Woman living in her car brings sandwiches, love to the homeless of Houston

(Reuters) – Dominick SeJohn Walton spots a man with a shopping cart piled high with belongings and a sign that says “Homeless. Please Help” under a Texas highway overpass. With the coronavirus keeping many at home, the road is quieter than usual.

FILE PHOTO: Dominick Walton, who is homeless herself, leaves food bags for homeless people amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Houston, Texas, U.S., April 19, 2020. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

She hands him a plastic bag filled with a baloney and cheese sandwich, cookies, and applesauce. On the outside she has written in permanent blue marker: ‘God Bless. Jesus loves you. I love you!’

Walton knows what it is like to be homeless and hungry. She is currently living mainly in her car, sleeping at her sister’s apartment in Houston sometimes.

“I started serving meals to the homeless because I understand what it’s like not to know where your next meal is going to come from and that’s the least that I feel like we can do for our community is to give back,” said the 27-year-old.

Walton’s car became her home after she became depressed following surgery for an ectopic pregnancy. She quit her job as a gas station cashier and is now living in the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu, trying to save enough money to start a t-shirt business featuring her own designs. She was recently hired by a non-profit organization that distributes meals to low-income families.

In many U.S. cities, homeless people are spending their nights on empty trains, or camping behind closed businesses and under deserted highways. Many fear to enter homeless shelters, where the coronavirus can spread fast.

Walton drives around and spots a man sitting on the ground.

“Hello sir,” she calls out, her big smile hidden behind the surgical mask she wears. He does not respond, perhaps dozing, so she touches his elbow with her gloved hand to give him some food.

FILE PHOTO: Dominick Walton, who is homeless, sleeps in her car amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Houston, Texas, U.S., April 26, 2020. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

Walton buys the groceries herself or uses leftovers from her employer, making the bags in her sister’s apartment, where her 1-year-old and 4-year-old nieces play.

When she is done for the day, she parks her car near a mall, park, or just a quiet neighborhood, propping her cellphone against the car window while she stretches out in the front seat.

Her dreams: A t-shirt business so successful that she can give away even more food.

(Reporting by Go Nakamura; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Coronavirus forces Americans to find Easter fun at least 6 feet apart

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Easter is a special holiday for 6-year-old Nora Heddendorf. It’s a day when she loves to get dolled up in a fancy dress and shiny shoes, and have fun with family and friends hunting for brightly colored eggs.

This year the coronavirus pandemic has forced her to adapt. She will accessorize her Easter outfit with a white paper mask, blue disposable gloves, and a container of disinfectant wipes. And after hearing that her New Jersey town’s annual egg hunt may be canceled, she came up with the idea of a “rock hunt.”

Nora’s hunt not only substitutes brightly painted stones for eggs, which are in short supply at some stores, but it also allows her neighbors to do their hunting during their social-distancing walks.

“I was sad it was going to be canceled because of the virus,” the kindergartener told Reuters in a phone interview. “I want to make people happy.”

From the White House to small town parks, the pandemic has forced the cancellation of traditional Easter egg hunts and “rolls” across the United States, closed churches, and scotched plans for Easter meals with extended families.

But many Americans are still finding ways to have holiday fun, from an Oregon candymaker making chocolate bunnies wearing face masks to a Texas church organizing a virtual egg hunt using the video game Minecraft.

Weeks ago, Nora and her mother started organizing her hunt in their town of Medford Lakes. She assembled dozens of DIY kits, each containing five rocks, four paint colors, and instructions, all wrapped in a plastic bag. Of course, she wore disposable gloves and sprayed the contents with disinfectant.

She then left the kits outside her home for pick-up by people who want to participate. On her Facebook page, Nora’s Rocks, the young artist urged her community to return decorated rocks to her to hide.

“Thank you for helping Nora’s Rocks bring our town together while staying apart,” said the instruction letter she included in the kits.

Her mother, Samantha Heddendorf, president of an environmental cleanup company that has been decontaminating buildings affected by the coronavirus crisis, said the hunt will start on Good Friday and continue through Easter Sunday, with fresh batches of painted rocks hidden each day.

The goal is to place 500 stone “eggs” in every nook and cranny of the 1 square mile (2.6 square km) town.

