Invisible Neighbors: Homelessness
Today on The Reconnect, we have guest Joel Miller, who served in homeless ministry in Orlando for 10 years. We are thrilled to have his perspective on homelessness.
When we pass someone homeless on the street, what is our first thought? I hope they don’t see me? What’s the quickest way I can avoid them? To act like we’re talking on the phone? And to wonder what they did wrong to end up like that?
Or, do we think, this my neighbor, a fellow image bearer of God? To look our fellow traveler in the eye and esteem them as Christ esteems them? To greet them and, when we are able, to do more?
This spring, the National Association of Evangelicals, on whose board I serve, met at Central Union Rescue Mission. I arrived early and when two men seated at a picnic table in front of the mission saw me get out of my cab, they pointed to the side entrance. But instead of following their gestures that would have skirted me around the dozen or so men in the yard, I walked toward, told them I was early and asked if I could join them for a cup of coffee. They were both surprised and delighted.
After introductions and handshakes I asked what they were talking about. Larry unfolded the paper that was on the table and said, “Him, we’re talking about him.” It was a picture of Donald Trump. Suffice it say there was plenty to talk about. We moved from Trump to Clinton and from there to what they see as the real issue: the lack of jobs.
Both these men were bright, articulate and no more than 50 years of age. They were well informed, good conversationalists, and seemingly both sober and mentally stable. They were believers and the reason they can’t find work is that they are also both ex-cons. Larry said, “the world changed a lot during the 12 years I was in, but the world gives me no credit for all the ways I changed in that same time.” He’s right.
When the time came for me to go inside to the meeting, I asked if we could pray. They agreed and we held hands and prayed for one another. As I rose to leave Larry said, “we won’t see each other again here but I’ll see you in heaven, sister.” He was right again. We’re both children of the One True King and when I see Larry again, as C.S. Lewis points out, he’ll be so radiant I’ll be tempted to worship him.
The issues surrounding homelessness are legion and we’re not going to solve all those issues overnight. But one thing is certain, if we avert our eyes in hopes of insulating ourselves from the pain, we are treating our homeless neighbors as less than precious image bearers of God.
Some of the causes of homeless may surprise you and the scope of it is stunning.
Rethink Homelessness, the organization Joel worked with in Orlando, asks us to consider the facts:
- On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.
- 1 in 45 children in America will experience homelessness each year. In Central Florida, the number jumps to 1 in 17.
- Domestic violence is one of the top reasons for family homelessness- 92% of homeless women have experienced physical or sexual abuse.
- And teens constitute a growing percentage of the homeless population nationwide. Heartbreakingly, each year, 5000 homeless teens are buried in unmarked graves.
These are our neighbors, but all too often then are invisible to us.
The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, led by President John Ashmen “serves as the network where leaders of approximately 300 agencies find the training, resources, and support they need to serve the individuals and families who arrive on their doorsteps every day of the year.” AGRM calls the church to fulfill God’s clear command to welcome the stranger and take the lead in addressing homelessness:
Many congregations, however, consider hunger, homelessness, abuse, and addiction to be social woes more than spiritual issues, and expect government-run programs and social services to take the lead in solving such matters. But the teachings of Jesus make it clear that mankind’s predicament is not the government’s problem.
If you know someone who is need, or if you want to get involved in your city, AGRM’s website if full of resources and provides ways you can connect with a local rescue mission.
READ: John Ashmen’s book/bible study, Invisible Neighbor with free online videos for small groups and sermon notes for your pastor.
After reading John’s book I see them, everywhere. The woman with the three kids parked at the end of the grocery store parking lot. The teenage girl who hangs around the gas station, always wearing the same bedraggled clothes. The men who emerge from the woods as I make the turn from the access road at the Interstate. I see them. I have begun to engage them. It scares me a little but I cannot unsee them now. They are my neighbors.