I wish I could wrap my mind around the real issues of homelessness. I have been struggling now for the past couple of weeks to understand how we are making a real difference in the lives of these people we meet each week. It is hard to see the fruit – if any – that is produced through our interactions with these people and oftentimes leads to a feeling of withdraw. We have spent several months now with the homeless at Love Park and I often wonder if there really is anything we have walked away learning. Perhaps God allows that to be a mystery so that we would not become prideful of our efforts as if we had something to do with it in the first place. The more I realize why I am going to Love Park, the more I realize that I need to continually ask God to humble me and make me a real servant to the Lord and to these brothers and sisters who have found themselves on the streets for one reason or another. I am learning though, which is always a good thing.
So tonight, we went once again to a familiar spot. We actually went into Love Park and set up a station on one of the plant containers along the sidewalk and placed several items on a cement bench that was adjacent to the flowerpot. I am always continually amazed how there is no one around us when we first show up but within minutes, there is a swarm of people lining up for coffee, a bagged lunch, and some clothes to keep them warm. When this first begins, this is where I usually struggle with the questions of how we are helping these people sustain a “natural lifestyle” as a homeless person on the streets of Philadelphia. The majority of these people do not pay rent to anyone, have no bills, and oftentimes receive free food and clothes simply because they are on the streets. I am not saying that we should stop giving these clothes and food items to these people. I just wonder how much we are aiding in their sustainability on the streets. Are we really helping them or are we making it easier for them to stay where they are and never set goals for themselves? I hope one day, we could go down without food and clothes and attempt to talk to these people about the issues that matter most. Food and clothes are definitely important but so is salvation and forgiveness of sins. We cannot negate the importance of why we are going in the first place. We are attempting to be like Jesus in our actions and our deeds. Apart of that effort is in our ability to share the Gospel effectively and clearly enough so that others will hear the Truth of the Gospel and come to know Christ in a powerful way. We cannot be only standing on the side of food and clothes. We must balance that with the Gospel of grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.
So it was while I was watching people receive newer clothes and food for the night, I saw an older gentleman who everyone called “Pop.” Pop looked to be about 70 with a short, white beard and warn out eyes from age. He would look at me and tears began to slowly run down his face. He was a skinny man who wore his closet on his person and kept a large bag in his hand, which I am sure was filled with a great number of personal belongings. When he would smile, his two lonely teeth would shine and proceed to chew another bite of his PB and J. We did not talk much at all. We just sat there next to one another and enjoyed the fellowship of togetherness. I know that might seem ridiculous but I guess sometimes words are not needed in order to feel like one belongs. Sometimes, someone just needs another person to be in his or her presence and smile. It is a simple act that had a profound affect on me after he finally left, placing his finished brown paper bag in his pocket. Sitting there for a moment, I wondered if I had seen the face of God in this man who spoke no more than five simple words.
While sitting, Greg came over and gave me a big hug. I can tell that he had recently showered because he smelled like Ivory soap when I hugged him. I have to say it was nice to hug a man who lived on the streets of Philadelphia who had recently showered. Most of the men I have come to know have not taken that opportunity yet and thus smelled. Greg was dressed rather nice in a semi-suit ensemble. He had just informed me that he SHOULD be connecting with his son in the next couple of weeks; that he ad receive a full-time job as a “Mr. Fix-It” man where he hoped to live. This job would pay quite well and allow his rent to be significantly less than he would have to pay. The only thing Greg was waiting for now was a background check to make sure he was who he said he was. If everything goes well, he should be hearing back from Harrisburg within the next week or so (the earliest being this Friday). As I talked to him, I could tell how desperate he was to make things work out in order that he could be with his son and take care of him. I have no doubt that it broke his heart each week not knowing when he would see his son next. Since it was hard on his son to not see his dad, Greg would only stop by for a couple of hours a month and hang out with his son. He would pray with him and tell his son that he loved him and that they would be together soon. It was so hard to let him go each week.
As I was talking to Greg, there was a man who was mentally not right in the park, running around like a quarterback for a football team or something. In a loud voice, he would yell, “Hut 56, hut 56…” and then would proceed to run around Love Park like a crazy person. After he got “a touchdown,” he would simply stop and talk to himself for a little and then start the whole thing over again. This went on for a good 15 minutes.
In my last few minutes at Love Park tonight, I continued talking to Greg about the future and how God was going to make everything work out for His glory. Greg liked that a lot. He was so thankful when we prayed for him and his son. I can only hope that God will continue to show us how to be a brighter light to those who we meet. I know it takes a long time to make a change but I hope in some small way, we have achieved at least a little of that. That is my hope anyway