June 4th-6th, I along with eleven classmates from my Urban Ministry class lived as homeless. We were not given any details about where we were going or what we were doing in order to help us understand what it's like to live minute-by-minute and powerless over what happens throughout the day. We were instructed not to ask the time or any other questions so we could experience the unknown and lack of control.
The first thing we did was shop at the local thrift store to get clothes that looked homeless. Although I tried to get worn and tattered clothing, I came out of there with a newer looking pair of pants and shirt than the ripped, duct-taped jeans and torn shirt I wore in there. Besides the clothes on my back, I was allowed to take four other things. I chose my blanket, a toothbrush, a notebook and my backpack with a few snacks inside which I was allowed to have because of my low blood sugar. One of the objectives was to build a sense of community. Everyone collaborated on their four allowable items. This eliminated us having multiples of some things while we had nothing of other things. I used a classmate's Bible. I shared my blanket and carried my backpack storing things in it for other team members. And I think we all used one toothpaste.
Next we were driven down to the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles where we were given cardboard and boxes so we could set up our community. This is where we spent the next two nights. The gentlemen graciously let us females sleep in the elevator shaft which helped block the wind. We were definitely warmer than the guys who were sleeping out in the open. From our roof-top perch, we could see people down below asleep on the streets and up against buildings. Seeing children sleeping in tents while their parent stood watch outside was heart breaking and made me cry. Up on the roof we were able to remain unseen while we watched the street activities below us...drug-dealing, fighting, and the flashing lights of police cars. We saw a man get shot and another man get beat up. He was sitting there doing nothing when someone came up and started kicking him. And those weren't isolated incidents because that kind of thing happens there all the time. How sad that just a few streets over from skid row is the five-star Belmont hotel where people come and go seemingly oblivious that a couple streets away people are starving. I was reminded me of the song "Can Anybody See Her" by Mercy Me. It's about how we go about our lives while those who are drowning in hopelessness are invisible to us.
That night we served in the mission's kitchen. I'm blessed to have Grace Resources, a food shelter in my own town, so I'm use to serving meals. Even though I've served often with that ministry, I was still moved by the broken, hurting people who came to the shelter for a meal and I don't think I ever will get use to their suffering. Although they try to hide their pain, you can see it in their eyes along with shame and embarrassment on their faces. As they came through the line, I could see that some of them had been crying while others had bruises on their face. In the air was a general sense of hopelessness that was "painfully good" for me to witness again. It reminded me that I must keep sharing the love of God and the hope I have within me because only a relationship with Jesus Christ will fill their emptiness and heal their hurts. After the homeless ate, we went through the line and were served food. It was a humbling experience to be on the receiving end. I so wanted to give my food away. I had to force myself to eat and imagine that I was homeless because I knew in a couple days I'd be back home with a roof over my head and more food to eat than I need.
For me, Saturday was the best part of the weekend because we walked around and were able to connect with and talk to people. While we were out on the streets, we had a list of things we were to accomplish... ask someone for a quarter; give something away; dig through the trash for a reusable item and find our own food. The hardest task for me was to ask for a quarter. While it was humbling asking someone I never met for money, it was harder knowing I could be asking someone who really needed that quarter. I ended up asking the man who swept the streets which was easier because I knew he had a job and some income. I didn't want to ask someone for their last quarter.
What an amazing day! Many of the homeless tried to share what little they had with us and told us where we could get free coffee and food. I met several Christians who had lost their jobs, homes and material possessions but not their faith in God. Heart wrenching for me were seeing all the children living on the streets. They are there because their parents have no home for them. Those precious little ones are growing up in poverty and filth with no hope. Looking around, I was reminded that if Jesus were walking the earth today that this is where He'd be found...hanging out with the beggars, prostitutes, and drug-dealers. That is His heart, loving the unlovely and forgotten. Homeless people are treated like scum and rejected by most of society. They don't like digging in the trash, they do it because they are hungry. Jesus would be out there with them on the streets, talking to and loving on them because to Him they are not worthless. They are so valuable to Him that He died for them. It's time for Christians to step up to the plate and start living James 1:27. We need to get out of our comfortable church buildings and go take the salvation message into the ugly, dangerous neighborhoods in our society.
Sunday we attended a Nazarene church. The congregation was alive! Although the choir didn't have much musical talent, they were making a joyful noise unto the Lord. I was blessed by the worship and how excited and how uninhibited they sang praises to God. I think the mainstream evangelical church of today doesn't understand what we are saved from or we'd be full of gratitude and get excited too. I need a Savior every bit as much as the drug-addicted homeless guy I pass on the street. Poverty doesn't increase my need for Christ, it increases my need for Christians to show me the compassion and love of Christ. I was sitting with Darryl, a brother in Christ from class and we were enjoying participating in the worship when an usher tried to get the attention of the man we sat near, so Darryl tapped him on the arm. The man was obviously angry and violent because he told Darryl he would kill him if he touched him again. He had a notebook with him with the word "BLOOD" written on a few pages. I don't know what that man has been through, but I'm praying he comes to know the "One" who loved him so much that He shed His own blood for him.
The weekend was an incredible experience and I will be processing it for a long time. "But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion." Luke 10:33. I am thankful God gave me the opportunity to go to the poor, see them, and feel compassion. I know it is only through Him that I can care about or love anyone. This world is full of hurting people who need to hear about Christ's love for them. Through His power, I want to stay detached from the things of this world, so I can live a radical life reaching out to and loving them for His glory!
Brittany Reinbolt put together these videos of our weekend: