It has always been a cornerstone of the Christian faith that those who devote themselves to Christ’s teachings should help and comfort the poor and destitute, just has He did during His own ministry. Often this service takes the form of fundraising. When the necessity arises the faithful come together and open their pocketbooks to contribute to charitable funds to help those in need. However, its just as often necessary for the Christian to becomes personally involved. As Christ said, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11).
In cities like ours the hungry are all around. According to a 2015 report there are over 7000 homeless in the city of San Francisco, and a large percentage of their social services are provided by faith based organizations. One member of St. John Armenian Church has committed himself to this purpose for 13 years. Subdeacon Arto Bedikian began his work at the St. Martin DePorres House of Hospitality on Potrero Ave. in 2002. He leads the crew every fourth Saturday where the prepare and serve meals for as many hungry people who walk through their doors. He has reached out to and relied upon the support of many members of St. John to help realize this lofty task over the years.
We asked sDn. Arto to reflect on his mission and this is what he had to say.
I have been volunteering with the fourth Saturday soup kitchen at Saint Martin DePorres since the summer of 2002 when I saw the madness and the rush to war against Iraq.I had to do something that was in line with my Christian values. A customer at the restaurant and I started talking about politics and one thing led to another and she asked me to volunteer and I fell in love with it ever since. Growing up in the 80s, I noticed that it was the Catholic and Protestant communities that were really active in nonprofits that dealt with the poor, soup kitchens, food banks, etc. Everybody has a favorite verse in the Bible, mine has always been when Christ said ,“What you do to the least of humanity you have done unto me.” I always felt that those of us in the Orthodox faith should also volunteer. I am proud to say that a number of St. John’s parishioners have volunteered and are actually play an integral part of my fourth Saturday crew. When people often tell me that their Saturday’s are busy, I tell them they can come anytime and volunteer for the poor shall always be with us. It is sometimes miraculous how so many good people come to volunteer even during the busy summer months where people usually spend with their families. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received at the soup kitchen was a man who I did not know came up to me and asked me if I was in the seminary, he felt I had a certain calling.
The soup kitchen is a place where people are not judged and there is no proselytization. Recently the pope mentioned Dorothy day, the founder of the Catholic worker movement. My soup kitchen is an offshoot of the Catholic worker movement. My hope is that places like this continue to exist because we have thrown our mentally ill onto the streets. It is all too common for people to misunderstand, to hate , to be disgusted by the homeless. It’s so much harder to empathize, to understand and to love. I gather strength from all my volunteers - those who come from other Christian backgrounds, those who come from other faiths and others who just believe in humanity.
If you would like to volunteer for the Soup Kitchen Crew contact Arto directly, or contact St. John Armenian Church, or visit http://stjohnarmenianchurch.com/soup-kitchen-crew.