“When people are doing their social distancing walks, they can look for rocks – or so-called Easter Eggs. They can have something to hunt for and pick them up and at least have a smile to celebrate Easter with,” Samantha Heddendorf said.

In Central Point, Oregon, chocolatier Jeff Shepherd had a brainstorm to save his Lillie Belle Farms from shutdown in the wake of the coronavirus. He told his Facebook followers that he would make “Covid Bunnies” – milk and dark chocolate ones with white face masks and white chocolate ones with blue face masks.

Six-year-old Nora Heddendorf displays her do-it-yourself kits for a painted rock hunt she and her mother are organizing in their town of Medford Lakes, New Jersey, U.S., March 28, 2020 amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Samantha Heddendorf/Handout via REUTERS

It was an instant hit. Shepherd was able to hire back the seven full-time staff he had laid off, has sold 5,000 bunnies, and is scrambling with back orders, now limiting purchases to six per customer.

Safe distancing to thwart virus spread is what convinced the Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, to go digital with its Easter Egg hunt, using Minecraft but disabling potentially scary game elements like monsters.

“Our ultimate goal is to spread the gospel, but we want the kids to still enjoy Easter,” said Reverend Curtis James.

Back in New Jersey, Nora was excited that her idea was warmly embraced by so many, with the town mayor stopping by to witness her stuffing the kits and the local Lions Club inviting her for lunch “when this whole thing is over.”

Her favorite “thank you” was gift-wrapped rolls of toilet paper, one of the staples – including eggs – being hoarded by people panic buying during the pandemic.

“My mom smiled when the toilet paper came,” Nora said.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Barbara Bush remembered for her dignity and wit at Houston funeral

The hearse carrying former first lady Barbara Bush passes through members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets as it nears her husband's presidential library at the university in College Station, Texas, U.S. April 21, 2018. Smiley N. Pool/Pool via REUTERS

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Former first lady Barbara Bush was remembered at her funeral on Saturday as a formidable but caring figure whose devotion to her family was matched only by her commitment to public service.

Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush looks at the casket of his late wife, former first lady Barbara Bush with his daughter Dorothy "Doro" Bush Koch during the visitation at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, U.S. April 20, 2018. Mark Burns/Office of George H.W. Bush/Pool via REUTERS

Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush looks at the casket of his late wife, former first lady Barbara Bush with his daughter Dorothy “Doro” Bush Koch during the visitation at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, U.S. April 20, 2018. Mark Burns/Office of George H.W. Bush/Pool via REUTERS

“She was our teacher and role model in how to live a life of purpose and meaning,” one of her four sons, former Florida governor and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush, told the crowded Houston church.

He then drew laughs with a nod to Bush’s famously sharp tongue: “She called her style a benevolent dictatorship, but honestly, it wasn’t all that benevolent.”

Some 1,500 mourners, including governors, senators and former U.S. presidents, gathered at a televised but invitation-only service at the church to pay tribute to the matriarch of one of the country’s most prominent political dynasties, who died on Tuesday at age 92.

Bush, the wife of the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush, and the mother of the 43rd, George W. Bush, was lauded as an inspiration both to the country and her loved ones, a woman who leavened a strong sense of decency and honor with a self-deprecating wit she employed to great effect.

“She was candid and comforting, steadfast and straightforward, honest and loving,” said the historian and author Jon Meacham, who wrote a biography of George H.W. Bush and was one of three eulogists whom Barbara Bush herself selected before her death.

“Barbara Bush and George Bush put country above party, the common good above political gain and service to others above the settling of scores,” he said.

Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, current first lady Melania Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama were all on hand for the service.

President Donald Trump, who clashed with the Bush family during his 2016 campaign, did not travel to Houston. The White House said this week he wanted to avoid disrupting the service with added security.

Pallbearers escort the casket of former first lady Barbara Bush after funeral services at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, U.S., April 21, 2018. David J. Phillip/Pool via Reute

Pallbearers escort the casket of former first lady Barbara Bush after funeral services at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, U.S., April 21, 2018. David J. Phillip/Pool via Reuters

In a Twitter post, Trump said his “thoughts and prayers are with the entire Bush family.”

Former President Jimmy Carter was overseas and unable to attend.

Barbara Bush’s longtime friend, Susan Baker, the wife of former Secretary of State James Baker, described her in a eulogy as a “tough but loving enforcer” whose 73-year marriage to her husband was a real-life fairy tale.

