“What would Jesus do about today’s homelessness? He would start with a sack lunch and a prayer. And then would begin to overturn society’s approach to homelessness.”
- November 6, 2009
One night a year or so ago, I was at my church, getting things out of the kitchen for street outreach, and half-listening to the mostly incoherent mutterings of my friend, Al — a homeless schizophrenic. His face this night was wrinkled and troubled, his thoughts jumbled, his eyes unfocused. I finished up what I was doing, told Al I’d see him later, and then headed for the door.Â I wasn’t even sure he knew I was there. But then, his voice stopped me:
“Say, do you know about the Jordan River?”
I turned back toward him, and saw that he had taken a seat on the couch. And without waiting for an answer, he began to tell the story of the Jordan River. Soundlessly, I slid to the floor and sat at his feet, with my arms wrapped around my knees, transfixed by his words, and by the sudden change in him.
Slowly, purposefully, he quoted passages of Scripture and marveled aloud at the significance and symbolism of the Jordan River.Â It was like a shimmering blue thread running through the story of God’s love for us. And Al’s joy and delight in that river, and in his God, was great. His eyes were clear and bright and his voice was strong and steady. I could feel the presence of the Lord with us and I could see God’s glory reflected on my friend’s face.
Al spoke for a good while, his re-telling of the story of the Jordan River filling him with awe and wonder for the God he so loved.Â I remember wanting him not to stop. But eventually, he did. When he finished speaking, we sat in silence for a moment. And then I saw the light leave his eyes and the veil come over his face again.
I asked a question, quickly, wanting to stop time. But it was too late. Al stood up, looked down at me, laughed and said, “Why are you sitting in the floor? Aren’t you supposed to be doing something?” And then he shook his head and turned to walk away.
I touched his arm and said, “Thank you for telling me about the Jordan River.” He looked back at me quizzically, and his next words were jumbled, nonsensical. I watched him walk away, and I wanted to reach out and say, “Don’t go!” Then I heard friends in another room greet him, and I slipped out the door, my mind and my heart both full.
Even now, I can clearly recall the overwhelming sense of comfort and peaceÂ that I felt as I sat and listened to my friend speak. And I feel a real sense of loss that those moments passed by so quickly.Â But I’m grateful to God, and to my precious friend Al, that IÂ know what it is to sit at the feet of Jesus, by the River Jordan.
- November 1, 2009
I wrote about the guys on the block (and more) for the News & Record: “When there’s nowhere to go,” by Michele Forrest; published Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009. It’s online here, and reposted below:
My ministry partner, Audrie Keen, and I provide a street outreach to the homeless in Greensboro, and we’ve made a lot of friends along the way. We eat together, go to church together and have cookouts. Sometimes our homeless friends stay with us. We visit formerly homeless friends in their homes.
When we say “homeless friends,” we really mean friends.
Two Friday mornings ago, we visited “The Block” at Lee and South Eugene streets. It had been 11 days since my last visit, when we’d talked about the artistic bench installed, then removed, from along the new stretch of the Downtown Greenway in that area. Neighbors said the bench attracted drug addicts and prostitutes.
The guys on The Block dismissed that notion. One said: “The problem is not as serious as they say it is on the news. And the bench has nothing to do with it.”
- October 13, 2009
Yesterday, I got a call about a homeless man in Greensboro who was sleeping in a barn. There was no room at the shelters for him. And the owner of the barn wanted him gone. I had no answers for the caller. I prayed for God to make a way — because He is the way.
My minister partner Audrie reminded me that Jesus was born in a barn, because there was no room for him in the inn. And soon after, his family had to flee because a ruler wanted him gone, too.
Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the “least of these,” we are doing for Him. Indeed. Yesterday, Jesus got kicked out of a barn in Guilford County, and I have no idea where he slept last night.
Update: Good news! A persistent sheriff’s deputy found a place for this gentleman to stay last night. Still, his homelessness has not ended and the issues that led him to that barn have not been resolved, so there isÂ more work to do for him and so many other homeless people in our community.Â Homelessness is a huge problem, but it’s also always a symptom of other problems. To end homelessness, we have to address the problems that leave people homeless.
- June 10, 2009
The Myrtle Beach City Council has placed serious restrictions on group that feed the homeless in city (public) parks.Â Church groups are currently feeding the homeless and hungry in obedience to their faith — weekly in one park and monthly in another.Â A new ordinance will require them to obtain a permit and restrict feedings to four times per year.Â The ordinance is a response toÂ neighbors’ complaints, such as perceived safety issues for childrenÂ in the park, and crimes alleged to have been committed by some of the homeless people in the parks.Â But those who serve the homeless point out that children are among those being fed (children and families are homeless, too), and that homeless people will be in the parks whether meals are served or not.
Feedings in the parks apparently began because the homeless were already there.Â The Swash Park Ministry of First Baptist Church serves meals to a group of homeless people that includes some who aren’t allowed at the community kitchen or shelter and don’t have anywhere else to eat.Â Another church’s youth group serves bag lunches monthly at Chapin Park.
Bruce Crawford, pastor of Myrtle Beach First Baptist Church, asks:
“If Jesus came back and tried to feed 5,000, would he able to do it in Myrtle Beach?Â Â We just need to think about our actions.”
UPDATE: Map links to parks where homeless are being fed — with images from Google street view:
Note:Â I created the image used with this post, using a sign generator.Â As far as I know, there is not a sign at Myrtle Beach that says “Don’t feed the homeless.”Â (Yet, anyway.)Â The image is intended to graphically depict the absurdity of the city’s position and to provoke a reaction in the viewer.