It’s one thing to know about suffering. It’s another thing to look a hurting person in the face. At least, it should be. It’s impossible to escape the issue of homelessness in Portland. From the moment we moved here, we have encountered dozens of people who sleep outdoors on a regular basis. We see people huddled in door ways, sitting outside Target, and riding the bus. We are also approached on a regular basis by people asking for help.
What do you do in this circumstance?
As we consider the core value of Spring of Life Church, we want to be a church of action. Basically that means that when we see something wrong, we want to respond in a thoughtful, Christ-honoring way. To read more about the thought process, you can check out our ministry workbook. I came to the conclusion that I can’t simply ignore homelessness. I know I can’t solve everything, but I can do something. Maybe if I just start somewhere, I will come up with a more meaningful, long-term response. I feel more convicted than ever by verses like this: MATTHEW 5:42 - Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
My mother-in-law always keeps gift cards in her vehicle to give out to people in need. I love this idea. A few days ago, I went to McDonalds and bought a bag full of $5 gift cards. I decided that I would never walk down the streets again with empty pockets. McDonalds is not the healthiest option, but there are two of them downtown and you can get a lot for your money.
Because our goal is to carry out Gospel Justice, we want to make sure we are being intentional to love, disciple, and bridge. I printed out small slips of paper with an encouraging message and verse: SOMEONE HEARS YOU. I met a homeless man during one of our first weeks here. I sat with him on the sidewalk and talked with him a while. He repeated again and again, “I’m just so glad to have someone to talk to.” I wondered how bad it must feel to go through life feeling unheard.
Today was the first day I got to put the plan into action. I got off at my bus stop, excited to see who I would meet. As I walked, prayerfully waited for someone to approach me (otherwise I would have been out of gift cards before I made it to work). I walked up three blocks, glancing around the whole time. It kind of felt like Christmas. I walked around the corner, and headed toward the Guild Theater to prayer walk. At the corner of 10th and Taylor, a man nodded at me.
His name is Harry. He was holding up a copy of Street Roots, a newspaper that seeks to create income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty by producing a newspaper and other media that are catalysts for individual and social change.
I said, “how are you?”
He smiled and responded, “I wish I had an extra layer,” as he pulled at his fleece jacket.
Bingo. I was ready.
I walked back across the street to where he was standing. I handed him one of the gift cards. I explained that I didn’t carry cash, but I wanted to buy his lunch. He immediately gave me a hug. In a moment, we felt like friends. We stood and chatted for a little while. He confirmed that McDonalds was a good idea. He likes Subway, but it’s too expensive. I found out that he has another shift at 4pm. He told me he is a famous artist and that there is a documentary coming out about him next year. I checked his first and last name online later. There was an artist that matched, but the picture was very different from the man I met. I walked away, excited to bump into him again.
I know it won’t always go like this. Many people are trapped in poverty because of mental health issues and sleeping outside rarely leaves people feeling pleasant. Homeless people can be scary and even threatening at times. I know that I’ll get lots of various reactions in the coming days and weeks. However, for this first moment of giving away our “SOMEONE HEARS YOU” cards, I feel like I’m the one who was blessed.
find out more about our church planting journey at pastoraaronbennett.com