Tonight I went to Philadelphia. I did not go to shop or catch a baseball game. I went with sixteen people to serve the homeless at Love Park. We met at church around seven to make PBJ’s to hand out to the homeless people we would meet while we were there. We had a purpose and a goal too. We simply wanted to be the church. We wanted people to know that someone really cared about them. We were not there to preach to them. We were there to talk, to listen, to pray, to laugh, and to cry at times. Each person had a story; a soul behind the eyes that stared at us this evening. I think we forget all too often that those who are homeless are people. Sometimes I feel as though we treat them like dogs or mice that run across the city streets. They are people though. They have eyes, a nose and a mouth like you and I.
The first person I met was a guy named James. He is an African- American man who went through some ‘tough times.’ He got hurt on the job and could not work. He searched for a job for several months but was unable to find something that could meet his needs. After a year, he had not found a job and lost his house and even his family. He has three children from two different women. Somehow, he said, he always finds ways to pay for his kid’s needs; they are more important than him. He would rather live on the streets of Philadelphia and work to make sure they have a meaningful life than live in a simple house and care only about him. He sold drugs for a time to make some ‘extra money’ but then got caught and went to jail for a time. When he got out of jail, he attempted to find a job once again. He has learned where all the food banks are and when to go there to get some food. He said he has never gone to bed hungry.
Another guy I met that night was Mont. He was a homeless Jewish guy who has lived on the streets for over nine years. His story is of the same story of James. He hurt his leg at work as a wielder. He went to the hospital and had surgery to try and fix it. They were unable to fix it. He tried to make quick money and lost all that he had gambling. He, like James also knows all the food banks or places to sleep if it is too cold outside to sleep on a park bench. When I asked if I could pray for him, he said that I could. I did not know how to pray for Mont though. Do I pray that he would find a job and get off the streets or do I focus more on the fact that he does not know the Lord. So I decided that I would pray that whatever he needed to sustain a meaningful life for him, God would answer that in his life. Even if that meant living on the streets for the rest of his life knowing that Jesus was Lord and loved him. When I looked at him, there was a tear in his eye. This Jerry Garcia look-a-like stared at me and asked if I knew what his dream was. I did not. He said that he wished he could understand how it got so bad. Why did he not stop gambling when he was losing? I could not answer this man who looked at me with honest eyes. I am sure if I go back to Love Park this Monday, Mont will be there on his ‘special bench.’ I hope his answer is answered in some manner.
Finally I met a guy named Frank. Frank is a guy who is loved by most of the homeless people there in Love Park. He is loved because he cares more about the other people in that park than he does about himself. He is probably one of the most humble men I have met in my life. He has absolutely nothing and yet treats people as those he is the wealthiest man on the block. That is inspiring to me. He told me of a girl on the streets that were pregnant with twins. She needed help but did not know how to help her. So, I did what I could. I found a place where she could be looked after that evening and have her babies looked after to make sure they were healthy. I then found a long term place where she can get the help she needs. She would need money though to get there. So I went and bought some tokens for her to use the next day. This place would take care of her and provide for her and her babies. When all of this was accomplished, Frank looked at me and asked why I care about a bunch of homeless people? I told him that they were people and deserved to be looked after just like myself. A wealth status should not matter. He just looked at me and put his arm on my back as we walked back to Love Park.
On my ride home, I considered a lot of things. These are people. I am not going to lie. Some of these people smelled really bad. Though, if I had not showered in several months, I guess would smell like them as well. They had nothing and yet, for some reason, seemed happy to be on the street. Finally sometimes we need a hand up not a hand out. There is a lot more to the equation than simply being a homeless person. There is a life behind the eyes that stare back at you. I hope and pray that we will all take a little more time to consider those who are in need. It will require us to get a little dirty (or even smelly). Craig Gross wrote, “You cannot blame the darkness for being in the dark. You can only blame the light for not shinning brightly in the darkness. I agree. So let us shine bright in the darkness. Let us love our neighbor as ourselves. It is what we are called to do. It is the reason we were saved. Let us be a blessing to others. For the sake of Christ, let us live as Christ has called us to live. At the end of the day, you are more blessed than those whom you server. It is crazy like that. So let us bless others, for the sake of the Gospel