As I have already written, I have struggled to sit back and not consider the poor I have met on the streets. They have names I can recite at a moment’s notice. They have a story, which I have heard. They have a face that is no longer blurred among the “street bums” I have stepped over while spending money on things I really do not need. So what do we do? I say we and not I because we all have a responsibility to do something. It is not an obligation mind you. It is what it is: A responsibility. In part, I do not know what we are to do. I feel as though I am opening Pandora’s box, expecting the world to collide with itself or something by asking such a question like this. When the box is open though, so the story goes, it cannot be closed (at least easily).
I have been challenged by a quote Seneca spoke. “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” Do I consider myself poor? In general, I would say no. But according to Seneca the more I crave, the more I am poor. Is Seneca right? Am I really poorer than I am willing to admit to myself? How does one even measure such a statement as that? I am honestly not sure.
I have been challenged as well by God to consider a simple truth: There is no difference between “us” and “them.” Let that sink into our souls a little more.
There are those who have been treated like cockroaches in our cities (even our towns) by the wealthy businessman and the police. During the night, the “cockroaches” are allowed to come out and sleep on the benches and the dirt floors of the city. It is only during the night, the “cockroaches” feel as though they are understood by their own kind. It is only in the darkness the homeless come out and gathers as a community to eat, sleep, and have “fellowship” with one another. They protect one another from other homeless who seek to rob them of what little they have. It is a lonely night for some. Maybe they have not showered for several weeks. Perhaps their last conversation with a “normal” human being was a month ago. Who would want to talk to them anyway? Knowing tomorrow night will be no different, they take their warn coat and place it over their feet to keep warm.
In the morning, the light shines. And, like cockroaches, the homeless scatter in hopes to find a better place to stay for the night, a warm meal to fill their bellies, and perhaps even find a job of some kind. They are scattered by the police early. Nelson (a homeless guy I met this past Monday) told me the police come as early as five in the morning. Their authoritative clock yells at them to get up and get moving. The businessmen and such will be arriving in the next hour or so. So they get up and move on. Rubbing the sleep from their eyes, they look around and realize another day has come. Into the darkness of some alley or corner some of them go. There is no hope for a future. Some cry. Some will end up trying to pawn money from the rich who look down at them with disgust. Some will feel piety on them and give them the small change from their pockets and walk away. The day continues and ends just like it did the day before. Soon, after everyone goes home, they can go back to their “favorite” bench or dirt bed and attempt to sleep.
What the hell is wrong with this picture? How can we sit back and enjoy the “best things of life” knowing that perhaps only twenty minutes away, several hundred homeless people are making their beds on the ground? Living, breathing people resort to the city’s parks and alleys for their “homes.” Am I really the only person who has a problem with this? I am not looking for you to piety anyone. In fact, that is the worst thing we could do. They do not need people to feel bad for them. That will not fill their bellies and give them hope that tomorrow will be different for them. They have dreams, desires, hopes, and aspirations like you and I. They have names and faces that reach to the center of your heart (if we allow them to).
I struggle to believe that the only hope these homeless people have are our “finest” shelters and rescue missions. These people need real community. They need to know that they are truly loved by someone. And, they need to see actions to the words of love we are called to speak to them. I was recently reading the book of Proverbs. As I continued to read the end of Proverbs 31, I stumbled upon verse nine, which says, “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” How do we do that? What can we really do to make a difference for the poor and the needy? That again, is a difficult question to ask. Probably because we know we can at least do something (small) to make a profound effect on others (the homeless).
Here is a real option though. Gather a bunch of people together, make some PB and J’s, some apples, some water, and your hearts and go down to your city and spend some times with the poor. Do not just hand out the bags of lunch and preach at them. They do not need that. They need someone to listen to them. They need someone to ask them questions so they can feel like they actually matter (perhaps for the first time in a long while). Allow their stories to pierce your soul. Cry with those who cry and laugh with those who laugh. Allow yourself to get a little dirty and put your arms around them. Deal with their smell; they are dealing with yours. Ask their names and where they are from. Ask how long they have been on the streets. Ask if they have families and what they used to do (or do). Always allow them to share with you their stories (even if they are fabricated). Finally ask them to pray for you. Tell them that you will pray for them. And, if the opportunity opens itself, tell them that Jesus loves them. Do not preach at them though. That will get you nowhere. God will use you. He will give you a heart for those who are in need.
At the end of the night, gather with your group and share your experience of the night. Then, before everyone leaves, pray. Pray that God will protect those whom you met. Pray that God will provide for them safety and encouragement. Pray that they will come to know Jesus in a powerful way.
Other things you could do: volunteer at a local shelter, soup kitchen, or rescue mission. You could also get a permit and have a big cookout for the poor at a local spot. Go through your closets and bag the clothes you haven’t worn in a long while and give them to a local shelter or thrift store to be sold at a cheap price for those who might need them. Finally, downsize your life. Consider all the things you have in your own life and ask the question, “Do I really need this or that?” It is not wrong to own things we use. What about the many things we own we do not use? It is wasteful.
I am not sorry if I offended someone by this post. When I go down to the city and hang out with the homeless I am offended by what I see. I am offended by the hundreds of people who cannot provide for themselves and resort to whatever situation they have to resort to. I am offended that I have not done something about this sooner than now. Maybe we can all do something to help those who are poor and are needy. Homeless or not, we are all made in the image of Christ. Maybe it would be good for us to remember that. For their sake and our own, let’s do something for others. Thanks for loving others. God bless