This blog post from 2012 is one I read the most when I give talks about homelessness. I often read it when someone asks me a common and predictable question after my talk. People in groups like Rotary or Lions service clubs or church outreach groups usually ask something like, “What can our group do to serve the homeless?” It’s an honest question. One I appreciate. Now, I think they expect me to answer like this, “It would be great for your group to come serve food or donate clothes at our center…” If said this, they can easily sign-up and check the project off the list. Please don’t get me wrong. All those things are good and sometimes needed. However, this kind of charity is easy and often duplicated by many great organizations.
What I usually say is that I would love for a group like Rotary to come cook, serve the food, but most importantly eat the food and join in conversation WITH our homeless guests. (Groups like that have tons of capable people with skills who could offer great advice to those we serve.) However, when I say this, the group usually just stares back at me. You see, serving food or giving money is easy but engaging and being vulnerable with another person, especially the homeless, is hard and often uncomfortable for many people. This is understandable but should challenge us to do more!
That is why it’s easier to hide behind giving money or serving in a kitchen line because it makes us feel good without having to make any real human connection during charity. Just think of the time when you encounter someone who might be homeless and asks you for money on the sidewalk. Most of the time it’s easier just to give them a coin instead of making real eye contact, spending time, or even worse, starting a conversation with them.
When we engage with someone in genuine conversation, we open ourselves up to be vulnerable with a disinherited stranger and possibility admitting we might share much more in common with that person. This encounter might lead us to feel responsible to help in larger ways. It often requires time and real effort so this frightens us.
That’s why I was so impressed with the church that served the meal at Haven on March 2, 2012. They had all types of volunteers who engaged with those who were homeless. Not only did they cook and serve amazing food (I found out later that they serve food that men from their church hunt for during hunting season) but they treated the homeless like their own family with dignity and respect. They asked for names. They made eye contact. And they were not afraid to be vulnerable and join in conversation WITH the homeless.
Serving someone a meal might treat a temporary need, but sharing in a meal and joining in conversation with the homeless can be transformative. Partaking equally in our common humanity can be life changing. (I will share more on this in the blogs to come but for now enjoy the original blog for Day 10 & 11 and the passages I reflected during those days of 2012.)
NAME: March 3, 2012
A good friend of mine, Bryan Fillette, came in from Houston to experience part of this Lenten journey with me for a few days. Bryan is a smart man. (Not for living with me on the streets…but what he has accomplished before today.) Bryan graduated with a 4.0 from LSU, attended Baylor Medical School for one year, then transferred to Duke University to attain a Divinity degree (that’s where I met him and we became roommates), and then he went back to Baylor Medical School to complete his M.D. in Psychiatry. He is now both a Reverend and a Medical Doctor…and he allowed himself to experience life at the “lowest level.”
Bryan attends a church near the Houston Medical Center where he leads Sunday School and leads the efforts to provide assistance to the homeless near his church. He calls it “Common Ground.” I like that name.
When Bryan arrived at the outdoor shelter it was time for dinner. Usually dinner is simple and you can only get one plate from the churches that provide the meals. However this night was different. Last night, River City Community Church (their website is www.reallife.org … I also like that name!) served us the dinner…and it was amazing. First off, it was the first time in 8 days that I was greeted by the church volunteers in line before we were served and they asked me “What’s your name?” before we were seated. Let me type it again.
They asked me, “What’s your name?”
They cared enough to know my name…some random homeless person needing a place to eat. They cared about the downtrodden, the addicts, the hookers, and the lonely. For a moment, they look past the shaggy hair, torn clothes, and smelly bodies…and they see Jesus Christ.
They didn’t have to ask. All the churches before didn’t find it neccessary to ask that question. I bet they are all great churches…but River City Community Church got it right. They saw the image of God in every single one of us. The humanized homelessness.
It was the first time we also were allowed to have 2nd, 3rds, or even 4ths. They brought that much food! And did not hold back. They had ground beef, white rice, beans, pickles, jalepenos, bread, milk, tea, cheese, and juice. It was a banquet. It was a great banquet.
Last night the dining room had a different feel than the nights before. The residents were laughing, hugging, sharing food, and praying for one another. This might happen quite often here…but it was the first time I experienced that type of spirit in the outdoor shelter.
Maybe it was luck.
Maybe it was the weather.
Maybe is was the 2nds.
Or maybe it was the love River City Church had for everyone regardless of social status…how they dropped their fear of the homeless and saw in us the Image of God.
Maybe it was because they asked, “What’s your name?”
Luke 14:15-24 (Posted on )
The Parable of the Great Banquet
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
Proverbs 3:24-26 (Posted on )
When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared.”
Day 11: 46 Days!
The Second Sunday of Lent is here. We are making our way to Gethsemane….and we have 35 more days to go.
35 days left…but its been 11 days? FYI…the Lenten season is really 46 days long. I keep forgetting that fact. And did not remember till recently. (Sundays are considered “mini-Easters” and the church does not include these days in the Lenten Calendar. However, I have decided to include these days and will continue my fast. I am leading a youth trip on a Discipleship Retreat March 14-18 and I will be away from San Antonio…so I have 4 days to give. However…we are riding a train…so it’s definitely not my home… (www.puslestudents.com)
Having Bryan in town to witness part of the fast was great. I hope he had a good time meeting my friends and learning more about homelessness in San Antonio. Bryan told me to keep writing about my direct interactions and stories regardless of the image. I told him I would…so this next week all I will write about is my direct interactions and journey.
It was 39 degrees last night…the coldest night yet. But my sleeping bag keeps me warm.
Have a great Sunday! -gavin
(NOTE: I was a Baptist at the time, and grew up Church of Christ, so I forgot Lent was longer than 40 Days but stayed longer to make up my misunderstanding!)