Last week on The Front Porch Swing I shared that the only visible difference between me and the man holding a cardboard sign was I was sitting in my warm vehicle and he was outside sitting on a plastic bucket. This week, I would like to probe a little deeper into the topic of homelessness and assisting the vulnerable among us.
Obviously the man with the sign and I have unique life stories. I have always been gainfully employed and now enjoy a comfortable retirement and live in a nice home. He is homeless and may sleep in a tent or a car. He may have chosen his lifestyle, or he may be there due to alcohol or drug addiction or, perhaps, as the result of the high cost of housing in Bend. Either way, our lives could not be more different.
Our culture places us in two distinct identities. My material worth and his are galaxies apart. I am confident he doesn’t receive the same respectful treatment as me. Oh, yes; compassionate people stop to give him money or other assistance; otherwise he wouldn’t be sitting at the same corner day after day.
As divergent as our social status, we share one identity. We were both created in God’s image. We are both fallen creatures in need of God’s grace and mercy.
Back in 2006 I recommended a book, Same Kind of Different as Me, to our congregation. The book is the true story of two men in Texas whose lifestyles were dramatically different. The book was also made into a feature length movie.
Ron Hall, a wealthy, respected art trader in Dallas met Denver Moore, a black homeless ex-con from Louisiana, while Hall was volunteering at a shelter in Fort Worth. These two men, from dramatically unique backgrounds, became best friends. The take away from the story is that the relationship between these men, not free meals or a place to sleep at night, eventually enabled Denver break out of a life-time of violence and homelessness. Truth is the relationship also had a positive impact on Ron Hall.
If it is true that the deepest need of the poor among us is not more resources but relationships, how can we respond? I can’t be become a friend of every homeless person in my community. Neither can you. But, I can choose to get involved with one or two men at the Shepherd’s House. The relationship usually begins with caring for his immediate needs such as clothing or perhaps a ride to medical appointments or with a parole officer.
But, having cared for those needs is just the tip of the iceberg. The men I have helped the most were the ones I asked to help with a job around my home. Often they agreed to help me thinking they were simply volunteering. Surprising them, by giving them a generous “salary”, helped move the relationship forward. Sitting in my truck at a local drive-through coffee shop listening to their stories was part of helping them, and it also impacted me.
Last week I promised to share about another friend I have met at The Shepherd’s House. Bill, not his real name, calls me Pops. He has spent much of his five decades in prison. He knows that he is welcome in my home anytime, and we text frequently, always saying “I love you.” The transformation in Bill’s life has been phenomenal but not without struggles. Progress has had its ups and downs. Sometimes the struggle has been so severe he has considered running away- his old default pattern. But, our relationship has been one of the anchors encouraging him to stay and fight through the struggle.
I was humbled one day as I overheard Bill sharing his story with a group of our friends. He shared that the turning point in his life began when I invited him out for pie and coffee. His past life on the streets conditioned Bill to question my motivation for inviting him to meet with me. But, through sharing life together, his life has changed. His deepest need when he came to the Shepherd’s House was not a warm place to sleep or even the recovery program or occasional financial assistance I provided. His greatest need was relationships with other followers of Jesus. I was just one of them, but my life has also been influenced in so many positive ways.
The challenge of helping the poor and the broken image-bearers among us is great. But, how can we help them? I offer a few suggestions:
First, open the curtain. Pull up the shades. Ask God to help you see the needs around you through new eyes.
Secondly, pray for wisdom to know how God may want you to respond. Will it be volunteering at a local shelter? Or, providing transportation to court hearings or medical appointments?
Third, ask God to show you who might be your Bill or your Sam or Susie.
Finally, accept the risk of getting involved in their life. Perhaps it will begin with letting them choose clothing. Spend time getting to know the woman behind the sign or in the man in the mission.
Perhaps your part in the ministry will be providing financial support through your local church or the shelter ministries in your town.
But, get involved. Because God has a heart for the poor, the immigrant and the vulnerable; so should we.
It begins by realizing we are all created in God’s image. We are all needy. Some of us have resources to share.
Denver Moore, an ex-convict comparing himself with the wealthy and respectable Ron Hall, said it quite well: “Same kind of difference as me.”
I have discovered the same truth through my friendships with the men I have befriended at The Shepgerd’s House.
I would love to hear your stories of being touched and enouraged by someone else. Or, share how God has used you to encourage another broken person.
Thanks for visiting The Front Porch Swing today. I welcome your comments and input. Please invite your friends to join us.