Monday, March 20, 2017

Lessons from a Homeless Man


His name was C.W. It stood for Car Wash, which I'm not sure if he meant as a joke or if that was his actual name. I met him while serving with The Philadelphia Project, a ministry devoted to sharing the Gospel through mercy and meeting the needs of the community. Our ministry has partnered with them over the past couple years for Spring Break, and this year we had the opportunity to make sandwiches and hand them out to the homeless, hoping we could talk with them, feed them, and minister both to their hungry bodies and their even hungrier souls.

Something that stood out to me as I, and a number of students, engaged with C.W. was what he didn't do. He never complained. He wasn't angry at his lot in life. No, he was, at least on the surface, very joyful. It surprised me, that he seemingly had so little, yet in an hour and fifteen minutes of conversation, when I prayed over him, I didn't know what requests he had for me to pray for him. He never told me what I could pray for, other than what he was thankful for.

The second thing that stood out to me was how much he knew. He had a ribbon around his neck; he had won a dance competition when he was younger. As I asked him about it, he started rattling off all kinds of stories, and then shared not only that he could dance, but he could play music too! He knew all sorts of instruments, including a number of woodwinds as well as the drums. He told me about the bands he played with, the dancing he did, and everything in between.

When we went to pray with him, he shared a number of spiritual things with me. Some were good, some not so much. I'm not sure he was a believer. But I was amazed by how much he knew, and how much he had taken in. And as I prayed with him, the Lord worked in me, because I started to consider some things about myself that I hadn't previously.

One was my prejudice towards the “marginalized.” I'm not sure anyone would look at me and call me a man who pre-judges. But as I think about all the times I have walked past a homeless person, very rarely have I considered them an actual person. To me, their identity is homeless. They have always been homeless, and it's probably their fault that they are homeless. But that's not true. While it may be their fault of why they are in the predicamint they are in (partially or fully), it's not everything about them. They may have suffered tragedy or have suffered the sins of others that landed them in their situation. They have stories not just of how they landed where they are, but they have stories about who they are and what they love. They have joys, memories, and dreams.

Second, and what's more, these people are human souls. They are made in the image of God. They are worthy of dignity. And it's our privilege and duty to love our neighbor, whether they live in the rich mansion or are walking the streets. We are called to not show partiality. A soul is a soul.

Third, this man, just like anyone else, needs a savior. And I am not him. Sometimes it's easy for us as privileged people to think it's about us reaching down and rescuing the weak and hopeless. I realized quickly that wasn't the case. In fact, I learned more about myself, and my need for a savior, than anything else in the midst of my interaction with CW. He didn't need my pity. He didn't need my generosity. He and I need the same thing, a savior who can save from both the penalty of sin and the dominion of it.

Consider how you look at people. Who are the people you look at and consider nameless? The ones who you identify only with a word, like 'homeless'? Have you considered lately that they are men and women made in the image of God? That these are the people, much like the bleeding woman in Luke 8 and the Samaritan Woman in John 4, who we often disregard yet Jesus moves towards?

How can you image Christ and move towards the marginalized? How can you think like Jesus and remember that they have the same dignity and value to God that you do?

Lastly, how can we remind ourselves that Jesus became homeless and a wanderer for the very sake of giving us an eternal home and hope? That truth should motivate us to engage all people not only with physical food, but the spiritual food of the Gospel.