I learned today that a program I greatly admire led by a pastor I greatly admire is being ostracized by the community where it serves those in need. It’s a program that serves the homeless through the church. The church is conveniently located in the middle of downtown – residential neighborhoods and other churches nearby. It serves over 100 humans – humans who are broken; who are trying to survive in a world many of us cannot understand; who have lost their way but like the prodigal son, are welcomed back into God’s love with open arms.
The community says that if it weren’t for this program, their neighborhoods would be safe. Essentially, they blame the church for the criminal activity that takes place in their neighborhood – blaming the homeless for all the crimes taking place.
I’ve heard these sentiments before with the ministry my church provides to the same type of community. I’ve heard the naysayers.
- “Because you serve the homeless, our businesses are experiencing more crime.”
- “The homeless are all lazy and criminals.”
- “You should only be helping the homeless if they are going to do something to help their own situation.”
- “By helping the homeless, you are just enabling them to continue in their situations.”
- “All homeless are drug users/dealers/addicts.”
The list could go on and on. A dear friend, who has also dealt with these kinds of comments and issues in the same community I serve, reminded me that the work we do is important. Homelessness does not automatically create crime. Serving the homeless is not the cause of more homelessness or more crime. Not ALL homeless are drug addicts, users, or dealers.
The Saturday Gathering at my church was started as a way to give a simple meal and a place to be warm, charge up phones, and to just “be” for those who are unhoused or those who are food insecure. That was going on 4 years ago. What has happened in those 4 years is I have changed. The hearts of so many in my church have changed. I have learned so much about my own judgement, bias, and preconceived notions on who the homeless are.
After 4 years, this ministry has grown from serving a handful of people to serving on average 15-30 people each Saturday. We have “success” stories – people become sober, get jobs, find homes. They find purpose – we find purpose. What started with the Pastor and a handful of church members serving this ministry has grown to outside support from other churches, families, and friends.
When Jesus came after his death to his disciples when they were fishing, he had breakfast with them and he asks one of the disciples, Simon Peter, three times if he loves him. “Do you love me?” Jesus says – and Simon Peter answers “Yes, of course.” After each time, Jesus requests something of Simon Peter “Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Care for my sheep.”
As Christians, we are called to serve those who are in need. We are called to serve those who are the “least” in our society. We are called to see the dignity and self worth in all people. When we do that, we emanate the love of Jesus. We show others that they are worthy. We become true disciples of Jesus.
Being true to this will be hard. But if Jesus can die for us; sacrifice his life for us, then we can do this one small thing for him.