiles, and then it turned into a destruction derby event that we put on.

I ended up in the Harris County juvenile detention center and it’s Day 1, Day 2. These are stark places. I’m in a place where I’m surrounded by others boys that I’m thinking that “I’m not one of them,” but actually I am. Nobody’s coming to get me. My mom’s spinning out of control. Day 4, 5, 6, 8 10, I’m realizing that my next address is probably going to be Gatesville, Texas, where the juvenile prison thing is.

On about Day 14, my dad shows up and gets me out and brings me home to him. He intentionally left me in there to marinate for that two-week period of time. My childhood was phenomenally dysfunctional, unsettled and not rooted in a place.

Finding Your Purpose: Turning Your Life Around

Then I fast forward to today, where I have celebrated 32-year marriage, one house that we’ve lived in, five children have been raised by us. The rootedness that my family has today is extraordinary and the contrast between the two.

How that ended up for me, I can only attribute to God guiding me and having a purpose for me, and moving me along for that purpose. As I think he does for each and every one of us.

So I got involved in the business community and started getting into real estate development in the 1980s. That failed because the economy really tanked in the mid to late ’80s. I battled our way out of that deal and began to rebuild my real estate career in the early ’90s.

I realized at that time that I’m an entrepreneur. You can’t keep me inside of a box. I need to be out there and create. We started developing air cargo facilities on airports around the country. That was going pretty grand. The real estate development, the networking part of it, running businesses and building things, I think was a great equipping timeframe for me.

I was a seven day a week workaholic, I still am. I remember one day on a Sunday morning, just sitting reading the newspaper, which I did on Sunday mornings before I got up and got dressed and went into the office to do a couple hours of work, just to get ready for the week. Front door opens up and she’s headed out the door with a couple, maybe two or three of the four kids that we had, one child was a niece that we raised later on. It looked like the train was leaving the station at that point in time.

So I decided to jump on and go back to church with them.

Developing A Relationship with Christ

I started just buying books and studying the faith. I became enthralled in the journey of the church from the birth of Christ beyond. I developed this real intellectual relationship with Christ.

Then in 1996, I was invited to go into a men’s spiritual retreat; it’s called CRHP, “Christ Renews His Parish,” C-R-H-P. They pronounce it ‘Chirp’. 30-hour weekend deal.

I’m completely uncomfortable in this environment, but I can’t escape. I’m thinking I’m going to go and network with some high net worth Catholics and maybe learn a little bit about my faith, had nothing to do with any of that. I was saying to myself, “well, the first opportunity I’ll get, I’m going to bail.” Then these men started getting up and giving their testimonies.

I developed this real intellectual relationship with Christ.

The forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and redemption of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I started seeing myself in these guys. I loved the redemption side.

By the end of this weekend, this intellectual relationship that I had up here just, Bam! Dropped a floor right into my heart.  For the first time in my life, I felt the genuine presence of the Holy Spirit, what that was like. I didn’t want that to end. At that moment, I began to adopt a philosophy that continues to this day called, “Just say Yes. God if you’re calling me, I’m going, Man. Tell me what You want me to do.”

Adjusting Priorities and Moving in a Different Direction

It’s like there’s two rheostats on the wall, those are the little knobs that you turn on that brighten the lights. I had, in the Alan Graham life, two rheostats on the wall. One of them was the professional rheostat, my real estate development rheostat, it’s turned up all the way, bright light. Then I had this little ministry light that, not on at all really.

That CHRP experience took that light and turned it on.

I got my real estate deal going, I’m going to start a ministry at church, that’s what’s going on. Me and my buddies go out and we buy the catering truck. All along, I’m feeling this, “Wow.” I’m having a blast, I’m being affirmed by what I’m doing and I’m meeting all these crazy people down on the streets and I love that. I could see that this was headed in some type of a direction.Alan Graham's Mobile Loaves & Fishes food truck serving food to those in need.

In the late, probably ’98, ’99, somewhere, my partner and I, with the air cargo facility thing, we were struggling,

Again, I look at it as God moving me in a different direction. I started to pursue the air cargo thing by myself, was getting zero affirmation on that, while at the same time, Mobile Loaves & Fishes was really beginning to grow.

Trusting God and Building Relationships

In about 2001, the board of Mobile Loaves voted to pay me a $30,000 a year salary, which, I mean, my last income year in the real estate was probably half a million bucks.

I had sold all of my interest in the air cargo facilities to my partner, and we had a couple years to be able to live on that, and then we had to figure out what was going on. That money ran out, we were several months beyond that, and I get a call from my church and they want to hire me on as a salary, with full benefits, to help manage stewardship, raising money for them.

The trucks are going out and we’re expanding the truck operation. It begins to move into San Antonio, then in 2005 in New Orleans, and then it starts expanding into Nashville, and then multiple other cities. In 2003, I started something called a Street Retreat. About 20 of us, led by me, went and spent three nights on the streets. I’ve done about 50 of those retreats. Spent about 150 nights on the streets. You just begin to develop these intimate relationships with the men and women that you find out there.

One of the Street Retreat teams poses for a photo in Austin, Texas.

Narrator: Alan had dreams for how he could bring hope to the homeless not with just basic needs, but with a sense of community and purpose. His desire was not only to help them thrive by having a place to live, but to educate others on the plight of the homeless; shedding light and “humanizing” those who deal with this condition. Alan’s dreams and prayers came to fruition with the advent of “Community First!” – a 27-acre master-planned community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive community for the disabled, chronically homeless in Central Texas.