George H.W. Bush would write a letter to his wife on each wedding anniversary, Jeb Bush said, before reading aloud one such letter from 1994, a year after his father left the White House.

“I was very happy on that day in 1945, but I’m even happier today,” he read, as his 93-year-old father squeezed his eyes shut and wept. “You have given me joy that few men know … I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband.”

To honor his late wife’s commitment to literacy, the former president wore to the funeral a pair of colorful socks “festooned with books,” Bush spokesman Jim McGrath tweeted, adding that Barbara Bush had raised more than $100 million for the cause.

As the service ended, Bush’s grandsons bore her casket out of the church, with George W. Bush pushing his father in a wheelchair directly behind it.

Barbara Bush was buried on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Library and Museum at Texas A&M University in College Station, next to her daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia at the age of 3. The motorcade carrying her body traversed George Bush Drive and Barbara Bush Drive on its way there.

More than 700 Texas A&M cadets lined the driveway to the presidential library grounds as the cortege passed, the Houston Chronicle reported. When the last vehicle entered the property, the gates were closed ahead of the private ceremony, the newspaper said.

Members of the public had a chance to pay their respects on Friday, when Bush lay in repose at the church. George H.W. Bush, seated in a wheelchair in front of the casket, greeted mourners in turn with a handshake.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston; Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Additional reporting and writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Daniel Wallis)

Meriam Ibrahim Encourages Naghmeh Abedini At National Conference

Two women who have been on the front lines of the battle for religious freedom in the world took center stage at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.

Meriam Ibrahim, the woman who had been sentenced to death in Sudan for her Christian faith, appeared to accept the “Cost of Discipleship” award at the Summit and used her speech to encourage the wife of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who is imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith.

“Do not fear; be strong. Take care of your kids and the Lord will be with you,” she said to Naghmeh Abedini, who addressed the Summit in her own address.  Ibrahim called Abedini “her sister” and encouraged her to stand strong no matter what evil the Iranians may throw her husband’s way.

Ibrahim, who gave birth to her daughter Maya while shackled in chains to a wall of the prison, spoke of the weight the imprisonment had on her young son Martin, who was also kept in the prison.

“That was the most difficult time for me because Martin would want to go with him and grab on to him and I would stand there unable to do anything because he’s a child. He didn’t understand why he was in jail through no fault of his. He didn’t understand why kids were able to play outside and enjoy themselves and be with their parents, their fathers and mothers,” described Ibrahim.

Ibrahim thanked everyone who prayed and worked to obtain her release and her family’s escape from Sudan.

Greatness Comes From the Valley

When you think of the greatest inspirations in music, or in a sermon, or in a book, or in a testimony, you rarely think of those inspirations coming from the mountaintop of life, though the mountaintop provides some encouragement. But greatness comes from the valley of a life lived in triumph through the face of trouble and adversity. Greatness comes from the dark night of the soul experiences in the valleys of life. The only thing that can speak to the sorrows of others is the fellowship of their suffering.

BeBe Winans was with me this week on the occasion of celebrating my 50th year in ministry. BeBe is a friend who loves at all times, and a brother born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17) He is a man that is priceless in his loyalty and his integrity. Though he has spent a great deal of his life on the mountaintop, BeBe knows what it means to struggle in the valley. Through BeBe’s songs, you find his testimony.

On the show BeBe told of a time when he was with the renowned poet, Maya Angelou and she offered this advice: “BeBe, promise me that you will learn to enjoy the struggle.”

Simplistic? Yes, but be very sure that there is more wisdom in those few words than many long, flowing dissertations and even countless books written by those who have not been in the valley and know not its struggles and its triumphs. It’s in the valley that the Word of God becomes your rhema. It’s in the valley that you are given the understanding that in your weakness, He is strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

During the show, BeBe sang a song by Donnie McClurkin, “Stand” which he and CeCe have performed many times. A key line in the chorus of this song says “after you’ve done all you can… Stand!” You can’t sing this song with the fervor and believability BeBe sings it with – without having been to the valley. If you didn’t catch this show on our ‘live-streaming’ internet, be sure you watch next week when it airs on regular television programming.

BeBe told me “You have been an example and a blessing to me and my entire family.” It doesn’t get any better than that, except to hear: “Well done, Good and Faithful Servant.”