The homeless in our hearts

Sometimes I feel “homeless.”

Especially going into the holidays, I hear a lot of people talk about going “home.” They’ll visit their parents in a familiar house with familiar sights and smells, and it will offer a sense of comfort throughout the holiday season.

I have no home. Before the age of 18, we had lived in six houses and four different cities. Dad’s jobs moved us around a lot, and I didn’t really know any differently. Since then, I have changed my address 13 times, including two countries, three states, two dorms, and eight apartments. I am 34 and I’ve lived in 19 different homes. For me, home HAS to be “where the heart is,” since I technically have no physical childhood home to return to.

Although I sometimes feel “homeless,” I really have no idea what it’s like to not have a place to call home each night.

This week is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Never before has this week been so important to me as it is this year. Twice a week I stare into the faces of the homeless around Fort Wayne. I know them. I talk with them. I laugh with them. They are real people. My heart has never hurt more for American homeless people.

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Breakfast is ready to be served at the Rescue Mission!

I’ll be honest. Some days when my alarm goes off at 5 a.m. and I have to head into the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission to serve breakfast, it’s the last thing I want to do. But I never, ever regret going. The people are so thankful for a hot meal, and I know that a lot of them are counting on me to be there. There’s one particular man who always spots me from down the hall, smiles, and yells, “Natalie’s here!”

But sometimes, when my bed is warm, and I know I could actually sleep in another few hours… it’s tough to get up.

Why do I still go? It’s simple. Obedience.

I remember being on a boat in Lake Victoria with some friends last year, heading out to the monthly jigger clinic we helped run in a village. The first few times we went, we took lots of pictures on our long journey to the village. But by this time, probably our 7th time going, we were less than enthusiastic.

“It’s all about obedience now,” my friend said to me. “It’s not exciting anymore. We do it because it’s what God wants us to do. It’s the right thing to do.”

She was so right. It IS the right thing to do, whether it’s exciting or not.

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Some homeless people are drunks and drug addicts. Many of them are sober. Most of them are super friendly and incredibly thankful for a hot meal. Their stories are incredible. Some have always lived a life on the streets. Some had it all- a house, cars, jewelry, swimming pool- and then lost it. But God doesn’t tell us what type of poor people to help, He simply says to help.

We need to help these people, not because they’re cluttering our streets and sleeping under bridges, but because God commands us to. So what can you do to help? There are three main ways:

Volunteer your time
Regularly. Not once a year. Not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but regularly. Most shelters literally have to turn volunteers away on holidays. That’s not when they need your help. If all you can do is once a month, then at least that’s a start. Sign up with your local shelter to serve a meal with your family or church group. Or do what I do, if you have to, and just go by yourself. Like anyone would, the people love seeing a familiar face, instead of random volunteers. By volunteering regularly, that is how you form relationships. That is how you make a difference.

Financial Support and Donations
I don’t want to bash national homeless organizations, but I highly suggest you invest your money in local efforts to help the homeless. Call your local shelters and rescue missions and see what they need. Maybe it’s just money to help pay the bills. I know the Rescue Mission here in town is in need of more cots, as the winter season approaches. Each cot is $65, and they need 46 more. Find out what the needs are, and contribute what you can.

Pray for the homeless
Their lives are a constant struggle. Whether or not it is their fault that they are in that position doesn’t matter. We have to pray for these people, who are loved no less by Jesus than He loves anyone else. Let’s keep the homeless in our prayers and certainly in our hearts.

If you need a little more motivation to help the poor in your community, don’t turn to blogs, Facebook, and motivational books. Turn to THE book and see what God says about it:

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
be he who is generous to the needy honors Him.”

Proverbs 14:31RealChangeBox

“Whoever gives to the poor will not want,
but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”

Proverbs 28:27

“A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”

Proverbs 29:7

“Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

Isaiah 58:7

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
Isaiah 58:10

Life Without a Home

We were there to help, to lend a hand, to show God’s love. But before we could do any of that, I was approached by a boy who looked to be about 10 years old.

“Can I pray for you, ma’am?” he said to me.

I was caught totally off guard.homeless

“Uh… of course we can pray,” I said.

“I’ll find you later,” he said and went to hang out with some of the other boys at the center.

About a dozen of us from my church went to Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) to serve a meal and spend time with some of the residents this evening. I think it’s safe to say they probably touched our lives more than we touched theirs.

The families there were homeless without the help of IHN. But IHN gave them a place to live while they looked for jobs and went out on their own again. I can’t imagine life without a home. Having a place to stay is something we take for granted. We just assume we’ll always have a home.

There were about seven families there, different races and different ages. They were all so appreciative of the giant Pizza Hut pizzas we brought, and the smiles on the children’s faces were some of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

One family in particular really stood out. It was a mother and a father, a few sons and a daughter. The daughter looked to be about 13, but she was severely handicapped. She would repeatedly slap herself, make strange noises and could barely walk, even with the help of leg braces. Her mom and dad’s faces told a story of great struggle and of pure exhaustion.

I wondered what their story was. Could they have been made homeless because of medical bills? Was their darling daughter like this from birth or was she in an accident? I didn’t know the specifics, but I do know that it broke my heart, and I will be praying for them.

After we served dinner, some of the kids asked me to play Ninja with them. It’s basically the hand-slap game where you try to move your hands before someone else slaps them. We had a great time, and of course, I was almost always the first one out. Need to work on my reflexes I guess!

I spent some time with a little girl named Peyton who insisted that I wear one of her rainbow-colored beaded necklaces she had made at school.

I talked to one teenage boy who is finishing high school by taking night classes and plans to attend Ball State next year. He’s not sure what he’s majoring in, but his face lit up when I told him how cool it was that he wanted to go to college.

Eventually I ended up with a beautiful two-year-old girl in my arms. Her hair was beaded in pink, purple and white and her big brown eyes made me want to never have to put her down. She loved my jewelry and played with my earrings and rings for as long as she could.

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Pastor took some pics at IHN. Here I am, ready to serve some pizza!

The little boy who wanted to pray for me ended up having to leave early, but the fact that he wanted to pray for me at all was enough to make my night totally worth it. We were supposed to be there for them, for the homeless, and here was a boy who wanted to pray for me.

Jesus said we’re supposed to help the poor, and that when we do, we have served Jesus. But what about those who are poor? Who are they supposed to help? I saw tonight that they can help those of us who aren’t poor by asking to pray for us, or simply allowing us to come and serve them a meal.

I’ll be praying for the people at IHN, and as I learned tonight, at least one of them will probably be praying for me.