Helping the Homeless

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Helping the Homeless – Tangible Ministry
By helping the homeless as a member of an outreach group called Church in the Woods, I see more than my share of the down-and-out. We find them in cities, in suburbs, under bridges, in parks, and on vacant industrial property. They live in tents, lean-tos, plywood and tarp contraptions that defy definition. Some of the homeless do work. Some have substance-abuse problems. Some suffer from forms of mental illness. Every one of them wants something the rest of us want as well: love and understanding.

I was leaving the Las Vegas Airport in a rental car when I saw him. Disheveled and limping, he plopped a backpack on the median at a highway intersection, opened a zipper, and pulled out a sign.

As I drew closer, he unfolded the cardboard and I could read it:

"Why lie?" the sign read. "I want beer."

I was struck by the honesty of the sign...and touched by the reality of this man's plight. I recalled someone once telling me, “If a homeless guy has a funny sign, he probably hasn’t been homeless very long.”

Helping the Homeless – The Tendency to Judge
For some, the homeless offer an opportunity for charity and for self-reflection. Many people think the homeless choose that way of life. In some cases, this is partly true. Let me offer one illustration.

A woman I know has been living in the woods for 14 years. She grew up in a moderate-income home in North Carolina. She worked as a nurses’ assistant, had an apartment with her boyfriend. He decided to move to another town and she went with him.

When they arrived, neither of them could find work. They pitched a tent in the woods to keep expenses down. She got a low-paying job and he started drinking. He became physically abusive. The woman occasionally had seizures that interfered with her work and caused her to call in sick too often. She lost her job, her insurance, and the medication that held her seizures in check. She turned to alcohol to self-medicate.

The woman was finally beaten by her boyfriend to the extent she needed to be hospitalized for broken bones in her face and ribs. When she got out, local police helped build her a shelter in the woods. She remains there today, still self-medicating and caring for several stray dogs and cats.

Helping the Homeless - Aspects of the homeless
In a relatively small area around this woman’s camp there are 50 or 60 homeless, each with a unique story of why they are homeless.

  • Some are illegal immigrants.
  • Some are veterans.
  • Some are people who found out a low-paying job doesn’t come close to paying for rent, electricity, food, and medicine.
Well meaning people help the homeless: (Read stories here.)
  • Many people around here carry small bags of toiletries and non-perishable food, giving these necessities to the homeless they see at street corners.
  • Others give them Bibles, blankets, or tarps.
  • Some give them a kind word.

Helping the Homeless - What the Bible Says
The Bible speaks plainly about homelessness: “If any of your Israelite relatives fall into poverty and cannot support themselves, support them as you would a resident foreigner and allow them to live with you. Do not demand an advance or charge interest on the money you lend them. Instead, show your fear of God by letting them live with you as your relatives” (Leviticus 25:35-36 ).

"No, the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. If you do these things, your salvation will come like the dawn. Yes, your healing will come quickly. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind” (Isaiah 58:6-8).

“Then the King will say to those on the right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.' Then these righteous ones will reply, `Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?' And the King will tell them, `I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'” (Matthew 25:34-40).

So many people ignore the homeless, partly because they believe there is little they can do to “fix” them. And they are absolutely right. In fact, it is not God’s intention that we “fix” them any more than it is His intention that they “fix” us.

Jesus tells us that we are one body in Christ. Everyone -- rich, poor, every race, every age -- has a legitimate role to play in that body. We may go to a homeless camp or an orphanage or a rest home with the intention of helping someone else, but ultimately, we will be helping each other grow together into the body Christ envisioned from the beginning of time.

Our commonalities become striking when we knock down the false boundaries we have thrown up around our love. Think about it: every Christian is spiritually homeless. We live in temporary shelters, however modest or grandiose, waiting to take our places in the Lord’s mansion.

If you’re looking for a tangible way of helping the homeless right now, please consider the sponsor a child programs offered through Compassion International.

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