I don’t remember when it first struck me. It may have been at that UGM volunteer orientation in 2010. Perhaps it was even earlier, as my city bus commute brought my middle-class sensibilities uncomfortably close to the plight of poor and homeless people in Spokane. Maybe it was later, when I had the privilege of attending my first “community meeting” with the men in the recovery program.
No matter when it was, there it undoubtedly was: At the core, that person – who looks nothing like me – has a lot of the same questions, challenges, and desires that I do.
He’s afraid he might fail, so he doesn’t try. She has a hard time envisioning what she has to offer in a group setting. He needs regular reminders from his friends that God’s favor has nothing to do with how well he performed today.
“Whoa, these guys are brave,” I thought as I saw men in recovery – and one of their counselors – answer incisive questions from peers about their actions and motivations. “I’m not sure I could do that.”
I’ve heard the same thing from dozens of other volunteers and UGM staffers: Once we get close to people who we previously have called “the homeless,” “our target population,” “street people,” “the lower class,” we see Helen, David, Kanesha, Brandon. And we see how much they have to teach us about humility, receiving grace, living without fear, trusting God no matter what. Those are things we need, whether we’re homeless or billionaire CEOs.
There’s no better place than UGM to learn we are all in this together, following Christ’s example and helping each other out along the way. We can all help somehow, by sending an encouraging note, stopping to listen and pray with someone, bringing a meal, donating to provide for a need – the list is long. Humanity is not split into those-who-help and those-who-are-helped.
I’ve seen a couple of everyday examples recently that blurred the already tenuous lines between “us” and “them.”
Stuck in the snow
I work in the DeRuwe Recovery Center, right across from the famous East Door where Men’s Shelter guests enter and check in.
During the recent heavy snow, I was the last of my team to leave the office for the day. My little car couldn’t quite handle the depth of the snow in the side street, and it got stuck as I tried to pull out into the plowed main street.
The mind races in these moments, forming all the nightmare scenarios this could mean. Will I have to leave it here? Will I have to try to dig it out without proper tools? Why didn’t I wear my heavier coat today? Who will I call?
Fast as the mind races, it had hardly gotten through that first question when four or five men seemed to appear out of nowhere and gather around the back of the car. “We’re going to push you out!” voices yelled.
Less than 30 seconds later, I was safely on my way home with a gratefully swelling heart. In the chaos of the moment, I didn’t see their faces or know any of their names, but I did know they came out of that East Door. They saw that I needed help, and they gave it without a second thought.
We all need help. We can all give help.
“We share that bond”
“The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
As you can read in this month’s Mission News, Ann and Shirley discovered they had quite a lot in common. Children. Thirst for adventure. Values. Hurts from the past. The biggest difference in their circumstances – that Ann was coming out of a recovery program and Shirley wasn’t – doesn’t actually make much difference to their friendship.
“It doesn’t take much to get us going,” Shirley says. “We had a kindred spirit. Ann’s a very compassionate person and I suppose I am too, and I think that really drew us to each other.”
Shirley volunteered to be a mentor because she wanted to help someone – but the help ended up going both ways. She and Ann support one another in their faith and their struggles, plus they have a lot of fun together.
“We remind each other we’re daughters of the king,” Shirley says. “So you know he has value in us. He’s the only one we know that loves us enough to give his life for us, and suffer and die for us. So we share that bond.”
Paul made a similar point to the Gentile churches he founded, who sometimes wondered if they really could be full-fledged members of God’s household along with God’s “chosen people,” the Jews:
“[Jesus’] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:15-22).
By God’s grace, we’re in this together. We’re members of his household. We’re bricks of various sizes and shapes joined to make a stunning edifice.
And we’ve got to help each other.
How should you approach a panhandler to really help him or her? Click below for more information on how you can extend care and dignity to a person you see on the street.