Last Saturday, our small group partnered with a local ministry to feed some of the homeless in Indianapolis. It was a challenge–we didn’t just go to a mission or a church or something to pass out grocery bags. We went to where they live under bridges, in an alley, and along the river.
I didn’t take pictures, because I thought that would be disrespectful and touristy. The picture you see here is from a local newspaper article.
A lot of what I thought about homelessness was thrown out the window on our visits. The only experience I had with the homeless was with people who beg for change downtown and sometimes around the interstate interchanges. The initial temptation is to think of them as lazy or con artists. They were far from that. To be honest, I was so shocked by what I saw that most of the day I felt inadequate to do anything except talk to them. I couldn’t even pray for them because I didn’t know what to ask for. Their circumstances seemed that overwhelming.
We met a man named Marcel living under a bridge who felt as if the Lord was calling him into ministry with the homeless, to the point of living with them. Another neighbor in the tent city talked to us at length about the NFL season. He is a Bears fan and knew all about what was going on. When we asked him how he knew so much, he said he traveled to the other side of downtown on Sundays to watch the games in the IUPUI student union.
At another stop, I talked to a Marine veteran who’s now living along the river about the military service of his family. His relatives have served from World War I to Afghanistan, and he is a Vietnam veteran. I thought it was trite to ask him how he celebrated Veterans Day, but I did want to know. After all, our nation should see what has happened to some who have served us.
Not everyone is so mentally sharp… many stories we heard centered around alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness or failed re-introductions from prison. One camp had a cautionary memorial to “Mark” made out of a cross, mulch and landscape pavers. He got monthly paychecks from the government that he spent on liquor and eventually drank himself to death. On the other side of the river, a young man who had been trying to get out of his situation turned down a job at Hardee’s so he could use drugs.
Many of the stops we went to had already been canvassed by other groups. There was a missionary convention in town over the weekend that did some outreach, and of course, Thanksgiving to Christmas always prompts more giving. But what happens when the convention leaves town and the Christmas trees come down? Do we then forget the plight of those who have nothing in the colder months of January and February?
Some will say this is enabling… maybe so, but Jesus didn’t require an entrance exam to open himself to those who were hurting. He healed 10 lepers at once, but only one came back to declare him Lord. The other 9 still received the same blessing. One of the things that I prayed throughout the week was that we would be cheerful givers in all that we did, and I think we at least accomplished that.
Beyond that, the only thing I have been able to do is thank God for what he has blessed us with, because tonight we enjoy heat from a furnace and not from a camping stove, we sleep on soft mattresses and not cots, we have four walls of wood and brick and not three walls of tarp and plastic. Ultimately, I think that is what we are called to do on Thanksgiving… to be thankful to God for our salvation and our provision.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (GWT)–Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus that you do this.
What are you thankful for this year?