This Saturday was just like most other Saturdays, me trying to remind my body I didn’t have to be awake for school; my body reminding me it doesn’t keep a different schedule for weekends. So I was up with plenty of time to do, or think, or consider, or waste.
I had a tug on my heart about a week ago. I really wanted to be a part of feeding someone that was hungry. I know a lot of people that are hungry all the time (high school and college guys), but what I was feeling led to do was feed someone that doesn’t always have access to food. I wasn’t able to find anyone in that situation last weekend (and I drove around looking!). I figured that would be the end of that feeling and went about my week. And then today it came back.
I found out through some friends where a group of homeless men and women set up camp. I asked my good friend Michael to accompany me on a little adventure. I didn’t know exactly where to look for the people I was told of, wasn’t sure what they would think of strangers walking up, or really what to expect at all. I didn’t want to show up with less than enough food, so we went to see if we could find out how many people there were (if we found people at all).
Sure enough, we found them. We were warmly welcomed (with some questioning) and INTRODUCED to several people that live together in this community, pretty much as family. We were basically welcomed into what would be the equivalent of a living room, had their home been a house. Instead, their home is a small city of tarps and tents, wind shields and canopies, strung together as something we would consider a cool fort as a child or a great setup on a camping trip. The only difference is this was neither of those things. This is their home.
We met people from young to old. We met guys and gals. We got to shake hands. We got to see living quarters. We got to joke around. We got to listen to people talk that needed someone to hear what they were saying.
The coolest thing happened. I recognized one of the guys. I had seen him at a church service the week of Christmas. I had no idea he was homeless, where he was from, or who he was. He was the only one at the front of the church by the altar praying that night, and when he walked down the aisle to go back to his seat, I reached out to shake his hand. I’m a big hand shaker, but I don’t usually reach out to strangers as they return to their seats. He shook my hand very intentionally and looked me in the eye with a smile before returning to his seat. Anyways, I saw him today out in this camp. I asked if he remembered me, and he said yes of course only with less facial hair. This guy remembered a 5 second encounter from 4-5 weeks ago with a complete stranger that I would call “chance” if I didn’t believe in this guy that puts everything together. But I do believe in that guy; I believe he makes things happen, and happen for a reason.
We found out there were about 20 people to feed, if we were going to feed everyone, so we ran to Little Caesar’s and picked up 10 pizzas and some sodas. Everyone was grateful when we returned and we were able to stand around the fire while eating for a bit. We talked about work, trucks, clothes smelling like smoke, cold weather, broken down cars, hats, and all the other things I pretty much talk about in Mt. Pleasant with my friends. I could tell the conversation mattered much more to these people though. It was more than just a few bites of food from two 20-something year old guys. I’m hoping it was the foundation for some friendships, some fireside conversation, and some opportunities to share Jesus.
The man that I had recognized asked if Michael and I were going to church and we told him we were. He asked if he could join, stating that he would need a ride and that we were going to be late if we didn’t leave ASAP. We told everyone goodbye and thanks for having us around, and that we would see them again soon. The three of us hiked back to my regular cab manual ford ranger. Michael and I are both just over 6′ and our new friend who was excited to go to church with us was 6′ 4.” It was a sight to see.
If the blessings had stopped there, this memory would still be ingrained in my mind for the rest of my days…but they didn’t. Our new friend had been to church the evening I had shaken his hand, but he had also been there several other times thanks to a friend that had given him a ride. He had also received some assistance through one church outreach on some very cold nights. He knew the faces of the people around him. He was once again at the altar. He had friends, fellow believers, laying hands on him and praying for him. I saw him exchange smiles with many people that must have been familiar to him. He INTRODUCED me to some people!!!
I watched this man worship from the front of the church with his hands raised. I watched him sing out “Bless the Lord oh my soul” and many of the lyrics to “Your Grace is Enough” which I believe are more than lyrics to him. I truly believe he meant it when he said “Your grace is enough.” This guy that struggles to avoid freezing, nightly, and doesn’t know where his meals are coming from the rest of the week stood with his arms wide to Jesus crying out that grace was enough. If that’s not a beautiful picture of someone that has encountered Christ I don’t know what is.
I didn’t know I was going to get to be a small part of all of this. I didn’t know how many ways I was going to be blessed in the process of trying to reach out and help others right here in Concord. I know the same is true for Michael; we had never before seen most of what we saw that evening. It is hard to believe that there is so much brokenness right around us. I’m not talking about small cracks, I’m talking about people that are living in the remains of shattered lives. People seriously struggling. People that need Jesus.
We look at the weather for the week to see what jacket, or how many layers we need to wear. These people, right in our community, wonder if they are going to be able to sleep through the night and wake up in the morning. They wonder what they are going to eat when the food supply gets low after a few days. Pray for them. But also do something about it.
I’ve researched and read a lot on homelessness. The hardest part of it all is the hopelessness that is felt in the hearts of these people. The hardest thing to see is someone that is content with the hopelessness they’ve just accepted. It’s the same story in the streets of whatever cities I’ve been in while on mission trips. People in need of hope that feel too far gone or forgotten. People in need of a hope that is more than just hope, but a hope which is a confidence founded on the promises of Christ. This is a hope that means something. This hope has eternal consequence.
Be praying for these people, and for the different ways we are trying to reach out to them. We want to build relationships, not just leave it at an introduction. Our main goal is to share Jesus. We hope to meet physical needs as we are able, sharing our motivation along the way.
Don’t go through life ignorantly convincing yourself that the people that are aching, desperate, lonely, and broken are far away; they are within arms’ reach. Be willing to stretch; be willing to share a warm embrace. #LETMEINTRODUCEYOU
We believe God has a plan for us in this place. We believe He can do great things through the little things. What happened today in a few hours changed my life forever. I pray that what happens in the coming weeks and months with these people will bring about a change in them. I pray that they come to know the One that is so much greater than any struggle with addiction, any missed job opportunity, any feeling of loneliness or unworthiness, any failure, any mental illness…I pray that they know Jesus and the hope that He gives so freely. We had the chance to pray with our new friend before saying goodnight…what a true blessing it was.