Giving a Home to the Homeless

Alan: In 2005, a friend of mine, one of my co-founding brothers and one of my best friends, Bruce Agnes was purchasing a ranch in Fredericksburg and said, “Let’s go look at this ranch.” We drive down there and there’s an old hunting camp with an RV on this hunting camp. I jump out of the truck, run over and look at this RV and I said, you know, I could live in something like this. That was in 2004. We went and purchased a gently used RV for $5,000. In March of 2005, lifted one guy up off the streets into that RV. That started this movement that now led to the $17 million dollar, 250-unit Community First! “RV park on steroids” that we now have in far east Austin.

We have about 110 people that live in there now. About 30 of them are people that live there missionally. They’re called by the Gospel to live there. We have entrepreneurs that live there. Nurses, retired priests, architects, firefighters, school teachers, it’s really interesting. 80% are men and women that were formally, chronically homeless. Living on the streets of Austin, Texas in a place not considered habitable on human standards.

You just begin to develop these intimate relationships with the men and women that you find out there.

We have a farming operation, a blacksmithing operation, an art house, a community market, clinics, an outdoor Alamo draft house theater, an amphitheater, a catering operation. It is just active almost seven days a week. It’s an incredible place of community.

Returning to God’s Orignal Purpose

That is the movement that we’re trying to return to. We’re trying to reorient the body back to God’s original purpose, which is in Genesis Chapter 2, Verse 15, just after God creates the Garden of Eden. Which has got everything in it that you and I need. A movement that recognizes that the single greatest cause to homelessness is a profound, catastrophic loss of family.

If something happens with inside the family, it’s up to the metaphorical village to continue to raise its children. We don’t cease being children at 18 years old. It goes on and on and on. We don’t advocate this responsibility to the government, it’s our Kingdom responsibility.

Examples of homes from the Community First! RV park, which features RVs and micro-homes for the chronically homeless in the Austin, Texas area.

As long as we keep distance between us and them, whoever the “uses” and “thems” are, it’s easy for us to judge and stereotype the “thems,” because they’re out there. They’re beyond the tinted windshield of our SUVs with SiriusXM® pouring into the deal. When we get out of that environment and go connect with them one on one and begin to sit down and go, “Oh, you actually have a name. Really? Awesome. Tell me about yourself.” “Well, I was born in 19-whatever and my mom suffered from mental health issues…well, my mom suffered from mental health issues.” All of a sudden, there are these connecting points.

A movement that recognizes that the single greatest cause to homelessness is a profound, catastrophic loss of family.

You begin to realize that we are more alike. Even if we’re all dressed up and got all of our fancy schmancy stuff on, underneath the shell that we present to people also lies the truth of who we are.

That’s where the stereotypes begin to fall.

The Powerful Reflection of Jesus Calling

One of our challenges in an organization like Mobile Loaves & Fishes is to make sure that we keep it centered on Christ 100% of the time. I tell people that, “Look, I may have the earthly title of Founder, President and CEO, but Christ is who is running this deal. He’s given us a vision and we’re locked into that vision. It’s on paper. We’re not moving outside of that vision.”

The Mobile Loaves & Fishes logo.

We are focused on this particular issue.  We’re always scrambling to start a staff meeting with scripture and stuff like that. I’m not a Pastor, so I’m not going to spend the night before studying. The Jesus Calling came up several years ago; went and bought a copy and it fits my A.D.D. entrepreneurial personality in a perfect way ‘cause I could just crack it open, read it. There’s scripture references there if I want to do the scriptural references, I could go study those.

What I do is I open up the meeting with today’s reflection out of Jesus Calling. and what I do is I tell … everybody has to listen. We have 45 people around the table now, or roughly that number of people. I’m going to call randomly on someone around that table to reflect on what it is that I’ve just read. Everybody knows that, we’ve been doing that for years. “Listen and let’s crack open what that means. Not only what does it mean for you personally, but what does it mean in context of what we’re doing?”

Yeah. It’s been very, very powerful.

Welcome Homeless, One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home

I’ve always known that if we were ever going to translate a story that flowed out of my life into a book, that somebody had to come alongside me to do that. They had to be able to capture the essence of who I am, which is not … I don’t think it’s easy for anybody to capture the essence of anybody else, without being pretty gifted in that area.

Alan Graham's book, Welcome Homeless, One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home.This book marshals us through eight characteristics of Home. Home is a place of permanence. Home is a dwelling place. Home is a place of embodied inhabitation. Home is a place of hospitality. Home is a place of safety and refuge. Home is a place of stories and memories. It’s often said that the mortar that holds the bricks of even the most impoverished home together are the stories and memories that flow from that home. Home is a place of orientation. My compass is always oriented to my home. Last and not least, Home is a place of affiliation and belonging. It’s where we want to be and it’s where people want us to be. That culturally, for a displaced America, would be the greatest gift of the outcome of the movement that we’re creating in the book, “Welcome Homeless, One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home.

Narrator:  Alan’s new book, Welcome Homeless – One Man’s Journey Discovering the Meaning of Home is now available everywhere books are sold.  For more information on how to be a part of Mobile Loaves and Fishes or Community First, visit their website at www.mlf.org


Today’s featured passage comes from the February 26th entry of the Jesus Always audiobook.

Man looks at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart. The ability to see is a great gift. I grant glimpses of My Glory via visual beauty in nature. Great paintings, sculptures, and cinematography can also help awaken your soul. Rejoice in these glorious gifts, but do not become enslaved to appearances. I am primarily interested in the condition of your heart, and I work to create beauty in it.

It is vital to set aside time for nourishing your heart. Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well- spring of life. A wellspring is a source of abundant supply. Since you belong to Me, My own Life flows through you! However, to keep this Life flowing abundantly, you must protect your heart from evil influences and nourish it with Bible study and prayer.

Aligning your priorities with My teaching can be very freeing. When you don’t like the way things look in your world, close your eyes and gaze at who I am. Remember that I am ImmanuelGod with you.

Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.

 

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