This is not a post about the issues involved in homelessness. It's not taking a stance on politics. And it's not an invitation to a debate about if people are actually suffering or just lazy, etc. Though, I suppose anything posted on the internet for all to see is always open for debate.
This is simply a post in response to the two greatest commandments, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; And your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:27
Who is my neighbor?
This is a good question and thankfully someone in the 1st century asked the same question to Jesus.
Essentially, your neighbor is someone you see in need.
Before I get into this post let me just say, loving the homeless is often hard. The closer you get sometimes the more confusing it gets. Sometimes, if you hear their stories, it gets really hard. Loving someone who lives so differently than you, that the majority of the world looks down on, that's dirty, that's unknown, it's hard. More than once it has gone through my head to walk a different way when I have known a certain area or place is where a homeless person usually is. Many times I've had to resist that urge and that selfishness. It's not easy. But we must do it. I must do it. If I lack compassion, I have to pray I find it. If I lack the strength, I have to pray the Lord gives it. Why? Because Jesus says to love my neighbor as myself and because whole heartedly I believe that they are loved by God and I want to love them too.
So, practically, how can we help the homeless. Without going into the numerous ways of active support for the homeless and organizations that are already established, how can you and I do something simple to aide our brother or sister who lives without a home.
There are 4 things that I think are so important when engaging with the homeless.
Honestly, I think the majority of the homeless, especially outside of America, are loners. They live the majority of their time away from human interaction and contact. Sure, humans are before them everyday, walking past them quickly, and trying not to look their way, but seldom do I think they have conversations with other human beings. I think this is so very important. Talking to them shows that you value their life, their thoughts and see them as an equal and fellow man. And when you talk to them, look them in their eyes. They are loved. They have much worth.
I think the majority of the homeless are starving for touch. Think about it. How long do you think its been since someone actually touched them? Hugged them? Cared about them and for them? I try to make an effort of this every time I pass a homeless person laying or sitting on the street. I bend down and look them in their eyes. When I hand them money, I hold their hand while giving it. I don't believe in just throwing it in their bucket, I want to hold their hand, pat their back, love them through touch, while giving them money. It's easy to give money. It's harder to touch someone who is dirty and unknown. But to me, that is loving them. That is showing them I could care less about the dirt, they are loved. If Jesus could touch & love a leper, I can touch & love the man or women with no legs & shower-less on the side of the road.
When we approach a homeless person, even if just to give them some money and say, "Jesus loves you," in Chinese, because that's all we really know how to say about Jesus, we try to pray. We pray for them and their life. We pray for the interaction, for them to some way, somehow see Jesus, through our eyes, the money, smile or touch, we pray and hope, that they'll come to know Jesus or desire to know who He is.
More specifically, what can we provide for them?
A lot of these ideas are really no brainers but I like lists and lists help me put all my ideas together to remember for later.
A back pack.
Living homeless means that everything you own is carried with you as you go. Homelessness, obviously, often doesn't come with the luxury of sleeping in the same place every night or having a place to safely keep your things away from you through out the day. A back pack is a great solution to this problem.
This is such a simple, practical thing to give yet I've never even thought about giving it before. God bless wet wipes. A shower in a bag. In Thailand, there was a sweet, old man waiting outside of the church that slowly approached us and asked for something to eat with his hands. We told him to follow us down the street to the gas station where we went in and stocked up on some goodies for him. Zachary, genusily picked up a pack of wet wipes & placed them in the basket. A little while later we were passing the man on the side of the road and he was taking off his shirt. Zachary just knew it was to use the wet wipes. I can't even imagine living a life where a shower is so seldom and a wet wipe is a luxury. Wet wipes will be a huge blessing to your homeless neighbor.
I have never seen someone so excited as I saw that man in Thailand when I asked him if he wanted a loaf of bread. Later, Zachary and I were thinking about what he must have been thinking when that excitement flashed across his face. A loaf of bread is not just a one time meal, but could be multiple meals.
I would bet a gajillion dollars that the average homeless person is seriously lacking in vitamins. Okay, I guess I could say the same for the average American, too. But I'd say it's probably even more true for the homeless. Vegetables and fruit, unfortunately, are often times expensive in the States and healthy food is much harder to come by for life on the street. Not only are they expensive but also heavy. Can you imagine carrying around all your possessions and a bag of apples every day?
Especially if you are living in the States, tap water is usually safe to drink and a water bottle is a great way to help your homeless neighbor carry water with them all of the time.
A journal and Pen
A sweet friend of Zachary's from his time working at Starbucks, Diomi, was homeless. Diomi was a young guy that would often come around Starbucks looking for a spare bite to eat. Zachary developed a friendship with him quickly and often spent his breaks outside on the patio talking life, stories and Jesus with Diomi. Diomi had a journal made of pieces of card board boxes tied together. It looked awesome but came out of his need for a journal. Honestly, if I was homeless a journal is what I would long for the most.
Walking and moving from place to place the majority of your days wears your shoes out fast. I know this is a harder need to provide for because you don't know the size needed. A solution to this is to buy a gift card to a shoe store. Another idea, is to actually get to know the person you're blessing and seeking to love. Get to know them. Find out their shoe size, and pick up some yourself.
To me, loving my neighbor as myself, is not only feeding them physically but also spiritually. One of the most loving things I do for myself every day (as in every day I really set aside the time) is spending it with Jesus. When I go days without time in the Word, I feel it in my spirit. I get tired and hungry for God. How could I love my neighbor as my self without doing the same for them?