“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.'”
— Matthew 26:26-27
The cold weather shelter programs at both homeless shelters ended yesterday, and Greensboro Urban Ministry Executive Director Mike Aiken and Salvation Army Major Paul Egan say they won’t reopen before next winter unless the weather becomes life-threatening. Salvation Army was providing emergency shelter for about 40-50 people, and Greensboro Urban Ministry’s overnight shelter was sheltering dozens more. Those 80 or more homeless people are now back on the street. Where are they sleeping?
TheÂ NightWatch team found that the group of homeless people who met us in the parking lot of Grace Community Church had more than doubled from last week. The efforts of Grace’s outreach staff and the Family Service of the Piedmont housing support team had decreased the numbers of folks sleeping outside at Grace from more than a dozen regulars last summer down to an average of three recently, at least one of whom will be moving into permanent housing this week, but with the closing of the winter shelters, we saw a new group of faces at Grace on this night.
When we got to one of the big bridges downtown, we found that the number there had doubled, as well. Our friend JM, who has the spot nearest the path, announced that “the bridge is full.” There were men sleeping in every available space underneath the bridge. The spaces between the bridge’s support beams are just wide enough to hold a mattress, and all of the mattresses were occupied.
But the hardest thing for me came later in the night, when we went to check the parking lot of Greensboro Urban Ministry before going home for the night, and we found at least a half dozen people sleeping there, some of them on the concrete right outside the doors of the shelter — including a woman. As I knelt down to speak to them, feeling helpless and trying to think of what in the world I could say, one of the men locked eyes with me and softly said, “It’s just inhumane.” His eyes welled up and he turned away. I put my head down and prayed, “God, please help me…” I felt sick. Words were inadequate.
I thought of Mike Aiken, the director of that shelter, who is involved in every effort that I know about to end homelessness. I thought of my earlier conversation with Jackie Lucas, the director of the Salvation Army shelter, who told me that she’d been able to move five people into transitional housing before winter shelter closed. She’s also involved in efforts to end homelessness, and she’s always looking for new ways to stretch limited resources to better serve homeless people. I know and love Mike and Jackie, and I’m thankful for their service and commitment to serve and show God’s love to homeless people. And I also realize that neither has the space, the staff or the funding to shelter everyone.
And then I looked back to the face of the man in front of me — a kind, intelligent, dignified and weary survivor, who is trying to get his life together — and I hurt for him. He told me that he’d lost his job and just recently found a new one, but he hadn’t gotten his first paycheck yet. He was struggling. “It’s like Job,” he said, and there was both resignation and determination in his voice.
He continued on, telling me that he knew that it was going to be alright, that his trust was in God. I reached for his hand, and asked if I could pray for him. When he nodded, I began, “God, I know You’re here with us,” and beside me, he said, “Yes, You are.” His voice was firm and strong and the intimacy with which he spoke to his God was unmistakable. I did not feel strong. I felt small and inadequate and humbled by the strength of the faith of this man, steadfastly trusting the Lord even as he spent the night on the hard concrete outside the closed doors of a homeless shelter.
On the drive home, I prayed out loud for the man of faith to be rewarded, for this to be the year that JM finally leaves the bridge and gets a home, for my friend who sleeps at Grace who’s moving into housing and who needs to be encouraged [prayer answered], for a homeless friend who has found his voice and is using it to advocate for others, for L whose heart is beautiful even though he doesn’t realize it yet, for V who is a precious princess, for all my friends who need a home and hope and a new start, for my friends who work tirelessly to provide shelter and housing but can’t do it all and who need to be free from the burden of thinking that they have to, for my friends who serve on the street, for the Church and the community to have the eyes and the heart to see the needs of their homeless brothers and sisters and to respond, and for God to give me faith, wisdom, and strength to serve in love, and grace, mercy and forgiveness for my many failures and shortcomings.
I soon learned that hours before I prayed that prayer, God had already begun to answer me, by sending His word to me through a friend. When I got home from NightWatch, I saw that Jordan Green had posted this on my Facebook:
Thought of you when I read this:
“Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like common clay pots, in order to show that the supreme power belongs to God, not to us. We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair, there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies.” ~ 2 Chronicles 4:7-10
This I know: God’s love never fails.
I’m trying to better understand addiction and how to be a friend to my friends in recovery — how to help without hurting or enabling. This morning before church, I had breakfast with a friend who’s battling addiction, primarily to crack cocaine. I asked questions and wrote notes while we talked:
What helps you not use?
“God. Prayer. Church.”
What can Christians say to you that will help you in your recovery? Like, when you relapse? What can we say that would help you the most then?
“What Marshall and Diane always say to me. That I’m still beautiful to God. That He still loves me. That Jesus was tempted, too. What you say to me about when I fall off the bike, I have to get right back on it and ride.”
When people talk to you and pray for you and the focus is on you being a sinner, and they ask, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven or hell?,” how does that make you feel?
“Disapproved of. Looked down on. Judged. You figure, oh well, I’m already going to hell, I might as well keep using.”
What else helps you to not use?
“Quality time instead of idle time. Having something useful to do. Volunteering. Doing needle point. If I’m working on cross stitch, I’ll go hours without even smoking a cigarette.”
What else do you have to do to not use?
“Learn how to make different choices in my thinking and my responses.”
Who has helped you learn to do that?
“My (12-step) sponsor and my psychiatrist.”
Have 12-step meetings helped you?
“The one good thing about meetings is that I found a sponsor there. But I can sit around and talk about drinking and drugging in my own room.”
Is talking about your addiction at a meeting a trigger for you? Does it make you want to use?
“Oh, yeah. You start reliving the glory days. I been doing it for 35 years. Must be something good about it.”
I thought of that last statement later as we sat in a Bible study class. Another of our friends talked about how he once used drinking and drugs to numb the pain of his child’s death. Alcohol and drugs decrease pain and increase pleasure. But only for a while. The Bible study was about how God can use our times of pain and suffering to draw us close to Him and mature our faith:
“… we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” — Romans 5:3-4
Drinking and drugging is a way to escape suffering. But that means we lose out on perseverance, character… and hope.
During the worship service, the pastor said:
“Being a Christian is not about being perfect. It’s about being perfected. It’s not about being grown. It’s about growing.”
With a huge smile, my recovering friend leaned over and whispered to me:
“I’m growing! Yay!”
Me, too. Amen!