So Little, Yet So Much. – Day One: Part One

Posted: November 10, 2010 by Anthony Rowell in homelessness, loving others, ministry

The plan was set into motion several months ago that Matthew and I would go homeless for a weekend.  The date was set for November 5th,  knowing that the colder weather would be here by then.  Our desire was to gain perspective and understanding of how “they” live.  As the weekend unfolded, it quickly changed from “they” to “we”.

Friday morning Matthew and I met up in our neighborhood and walked to the bus stop about a mile away. We rode to the mall and changed buses so that we could make it a little closer to downtown.  By the time we got off the bus on Greenfield St. one person had spoken to us. A stranger  overheard us talking about where we needed to go and directed us to which bus to take. The kindness of one stranger gave us direction.

We walked through town and arrived at one of the inner city shelters, only to be turned away for the entire weekend because we had missed the application deadline by 30 minutes!

I felt the first tinges of disappointment set in. I thought about how familiar they must be with disappointment.

We then walked from Greenfield Street to yet another shelter, where they too could not take us in.  They were simply out of room, but told us to come back for dinner at 5:30 that evening.

At this point my feet were already beginning to hurt from walking around one day in a pair of worn out Reebok.  Not to mention the hunger pains in my stomach.

We needed to kill time so we decided to go hang out at the local library.  We walked in and sat down in the chairs by the front door hoping to catch a few minutes to rest and relax.  I looked around for familiar faces and found a few.  But what was to happen next took us by surprise.

As we walked outside I recognized a guy who rides our outreach van to Rock Church on Sundays.  He’s a big, 6’5″, tough looking guy.  Most avoid him because he honestly seems scary. But we soon found out, he’s one of the most tender, generous guys on the street.  I sat down and struck up a conversation with him.  Not yet realizing who we were, He offered us some of the bag of dry cereal that he had.  I thought about how one who has so little could offer to just give it away to two people who he thought to be strangers. Shortly, another gentleman came up with a box of food that he shared with us all.

They have nothing, but they offer everything. This realization hit me with sobering conviction.

Some time went by and another gentleman that I knew came up.  He immediately knew who I was as well.  Puzzled as to why I was out there,  I proceeded to explain to him that we were there to spend the weekend with them to see what their everyday life is like. As you can imagine, he just thought that was pretty cool.

You see, this was a  man who once had a  pretty normal life in another city until he was picked up by law enforcement for an old warrant in our county.  He was extradited and when he went before the judge, the case was thrown out. 

Unfortunately, so was he.

On the streets with no money, nowhere to go, and no way to get back home, he was forced to spend over a month on the streets until he was able to pay off a $7.00 debt to get into the Salvation Army. We chatted for a while and he gave us some encouraging words about our ministry.  Before he walked away he offered Matthew his coat.  Then he stopped, and told everyone around that if anyone laid a finger on us, that he would have to go to prison for the rest of his life. I wondered why someone who barely knew us would care so much.

I began to understand the meaning of Mark 12:41-44 even more.  It was amazing to experience  this man offer us the very coat off his back knowing that it was the only one that he had.  And to see the compassion in his eyes as he told us that he would find us a place to stay so that we wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets.

Again, he had nothing, yet still he offered everything.
Unconcerned with his own needs, he became concerned with ours. 

Yet we as society struggle to give even a little, when we have so much. I couldn’t help but to think maybe “they” have a better grasp on the way life should be than most of “us.”

Day One: part two tomorrow.

What exactly is homelessness?  Is it the Vietnam Veteran with a cardboard sign reading, “Will Work For Food” ?  Or is it the drug addict in the ally slumped over behind a dumpster?  Is it the drunk that staggers up to you and  pesters you for money?  How do you define homelessness? Better yet, how did I define it?

We all tend to have preconceived ideas in our head about the poor in general, but especially the homeless. I have to be honest, for most of my life I thought they were just drunks or addicts that had abandoned their families and were too lazy to get a job.  I believed that instead of actually making something of themselves, they existed by taking advantage of working people…..people like me.

I thought there were plenty of shelters that the homeless could go to at any time of the day and get in.  I assumed that once there, they would be given food, clothes and a decent place to sleep. After all, isn’t what a homeless shelter exists for? I mean, aren’t they what the red buckets and bell ringers are for at Christmas time?  I believed that at least most people were kind and courteous to those less fortunate than themselves.

Over the past couple of years God has been doing a work in my heart and has been showing me HIS heart for these people. But especially after this weekend I realized more than ever that all of my preconceived notions about this group of people were DEAD WRONG.

