Isaiah 58:7-8 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Sonia Donaldson is a 6th grade teacher at Nohl Canyon Elementary School in Orange, California. While my kitchen was being remodeled I needed a new venue to make sandwiches for Skid Row. Sonia came to my rescue and offered her classroom for the preparation of the meals. For over 11 years we have worked together to serve the homeless community. Along with her 6th grade students, we have made over 300,000 sandwiches for the poor. Since I can no longer go to Skid Row due to a medical condition and Sonia wanted the children to continue with an outreach to the homeless community, she came up with the idea of making blankets. Her students have made over 30 blankets for the displaced. She is teaching them the value of giving and a lesson on servanthood.
Later this week I will meet with the Garden Grove Police Department to hand out these beautiful, custom made blankets created by the loving hands of Mrs. Donaldson’s sixth-grade class. God smiles down on the little faces of these servants. Great is their reward!
Serving the homeless has taught me to always be aware of my surroundings. If I have eye contact with a stranger, I smile; if the smile is not reciprocated, I say a short prayer for that person. I do not read minds, but through their eyes the Lord reveals a small window of what that person is going through. To the homeless community this is a constant; their world is always a foretaste of what lies ahead in their day. Their hope is distorted because they are surrounded by so many challenges. Things that are normal occurrences to us bring great trials to them. A change in weather contributes to their distress. If it rains; they must look for shelter, if it is too hot they have no place to seek refuge. They are the modern-day Israelites, wandering in the desert of life.
I was cleaning out my nightstand and found an old journal with this story:
Both of our children have picked up my mantle of staring at people. This is not a good habit, but, nonetheless we suffer from it. I once missed a flight home because I was so intrigued by staring at a large family. I watched as their mother tried to bring order to the family, but it was the dad who they listened to. I thought for sure that they would miss their flight because with all the commotion they had not lined up; instead I missed my flight because of all the staring. I was sitting in the wrong section and, by the time I made it to the right gate, I saw my plane taking off into the clear blue skies.
My son Mikos would occasionally go with me to feed the homeless on Skid Row in Los Angeles. It is an enigma not to be alarmed when all of your senses are aroused; your eyes, nose, and ears are on high alert when you are surrounded by the displaced. Mikos, like me, stares. The homeless population, for the most part, are hyper-sensitive, and anything could set them off. They need everything but sometimes pride gets in the way of their thinking. Our ministry has developed special skills of sharing the love of Christ with them. We would always arrive mid-morning to hand out the meals. This is strategically planned because the citizens of this God-forsaken community are just waking up, so there is a calmness in the air.
Within a radius of 5 blocks, there can be as many as 5,000 displaced persons. When we turned the corner onto Towne Avenue, two women were about to get into an altercation. The women were either inebriated or high on drugs. The fight was over a tank top, one woman accusing the other of stealing it. While the thief was attempting to take off the shirt, her arms got all tangled up. The owner of the shirt took advantage of the situation in what seemed to be a slow-motion fight. She threw blows that softly landed on the other woman. Mikos could not help but stare; the other woman was still all tangled up in the shirt, and when she tried to defend herself, like a T-Rex, her arms were too short. I have learned from experience how to intermittently stare and quickly turn away. Honestly, developing this skill to serve the homeless is most useful. I had to tell Mikos to look the other way. We never knew the outcome of the tank top brawl; sadly these are everyday occurrences on Skid Row.
The displaced are broken souls, and somewhere in their lives trauma made its way deep in their spirits. We are all wired differently, but the way we handle our pain is what makes us or breaks us. Harsh words spoken to someone who is already wounded can develop into an internal scar. Through the mercy of God this can be healed; the love of Christ can bring them out of this mindset. Just like the rest of us, the people on Skid Row all have a special calling. God did not intend for them to end up on the streets, but until they understand that they are loved, the transformation cannot occur. Our Father in heaven is waiting for them to turn to Him for direction. In the Lord we find the loving example of a father. The Lord will neither leave you nor forsake you. We must be near Him in order to hear Him.
Proverbs 15:1 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
A mild answer turns back wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
If 20-25% of the homeless population suffers from mental illness, this is a clear indication that the rest of them are broken souls. I see more and more substance abuse as the main problem. Families are ill-equipped to deal with this, so they disassociate from the abuser. Another growing concern with the homeless is the transgender individuals; they are mistreated on the streets because the homeless have no empathy or tolerance for them whatsoever.
Please continue to pray for the special needs of the displaced, and that we find solutions to stop this growing crisis.