I stood uncertainly in line waiting to enter the downtown day program. Around me were homeless men and women, both young and old. Some were well dressed, others had a clashing mixture of clothing adorning them. All carried pain, uncertain eyes, unkempt hair and seemed easily frustrated. One man in front of me had fresh wounds on his hand and face, chunks of flesh missing. He shared how a seizure caused him to hit the road hard. Another clutched a old torn gym bag, laughing to himself, deep in conversation with someone only present in his mind.
I was with them to experience some of what its like to be a client. By day, my work is as CEO of West Houston Assistance Ministries, we see around 500 people a week, all of whom are in some sort of crisis, and many are homeless. But mostly I pass them by, spending my time in my comfortable office. I live and work in a cocoon, and I wanted to step out of that protected place and experience some of what its like to be a client. So my approach was to visit a similar service. (To protect those involved, I will keep the agency anonymous.)
And I am glad I did, for what I experienced has completely changed my perspective on serving the poor, those in crisis.
First and foremost, what I will take back to West Houston Assistance Ministries is an increased focus on loving each of our clients and of serving them as much as possible. Intentional love and service.
As Micah 6:8 reads,
No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
The lofty challenge of showing constant love, regardless of how someone might present, how they might smell, or how rude they might be. We should accord them the respect and attention we would give a special guest. Whether its through hospitality, or how we interact with them – we are called to love and respect each person, regardless.
Second, even though someone is in crisis, we should engage them. Many have much to share, and we can learn from them. And such an interaction accords them the respect they deserve. I got into conversation with a man who was long term homeless. He had the most amazing perspective on faith, detailed and well thought out. I listened rather than led and learnt a lot from him. And I discovered he is a poet, I asked if I might record him and share one of his poems, which he agreed to:
Third, the need is much greater than the resources to meet the need. This is the case at the agency I visited today as it is at West Houston Assistance Ministries.
Which brings me to my challenge for you:
How might you help those in need? Perhaps make a donation to an agency you love (we welcome your support at West Houston Assistance Ministries), or organize a drive to collect food, clothing and money for bus passes. Become a volunteer. Every agency I know needs more volunteers. Commit to giving a few hours a week. Take the step out of your comfort zone. As 1 Peter 4: 8 – 11 states,
8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen
In my experience, serving God is one sure way of deepening my faith.
I realized today that I need to love and serve the poor much more. This takes spending time with them and actively thinking how best to love and serve them.
Today I am a changed man. Today I commit to leading much more with love and service.