Catherine Martin, on her blog Everyone has a Story posted: Jesus was a homeless guy. And so He was.
A scribe approached Him and said, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go!” Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. Matthew 8:19,20
It is an appropriate blog post this week. For this evening begins Sukkoth, also called the Feast of Tabernacles (or booths). The celebration of Sukkoth isn’t at all the same here in America as it is in Israel. The closest an American might come to visualizing the scene in Jerusalem would be if he or she is old enough to remember Christmases when many front lawns and parks had small tent-like structures within which were displayed nativity scenes. The celebration of Sukkoth is the celebration of remembering that once the Jewish people wandered in the desert. While not all celebrate the Feast by sleeping the entire night in the small tents that line the streets of Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, most will at least eat a meal in the tent during the evening. This Feast is one in which giving extra to charity is emphasized, and often a stranger is entertained in a tent.
There is a local church here in north Georgia that holds a festival of sorts that has the youth group sleeping outdoors. Each year the youth group is tasked with going out into the community to beg for food, as food drive. The young people then return, hopefully with bags of groceries, or at least pledges. Toward evening, they build cardboard huts in which they will spend the night. There are adult chaperones, and a meager meal is served to those who’ve brought back food that will be shared with actual homeless individuals.
In her post, Ms. Martin tells of her anguish at reading a comment by a “Christian pastor explaining his opinion that people who are poor are reaping the seeds of irresponsibility and poor decisions, and the Church is not expected to physically care for them.” This pastor suffers from an excessive dose of Calvinism, in which those who are truly saved display that fact by being very prosperous. I suppose that love isn’t enough to display that we are Christians. So does that mean the song, “They will know we are Christians by our love. . .” ought to be changed to “They will know we are Christians by our riches. . . ” Huh! Yeah, I agree with Ms. Martin. And I agree with the church that is doing something to build some sort of empathy within its youth group for the plight of the homeless. And plight it is.
Being homeless is like ending up in a hole, whether or not it is one fallen into or one that a person digs for him or her self. Once in deep enough, it cannot be escaped without help. In the mid eighties I worked with a wonderful man who was homeless. He, along with his wife and two children, were living in a small settlement of homeless. The pastor had built a community out of old military barracks removed from a nearby military post when it was closing down some of its training areas. That pastor taught some of the men to fish, buying three fishing boats. He tried to work with those that were able to get them back into the mainstream. Some were not able. Some too burned out, too empty of self-esteem. To emotionally broken. But those that could, were able to get out, on their feet, and make it. My friend eventually became a music professor at a well-known university, and his wife a teacher and artist.
Think about this: If you are applying for a job, you need an address. If your driver license is expiring, you need an address. No address, no job, no identification. How do you get a job? Oh, sure, just rent a place to live, then you will have an address and you can apply for a job. But without a job, how do you pay for a place to live? Okay, some ingenuity and you use the address of a shelter until you get a job, save some money, and move into a place of your own. But getting a job takes money, too. Clothing, for instance, that isn’t rags, is a basic necessity. It’s just hard. The homeless need help. And, as Ms. Martin points out, it’s not helping them if a Christian just passes them a tract to read. What churches can do is look around the community within which it resides, and say, “What needs are there here?” Then supply them.
While working psych ambulance in California’s Silicon Valley, I went into a lot of board and care facilities for mental health patients. I also transported a lot of elderly people to and from residential facilities. Most of these places were really bad. But there was one, just one in all of the Santa Clara Valley, that was incredibly nice. It was in the back parking lot of a Mennonite Church. Being also a journalist in my though process, I asked about the senior care facility and was told that church members discovered there was a real need in the community for senior citizens, old people, to have a place to live, to be cared for. The parking lot was huge, and the city allowed the church to build a facility.
Like the pastor that built a community for the homeless, like the Mennonite Church, churches can spend more time looking to their own communities’ needs than to building fancy buildings and additional classrooms, or funding mission trips to other countries. While those things may seem important, the guy on the corner carrying a sign that says “Vet needs help,” might, with a little love and help, get on his own feet. In the meantime, that homeless man provides a witness against the church for its lack of commitment to Messiah Y’shua, who tasted life on the streets.
Lord Bless, Keep, Shine. . .