I was on Facebook yesterday, and saw a post from a friend who has in the course of his time in Detroit befriended a homeless man. The stories that man shared about the indignant way people treat him, from a security guard laughing at him to people treating him as though he is not human, are stories that should make us furious as Christians (and as my friend pointed out, for those not of the faith, as people who in general believe in the principle of justice).
Then I remembered my time working for the Church in the city and having to fight the urge to look away. We don't like to see things that make us uncomfortable, but somehow, it is precisely those things that make us uncomfortable that often reveal something of Christ to us. I remember visiting a friend while he was living in Toronto and wondering why he had breakfast bars in his truck, only to watch him hand one to a man on the street who he noticed as he was driving by. Eyes to see, a heart and hands to give. That's what we are all called to have. His eyes, His hands, His feet, His love.
As the short conversation went on over this post on Facebook, someone mentioned a video about Homeless Backpacks. The basic premise is to put together a pack of things that would be helpful for someone who is homeless along with a satchel to carry the items in, all for around $20 a pack. It's really quite genius, and the full video is below.
That got me thinking about how we can be prepared always to encounter Jesus in the least of his children. At the very least, even if you don't have the money or inclination to put together packs to have on hand, you can give the homeless a taste of dignity. Look them in the eyes. Smile. Say hello. Don't just look away and keep walking. Bless them, but if you take time to see Jesus in them, be prepared for them to bless you. I know in each instance I've been schooled by those I have met.
If you are inclined to carry a pack or two with you, there are suggestions for items below in the video. If you don't want to be quite as elaborate, pick a few things and maybe a fanny pack or smaller satchel. A few things to keep in mind:
- Hot ticket items - socks. Warm feet, happy heart, right?
- Be sure canned goods have self-open lids.
- If you are including canned goods, include a plastic spoon and fork.
- In the north? How about hand warmers in addition to gloves, scarves and hats? It's cold out there at night.
- Be sure food is soft - many people don't have the strongest teeth.
- A bus pass would be helpful for many.
- Include encouraging scriptures or even Dollar Store Bibles - that way when you leave them, you leave them with Jesus.
- Leave your judgement behind. Yes, they may be addicts. Yes, they may be prostitutes. Yes, they may have expensive jewelry, a nice phone and/or a fancy car. Yes, they may have several children. Yes, their hygiene may be terrible. Yes, they may be drunk. Yes, they may be cantankerous. Yes, they may be taking advantage of the kindness of strangers and government systems. God does not judge us on their hearts, He judges us on ours. Keep it soft and keep it open to see Jesus in distressing disguise.
- Keep your eyes open everywhere - the homeless are not just in the "inner city." Suburbs, small towns, rural areas all have their share of people on the street for a variety of reasons.
- Trust your spidey sense. Be not afraid, but do be smart. If it seems like a bad situation, just remember to smile as you go on your way. Not every moment or homeless person is one God is calling you to, but not every homeless person is a threat either.
Now get out there and show some Love!
UPDATE: Patty Hubbard added an excellent practice in the comments below. Ask a person their name. That sheer act affirms their dignity as a human created in the image of God with a purpose and an identity. Beautiful suggestion, Patty!
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