Yesterday, I had the pleasure of serving the homeless at our annual church Thanksgiving event. My church is a very small but close-knit church; we start compiling clothes, shoes, blankets, food, and start getting ready for this event about 3 or 4 months in advance. There was an awesome spread of food; turkey, macaroni and potato salads, rice and beans, drinks, desserts, and hot dogs and hamburgers, just in case we ran out of food. Not only do the homeless in the neighborhood come, but a lot of needy families show up as well. When I was looking for a church family, I purposely selected a church that was in a low-income neighborhood, because there is more opportunity to help and do the meaningful type of work that God has called me to do.
This year, I was asked to help market the event. During the process of posting fliers at the bus stops and stores around the neighborhood a few weeks ago, I ran into a homeless man who ‘lives’ outside the Family Dollar a block away from my church. He didn’t have any clothes, blankets, or any possessions that I could see, but he did have a large bag full of trash. It was almost like since that was the only thing he owned, he didn’t want to part with it- even though to us, it was just trash. I approached him to tell him about the upcoming event, and he politely declined, saying he didn’t need anything, but thanked me for the offer. I went on my way.
Yesterday during the event, I walked up the block to see if he was still there- and he was. Wearing the same clothes, with the same bag of trash, sitting at the curb watching the traffic go by. I asked him again if he wanted to come by- and again, he politely declined.
I couldn’t help but notice that he is a very good-looking guy. He is tall, thin, with bright blue eyes, and can’t be more than 35 years old. He’s soft-spoken, meek, and won’t make eye contact. I went back to my church, put a bag of clothes together, grabbed one of the guys, and we took the clothes and two plates of food back to my new friend.
Although he didn’t want to accept the stuff “You didn’t have to do that”…, I saw him smile for the first time. My friend Frank (who is wonderful at praying over people) told him that Jesus loved him just the way he is. We wished him well and went back to the church.
I came to a few realizations during this experience.
– The homeless are the voiceless. The more people see them, the more they are ignored, either because people are scared, don’t know how to help, or are disgusted by them because of their appearance. It’s a vicious circle. The more the homeless are ignored, the deeper they sink into depression, hopelessness, or addiction… because they believe that no one cares. The fact that the first thing he said was “You didn’t have to do that” told me he has low self esteem and doesn’t feel he deserves someone to care about him. But- the Bible says that Jesus was also homeless (Matthew 8:20- And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”) So- how do we know that that homeless person you see on the street doesn’t have some great gift for the world, just like Jesus did?
– Anything helps more than just ignoring someone. What could have possible happened to that homeless man to get himself into the situation he’s in? Maybe he’s a veteran. Maybe he has no family. Maybe he lost his job and has no way of picking himself up without someone to help him. Addiction, maybe? It doesn’t matter. Everyone deserves to be loved and acknowledged. Even if you can’t afford to give a few bucks, a simple greeting can work wonders to let someone know they are noticed. Maybe your greeting will give that person the hope they need to get some help.
– His smile showed me how happy he was that someone thought of him. So, if this one tiny gesture made him so happy, how long has it been since someone acknowledged his presence? It was hard not to get choked up while we were talking to him, because I couldn’t help but think that this man was someone’s little boy once, and if it were my son were in the street, I would want someone to help him.
– It is God’s expectation that we help each other, look out for each other, and love each other. (Luke 10:25-27- And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”) It’s difficult to care about everyone, especially people you don’t even know. But it’s our responsibility. The Bible also says that we will be rewarded for doing His works. (Proverbs 19:17- Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.)
My point to writing this is, that during the bustle of the holiday season, take a second to thank God for all that you have. Even if you don’t feel you have much, you have way more than MANY people on this planet. There is always someone worse off than you, and you can also lose everything in the blink of an eye. Stay grateful. Also- take a second to notice the less fortunate. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice much. Even a smile or a ‘hello’ can lift the spirit of someone who hasn’t had anyone to care about them.
34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry
and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
36 I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’
40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’