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.