Deuteronomy (said with a creaky "Billy Crystal" voice) 15:11 says it very clearly: "For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.' " Matthew and Mark also each talk about how "You will have the poor with you always." When you combine this with the other scriptures that tell us to clothe and feed the poor....then I have my answer. The love of God is poured into each one of us by the Holy Spirit. That is exactly what happened when my heart broke open for the people we serve. I can not shake their hands and look them in the eye and continue to think of them as one general term.."the homeless". As soon as I reached out and touched their hand and looked them in the eye, they became individual people. Individual people with individual stories that have brought them to where they stand today. We all need love....It doesn't matter what age we are, what nationality, race, sex, or socio-economic group. We are transformed by the love of God and I believe that God is transforming those on North First Street by His love as well as all of the volunteers.
1 Cor. 12:13 and 14 "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free and have all been made to drink into one spirit....For in fact the body is not one member but many." It takes a lot of people to show the love of Jesus, but there is unity of 1 spirit...Jesus!!! People minister through their gifts for the purpose of edifying and glorifying God. The mission has wonderful programs that teach computer skills, they feed over 600 meals a day on week days, and they have numerous programs for rehabilitation as well as safety for women and children. People from our community volunteer their time and services in the medical and dental clinic, the Homeless Coalition works to reach out. Numerous churches throughout the valley reach out. It takes many people ministering to each other to make it through life. That is what happens in individual churches all the time. We are just trying to bring the church to the people. It is one more layer of outreach.
I see the transformations happening from week to week. From blessing to blessing....from glory to glory! Chris...a name from way back- was in jail for a time and has been able to stay clean. He shared that he has re-united with his mom which has been really good. He said that it makes him so happy when he sees his mom happy. It was so sweet to hear him say this. He is in his late 20's, a bit hardened from the streets...but he sounded like a little boy when he said this about his mom. It was a bit humbling though when he asked if he could have a pen that could be thrown away after he used it...it took me a minute to realize what he was saying. Chris has HIV and had an open sore on his cut on his hand so he didn't want to borrow a pen and risk infecting me with HIV. It was very sweet... and also sad.
Rosa came today with her friends from the river. She gave me a great big hug that was genuine. Rosa's boyfriend came up to me right before they were leaving. He is a very quiet soft spoken person who seems to have a lot of hurt, but a very gentle spirit. "I just want to thank you guys so much for doing what you do. It means a lot to us. Please make sure and tell Keith how much we appreciate it." He gave me a sheepish grin, turned, and was on his way.
Another couple who we ministered to back in the summer came by to say hi and to show us pictures of their little baby girl. They are no longer living on the streets because they are sharing a place with a family member. Their little girl looked healthy and adorable. Seeing them walk up with big smiles was a joyful experience.
One of the much "harsher" possibly "cranky" characters that comes out to North First Street was in a great mood today. It was fun to be able to bless him with something as simple as a rope and a bungee cord. Such simple things....but it meant a lot to him that we would just give them to him. I shared with him about how I listen to the Holy Spirit when I grocery shop and sometimes the Holy Spirit prompts me to buy something ...."I don't always know who it is for," I said "but look- it was for you today!" He smiled and laughed as we loaded him up with peanut butter, jelly, bread, sandwiches and food for the people that he takes care of down by the river. I told him that I thought it was very awesome that he ministers to his friends down by the river by taking care of them. He may be extremely dirty, a little rough, kind of grouchy sometimes, and kind of harsh, but as I get to know him better I can also see the funny, kind, gentle, caring side of him also. I am learning that every person has their own story and that often it isn't even close to my "generalized pre-judgement".
Today as we re-directed the line of people to our new location, I was able to talk to the people as they waited in line a little more than I usually get to do. One young mom- probably in her mid to late 20's said, "Thanks for doing this... people don't understand why we are here. We aren't like....you know...like " she looked down at her two little kids who were playing with rocks on the ground while they waited for their lunch "like---druggies and bums. We are just people that are having a hard time."
I couldn't agree with her more. One of the young women who stays at the mission with her two children is pregnant. She has been working at her new job for 2 1/2 months and has been saving her pay checks so that she can put it down on a place at the end of this month. She looked so together compared to the first week that we met her. Her life is coming together....and it is a wonderful thing!
I know that the city is trying to clean up the city....and that they are moving out a lot of the homeless so they are not "visible" to the public. I understand why this is important, but I am just not sure where they will go because they will go somewhere...they probably won't move away to some other town... they will just be more creative in where they hide. The problem is very complex and not easily solved, but with a community of people including the mission, local churches, city programs, and people who have a heart for the homeless....there is HOPE...Great Big Jesus HOPE!! Little by little, one relationship at a time....There will always be poor....but the Lord is showing me the individual people behind the label...."the poor"....and I have been blessed to have met some really awesome people!