This is my DREAM!

4 07 2010

I was encouraged by this recent post from Steve Kimes, Pastor of Anawim Christian Community, a church in Portland, OR for the homeless and mentally ill, originally posted on the Mustard Seed Associates blog last month.  Read this and get a glimpse of my heart and hopes for my future (and now too).

Living With The Homeless

I approach Ron on his couch in our finished basement. “Hey, Ron, could you please start watering the plants out front?  It’s starting to get dry.”

Ron looks up from his paper, “No problem, Steve. Do you want me to do the ones by the street, too?”

“Yeah, I don’t want them to dry out.”

Ron has been sleeping on our couch for five years. He’s in his 60s and used to live in his truck. Someone ran a red light and totaled the truck, but since Ron didn’t have insurance, he was considered to be at fault. We took him in because we didn’t want him to return to the picnic table he used to sleep under, concerned that he might not make it through another winter. So he does some gardening and sweeping for us and we give him a place to sleep. He’s kind and passive and easy to live with.

Since we obtained our six bedroom house six years ago, we have had people living with us. Even before then, when we had a two-bedroom apartment, we had people sleeping in our living room and porch. Honestly, my wife and I have had people staying with us off and on since three weeks after we were married. To many people, this seems like an excessive ministry, especially since we run a church made up of the homeless and mentally ill. “Isn’t this too much for you? Why do you keep people in your house?”

Sometimes it is too much for us, or it feels like it. One gentleman we had staying with us would stand in our dining room, right in the center of our three-story house, and preach so loudly that no one could escape it. He would be in a manic phase so no one could stop him, either. And there was the time that we had someone detoxing from heroin in one of our basement rooms. That wasn’t one of my best ideas, either.

A couple of years ago, we were burned out from all of our ministry. We couldn’t imagine continuing to deal with people’s social weaknesses, their ups and downs, their drives for personal success and their inevitable failures. We talked about shutting everything down. Diane pointed out that, even if we moved to a different city, how long would it be before we invited someone into our house and the whole thing started again? Not long, I mused.

We were made for this ministry. Community isn’t just a nice thing to do, it is a lifestyle we must live. Why is this? Why must we live in community with the homeless and mentally ill?

  • Because discipleship is not education but lifestyle training. In Christ, conversion is a new creation, not the signature on the bottom of the doctrinal statement. Jesus himself demonstrated that the new lifestyle of following Him is something to be acculturated into, not simply taught. Thus, for my task as a pastor to succeed, I must live with those whom I am discipling, not simply giving classes leading or accountability groups.
  • Because the socially outcast need permanent halfway houses. Almost all discipleship and mentoring programs for the homeless attempt to train the homeless to be middle class. This is assuming that the best the homeless could achieve is a Christian lifestyle of consumerism and single family dwellings. But the real issue is that most of the chronic homeless (who have lived on the street for at least two years), no matter what training, never successfully live on their own without assistance. There are many reasons for this, but the question I have is, what is successful?

    I have found that alternative living is one option that succeeds. This allows the homeless to live in small communities without worrying about rent or utilities, but only doing what work they must in order to retain their place in the community. This allows them to live in the barter economy they are used to, rather than making a shift to a monetary economy. Our community allows for that, working ten hours a week for room and board instead of a monetary payment.

  • Because it keeps me and my family honest. Some might have concerns about raising my family with the homeless and the mentally ill. However, there is no danger for my children in this life. Instead, it has brought opportunities for my children that otherwise wouldn’t exist. My son and daughter have had the opportunity to talk about homelessness to their classes, and to live out cross-cultural ministry. But more than this, having some of our congregation live with us is accountability for us. Whatever we do in our lives, that is what is shared with our congregation, and so our lives are always under examination.

    This means that when we make errors, even grave ones, we must apologize for them and live well – not only for our family, but for the health of our ministry. This seems like a surrender of privacy, but honestly, it is a priceless gift. It is a daily reminder of how we need to live, not just for our relationship with God, but for all those around us. We all have this to a degree—living with our spouse or children— but living with my congregation is a reminder I find to be essential.


A Simple Dream

21 01 2010

Driving home tonight, after a wonderful dance class where I got to jump and giggle and stretch this body that God has given me, where I got to breathe and create, I turned on some worship music and sang along.  And wouldn’t you know, as soon as the chorus rang out with a harmony of “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” I pulled up to a stoplight with a homeless man begging for money.  He was young – it caused me to look twice, to look him in the eye – and for some reason, though I have sat at many stoplights next to homeless men before, this time I wanted to reach into my wallet and pull out everything I had.

My logic, and selfishness no doubt, kept me from doing it – I try to give actual material things or food rather than money, and this night I didn’t have any of those things.  But in the few seconds before the light changed, I couldn’t help but clearly sense the presence of Jesus standing next to me, in this young man’s body.  My mind immediately contemplated Matthew 25, as it has many times in the past: “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in…to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  As I drove away I couldn’t sing “Hallelujah Jesus” anymore because I knew I had just driven away from him.

And every time these instances happen, when I miss the moment to minister to Jesus, I usually pray for God to help me get it right the next time, and to change my heart so that I can know how to respond in the moment, and be willing to do whatever that response requires.  This time I thought, should I have given him my $10 bill?  Should I have dug for my spare change?

And then the dream came back to me – the one I’ve had for years – the dream to someday have a home and a family where we can truly take in the stranger, clothe the naked and feed the hungry.  Because you see, if that really was Jesus standing on the side of the road, I don’t think I would have given him my dollar or even 10 or 20.  I think I would have invited him into my home and prepared for him a meal and given him my own bed, with the finest sheets.  I would have asked him to tell me stories and I would have wanted, more than anything, for his life to change my own…for the intersection of our journeys to matter to me.

Giving to the poor is not just about dropping off clothes at Goodwill or serving at a food bank, or freely giving away your spare change, though those are all good things.  But I think what Jesus was trying to say was that the interaction should be personal.  We would never give to Jesus in any other way.

I’m going to bed tonight reminded of the simple dream to live a life that’s personal with the poor…with Jesus.  Think of the mutual transformation that would take place if we allowed our schedules and our spaces to be interrupted by the hungry and the homeless?  If we took them all into our lives as if they were our King?

If there’s anything my life is to be about, I want it to be about that.