About two years ago I met and got to know a guy named Donald. Donald is now a friend of mine who has lived on the streets for almost 9 years.  He doesn’t have much materially,  but the joy that radiates through him is something you don’t find much among “regular folks.”  He is one of a kind and has helped me to grasp the reality of homelessness.  You can read Donald’s story here: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Conclusion

Little did I know, my relationship with him was the tiny seed planted in my heart that would continue to grow.  Donald come into my world and took my skewed perception of the homeless and shattered it. There was simply no way to continue viewing the homeless the way that I once had.  I had to choose between doing nothing at all, or pressing forward in attempt to know how I could make a difference in this community of people that most of society does not care to understand, much less love in deed.

So I’m just curious, what has been your perception of them? When you see a homeless person, what has always been your first thought?  It’s okay to be honest. My answers wouldn’t have been pretty three years ago. Have you ever looked deep, beyond their rough exterior to see them the people they really are…. beautifully and wonderfully made?  Or do you just see big screw ups?

The truth is, they’re weathered people with pasts littered with mistakes, bad choices, immense odds and horrible wounds. But they are also beautiful souls with stories of redemption, grace and love yet to be told. Let’s not let our perception of God’s people be skewed by our culture or by our own pride.

Several years ago God began to spark a fire in my heart for the poor and homeless in my city.  I didn’t really know where all that was going until I was literally driving down the road one day when God gave me a vision of a place where a homeless individual or a family could get back on their feet. A vision of housing, discipleship, health care, job-training and substance abuse programs. A place where they can tangibly encounter God’s love and redemptive power.

This hasn’t been something I’ve shared with many people over the past couple of years. Maybe because I knew most would look at me like I’m crazy. And of course then there’s the fact that this is way bigger than me, incredibly scary, and to be honest it all seems more than just a little ridiculous and just a tad bit impossible…..except that nothing is impossible for my God. And I believe that I serve a God who specializes in pulling off ridiculous things for His kingdom’s sake. The vision God gave me that day was unmistakably clear and distinct. So regardless of the how and when, one thing is certain, it will come to pass. So until then, I’ll take the small steps of obedience that I can take towards the vision that’s been laid out before me.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about day one….I promise.

Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.   – Habakkuk 2:2-3

This Is Where The Journey Begins….

Posted: November 8, 2010 by Anthony Rowell in homelessness, loving others, ministry

I am sure that some may be confused as to why I would want to spend a weekend being homeless.  Curiosity, insanity, challenge?  Who knows, maybe they all played a part it my decision to go.  But I can say that being homeless for even just a weekend has impacted me more than anything I’ve ever done in my life. It has opened my eyes and awakened my heart to a whole new level of love and compassion for this group of forgotten people.

I’m really not much of an emotional guy, my wife can tell you it takes a lot for me to shed tears. However, throughout this weekend and even still today, I find myself overcome with emotion over my personal encounter with homelessness. Right now, I am still attempting to soak in and figure out how to make sense of and put into words everything that I saw and experienced. Nevertheless, I find myself in times over the past few days that I feel nothing but brokenness.

When I got home from my weekend on the streets yesterday afternoon, upon waking from a much needed nap (to make up major lack of sleep over the weekend)  I just couldn’t get those guys I had met and spent time with over the weekend off of my mind. So last night I told my wife and kids to get in the car, not even telling them where we were going, and began to head towards downtown. On the way my pastor friend Matthew that had spent the weekend on the streets with me called just to say, “Man, are you like me driving around, just wishing you were downtown?” Of which I responded, “Yeah man, I’m already halfway there.”

I knew those guys we made friends with and hung out with over the weekend would be cold and on the street, with nothing to look forward to but a freezing night of miserable sleep on the streets.  It may not have been much, but even through a cup of hot coffee we wanted them to know that someone really cares about them and to remind them they are not and will not be forgotten.

So for a while I, am going to be posting a series of blog posts. Check back daily and I’ll share with you why homelessness matters to me; why THEY matter to me.  I’ll explain where this all began for me and will attempt to put into words and share with you the vision I have for the homeless in this city.  I’ll post daily of different things showcasing things that I’ve experienced first hand, such as the misconceptions and needs of homelessness.  If you have questions or comments please ask them and I’ll be more than happy to answer them.

I am overwhelmed at all that I’ve experienced recently and am still digesting what to do with it all. But the one thing I do know and am very sure of is that my heart and soul have been completely captured by a need so great – that looking crazy to others or not, I have no other choice but to respond.

As I had felt in my spirit it would, this weekend marked the beginning of an incredible journey for me and I invite you to take it with me, or at least follow along. My heart is full and I have much to share.

Psalm 34:17-18
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Matthew 25:35-36 35
I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.

Homeless For A Weekend

Posted: November 4, 2010 by Anthony Rowell in craziness, homelessness, loving others, ministry

For the past year and a half I have been working with and leading a homeless outreach ministry out of Rock Church. Through this, I have had the opportunity to spend time with, minister to and get to know many of the homeless in our community.  It’s been a huge honor but also a very humbling experience for me.

