Lessons from the Homeless

Tonight my son Parker and I ventured down to Mosaic Community Development (MCD) to serve dinner to about 30 homeless men and women. Paul and Michelle Gardner have been involved with MCD for a long time, and JD and Michele Senkbile have been serving there recently as well. We’ve looking for missional pathways into the city, where Coram Deo can partner with already existing ministries to make a difference in the name of Christ. MCD is on the short list.

It was a really interesting experience. If you’re a Coram Deo person reading this, I hope you’ll take the time to serve at Life on the Brick (the Monday night dinner) in the coming months. You’ll be thankful for the worldview-shaping and the jolt out of your “normal American” bubble.

On the one hand, I’m frustrated by the complexity of homelessness. The people I met tonight weren’t earnestly trying to get off the streets and back into society. They were, for the most part, people who had made peace with being homeless. Some of them are even proud of their ability to “make it” on the streets. That doesn’t make them less needy or less deserving of ministry. But it does make for a much greater challenge in figuring out how to serve them effectively.

I’m also challenged by my own utter ineptness when it comes to having conversations with people who aren’t like me. I wish you could have been inside my head as I was desperately trying to figure out how to have even the simplest conversation with my new friends. I mean, think about your standard conversation-starters. “So, what do you do for a living?” Nope, can’t use that one. “Do you come here often?” Shoot, I don’t even come here often. I’m the new guy. “Who are you rooting for in the Big 12 Championship?” Oh, yeah, you don’t have a TV. “What do you do in your free time?” Hmm… most of your life is free time. Nothing like a basic conversation with a homeless man to show you your need for the gospel in a whole new way. I think I see why Jesus liked hanging out with the down-and-outers. There’s something refreshing about their simplicity and honesty. They have less to hide and less to care about than most of us.

I come away with more questions than answers. But there’s something desperately redemptive about that. This fallen world is a complex place. And if we’re going to pray and work so that God’s will gets done here just like it is in heaven, it’s going to take a lot of good question-asking. Redemption is free, but it isn’t easy… especially on the Brick.


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  1. If you don’t feel overwhelmed and somewhat helpless confronting the brokenness of this world and its citizens, you probably need to take another few steps outside your comfort zone. Am I right?

  2. Oh is Parker going to be a crazy missional superstar or what? I’m 25 with like two months of missional tutelage under my belt, and he’s like what, seven? He’s going to be like the Tiger Woods of missional living!

  3. Bob-
    About a year ago I met Kathy. Kathy lived on a bench outside of Washington Mutual bank until the bank decided to take the bench away. About once every two weeks I run into her around town. One time I took Kathy some flowers. She said, “I have no use for those out here (on the streets).” I said, “Come on Kathy, every woman wants flowers at some point in her life.” She said, “Not me, you should give those to some young lady at the ATM.” So I did. I went up to the next lady that I could spot and I handed her the flowers. (Yes it was awkward, but it was Kathy’s request so I was trying to gain some ground with her.) I continued to dialogue with Kathy for some time. We talked about her bitterness towards the average pace of life and her Jehovah Witness experiences and her friends that live under a bridge and in the hills by my neighborhood. I asked her what I could bring her. She said that she likes Pepsi, but would prefer to not have a 12 pack because then she would have to lug it around. She eats the left overs that people drop off to her or give her because she feels bad, but then went on to tell me that she likes to do her own cooking. (She cooks at the nearby park and charcoal is a regular item that I consistently see in her shopping cart.)

    One time I ran into Kathy at Peet’s. I park my Honda outside and she parks her cart. But she, like me, enjoys Peet’s because “they got the good coffee in town,” she said.

    One time I asked her how in the world she gets paid and can be so picky about the food and stuff that she gets (Pepsi, Peet’s) when she is homeless. She said, “I have my ways with a P.O. Box.”

    Recently I ran into Kathy outside of Target. I was in a hurry but we made eye contact so I knew that I better talk to her. We made some short conversation and then I told her that I had to “get to a meeting.” She asked, “a real meeting?” I said…(thinking)…”no, just a meeting.” After all, it wasn’t going to be a revolutionary or even necessary meeting.

    My recent struggle with the homeless factor is Ephesians 4:28 “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” Is Kathy stealing from America simply because she chooses to be homeless and collect at the P.O. Box? What about the “sharing with those in need” part when it comes to Kathy? The questions go on.

    All that to say this…I’m with you on the complexity and complacency of homelessness. I’m not sure what in the world to do either when I interact with them. They like it. They don’t want to be bothered. They just want a little bit of Pepsi every now and then.

    By the way, props to you for taking your boy to the brick reality. Expose him. Make his heart ache for something real. Don’t raise up another cartoon-infested-game-playing-average society kid. By the way, he still can’t beat me in that basketball game on the game cube!

  4. It seems to me, in my young and sometimes immature understanding, that the best way we can serve these people is to love them. If we open ourselves to truly loving the homeless, I think the Holy Spirit will use us in ways we never thought of! Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how to go about doing this though. I think serving, like you and the others have is a good start.

    When Todd Baker came and spoke to JD’s disciplship group last week about prayer, I was convicted of my apathy towards the poor. I asked God to break my heart and he has been doing so in the last week. Now my prayer is that He will provide opportunities to DO something about it. My 2nd shift schedule seems to get in the way and sometimes I wonder if I should make the move back to 1st shift. I haven’t really felt any leading in that direction though. I’m confident that the Lord will provide me opportunities though, if I am willing and keep my eyes open.

  5. hey Bob
    thanx for the interesting blog. i enjoyed reading your thoughts and would love to dialog with you more about your experience.
    often times one’s first experience with Life On The Brick(Mosaic’s homeless ministry) can be very challenging both emotionally and spiritually. encountering people that may not share your lifestyle choice can be both frustrating and challenging especially if we expect that they join us were we are instead of humbly joining them where they are. i would like to give you some thoughts from a faithful brother Henri Nouwen:
    “The word compassion generally evokes positive feelings. We like to think of ourselves as compassionate people who are basically good, gentle, and understanding. We more or less assume that compassion is a natural response to human suffering. Who would not feel compasssion for a poor old man, a hungry child, or a fearful girl? It seems almost impossible to imagine that compassion does not belong among our most self-evident human qualities. Does that not sound as if we are accused of a lack of humanity? Indeed, we immediately identify being compassionate with being human. An imcompassionate human being seems as inconceivable as a nonhuman being.
    But, if being human and being compassionate are the same, then why is humanity torn by conflict, war, hatred, and oppression? Why, then, are there so many people in our midst who suffer from hunger, cold, and lack of shelter? Why, then, are millions of human beings suffering from alienation, seperation, or loneliness?
    Questions such as these suggest that we need to take a critical look at our understanding of compassion. The word compassion is derived from the Latin words ‘pati’ and ‘cum’, which together mean “to suffer with.” Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compssion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless.” -“Compassion”
    we desire more than anything to follow Christ intosuffering with those who suffer. He leaving behind heaven to suffer with us in an animalistic body, to be tempted to sin, to feel what it is like to poor so that we might be rich in faith. thanx alot for your thoughts bro – Tony Jackson Life on the Brick Coordinator

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