Before this, I had always just sort of overlooked the homeless as most do.  I never minded helping them a little when I could, but never really went out of my way to really care. That seems to be the easiest thing to do. Because facing the reality of their lives demands action and response on our part.

Recently that has all changed for me.  When I see or meet a homeless person, I wonder if they have ever felt genuine love and if anyone else in the world really cares about them. I find myself being overtaken by compassion, love and mercy for those that most don’t even give a second thought about. To be honest, most of my thoughts throughout my days are consumed with these people that I used to think very little of.

This Friday morning I will embark on a 48 hour journey as one of them.  Putting myself in their shoes for a time, I’ll be homeless. Oddly enough, I am interested to see what it feels like to live life knowing you have no place to sleep, no money, no belongings except for what I can fit into a backpack, no way to get around….and in a sense, no identity in a huge world where one’s identity is everything. I want to see how they feel (as much as is possible for me) and how they are treated by society.

I am praying that God will use this opportunity to spark the fire of change in me and in my community.

Check back soon.  I’d love to share my journey with you.

Steppin Out!

Posted: November 2, 2009 by Anthony Rowell in Uncategorized

There are some days that I feel like everything is just fine.  Some days that I feel completely overwhelmed.  Some days I even feel discouraged, but today is a little different.

Today I feel victorious….  I feel that no matter how gloomy, or uncertain my future could ever be, I am able to overcome.   Today I realize that I am created for a time and a purpose.  Today I recognize that I am to achieve that purpose.   I am to glorify my creator. 

Today,  I will love others unconditionally,  I will cherish the blessings given to me such as my family and friends.  I will share Gods genuine, unfailling love with those who have no clue what love really is. 

Today I will cause my Father God to smile,  Today I will step out in faith and recognize that I don’t have to be perfect, and I don’t have to have all the answers.  I just have to put my faith in Christ and be me!

Blessings in disguise

Posted: October 11, 2009 by Anthony Rowell in church, just me thinking, nuggets

This morning Pastor Ron was delivering the message at Rockchurch.  He was talking about angels and demons and just explaining the “Supernatural”.  One comment that resonated with me was that many of us in that room would be dead had it not been for Angelic intervention.  That the angels are not readily seen because they are “ministering spirits.”  Their sole purpose is to glorify God Almighty. 

As I thought of that I began to wonder at the times that I have been rescued from death or great harm by angels.  Sort of like two years ago when a vehicle pulled out in front of me and I t-boned his truck.  The impact was hard enough that the back glass of my pickup shattered, yet I did not have a scratch on me.  The EMT’s were in awe when they arrived and I was walking around. I remember one EMT asking…”Where is the driver of this vehicle???”  You could see the concern in her eyes because of the damage.  Yet when I responded that I was driving, it was though as sigh of relief overcame her.  I can truly look back on this as a blessing. 

Even as stories flow in my mind of how angels do take care of us, I can’t help but wonder…..  If they are stronger, have greater ability, and greater intelligence, what can I learn from them?  If they are so much smarter than humans,  why are they content to “just do their job?”    Then it hit me, that is what I’m supposed to learn from them.  My life is to glorify God!  I am to do the job he sends me to do.  If he sends me, he will equip me.  All I have to do is obey and glorify him through my obedience. 

What have been your blessings in disguise?  Or better yet, are you being a blessing???

 

I was just viewing a video by a person who has turned to atheism after a very bad church experience.  It saddened me to view what the person had to say for multiple reasons.  What hit closest to home is that I have had very similar experiences in church.  I am nowhere close to perfect, and I do not speak in judgement, but I would like to shine some light on a couple of things for those of us “Christians” that actually claim to be such. 

It greatly saddens me whenever I find out that a restaurant owner hates Sundays because the “church” people that come to their restaurant are so hateful, disrespectful, ungrateful, and hard to please that “It will make you cuss”(according to the owner).  It hurts me to see people turn away from Christ because the “Christians” are turning them away by their attitudes, disposition, and condemnation.  I am disturbed by these reports because I can say that I have been there. 

I personally have been beaten so far down by supposed Christians.  I’ve had scripture used against me, been told that I should not be transparent and that I am destroying those around me.  I choose however to check out what God has to say rather than people.  There are 2 thoughts that I would like to leave you with. 

  1. If you claim to be a Christian…. are you pleasing to God?
  2. If you have been hurt by a “Christian”…  Are you blaming God for the person?

Within the past couple of years I have began to catch a glimpse of what “True” christianity is.  I have been amazed at how much religious garbage I have had deposited in me that has prevented me from having a close relationship with God.  Only in true humility can we come to Christ, but so often we quickly judge others.  The problem is there is no way to judge others when we are genuinely humble.  Humility negates pride!  Love through humility is what Christ wants us to display. 

Get religion out, and let Christ in!!!  If we will catch just a glimpse of that, this world would be radically blessed by Christ!