I live in a city where there are a lot of homeless people. LOTS of homeless people.
I am a city girl, I have mostly always lived in cities. I grew up in NYC, so that should give you some idea of what I mean by cities. I have traveled to most major cities across the U.S. and I have seen some good places and some “shady” places.
I recently moved to Seattle, WA and there are a lot of homeless people here. Lots of homeless people!
Not quite knowing the city yet, I used to catch the bus on Jackson Street. It was a close walk from my office. Now this bus stop had a lot of shady characters around it. Usually the bus stop was filled with people waiting for a bus, so I wasn’t alone and there was some false sense of security of being safe in a crowd of people. Until someone got gunned down in broad daylight right behind the bus stop (again). That was my clue to find a different bus stop.
(I pause for a moment here for a quick disclaimer: I am not suggesting all homeless people are violent.)
As a single mom, relocated to the other side of the country, for a job that is heavily bonus based, I am reminded many of us are just one paycheck away from being homeless. So, I do get that little taste of fear when the office is not producing what they should be and how it will reflect on my paychecks. Thankfully God has not failed me! He provides.
Yet, still I am sometimes still taken aback when I see such hopelessness on the streets.
I recall back in the 80’s when they released people onto the streets because the hospitals and prisons were over crowded. Many of these people needed to be in a hospital, with medication, and psychiatric help. Yet, these poor people were released onto the streets, a danger to themselves and to others.
This is what I see everyday here.
Pike and Pine Streets are busy streets. They are bustling with people. Tourists, homeless, hustlers, business people, drunks, street performers, street beggars, police on bikes, etc… You see the best of humanity here and the worse.
When you see this everyday it is hard to not become hardened to it; indifferent. Every block you are approached by someone asking for money, a smoke, or whatever, and you learn to point your face gaze straight ahead and act like they don’t even exist (I haven’t yet perfected this) as if they aren’t even human. Sad, isn’t it?
Yet, I can’t help but to wonder, what is their story? How did they end up here? Did they have families?
I befriended one of these homeless people. His name is Charlie. Charlie is a street prophet. He has been homeless for over a year and everyday he stands on the same corner ministering to people. He can always be found praying for people. He holds a sign saying “Hold on, Jesus is coming”
Every time Charlie sees me he smiles and says, “Hello my little friend, are you well?”
I am learning quite a bit from Charlie. I compare him to a modern day Job. Before now, Charlie used to be a successful business man. He never wanted for money. He was in love. He was living the life. A little while before he lost everything, God tried to warn him, he sent a prophet to him and told him he was going to lose everything (you see, Charlie put his success before God. He got wrapped up in it, caught up in the “fame” and no longer acknowledged Who his blessings came from.) Soon after, the prophecy came true. He lost everything and everyone.
Now, for those of us who know Job’s story, we know Job was a righteous man. I am not suggesting Charlie was living a righteous life. But, I am believing Charlie will experience the same kind of restoration as Job did. Everyday Charlie is out there witnessing for God. He is not bitter. And he is a giver.
Today I saw Charlie, and he asked me… “Friend, did you eat today?” I told him I haven’t because I was too busy to eat. I will eat when I get home. He reached into his bag and gave me a gift card for a local restaurant and told me to go get something to eat, he wanted to bless me because I am his friend.
My first thought was to not take the gift card. I mean, he is a homeless man, he should use it. I felt if I took it it would be robbing him. But, just as quick as I thought that, another thought told me to take it and say thank you. You see, Charlie was giving out of his own need. He wanted to be a blessing and he was truly showing great faith in God.
So, I accepted the gift card from him. I thanked him for it and his face lit up. He told me people will not accept gifts from him, even though he wants to give them, because they pity him. They feel because he is homeless he is somehow less of a man. He gave me a hug and thanked me, as if it were him who received a gift.
Now, remember what I said about how hard it is to not become hardened when you see homelessness all around you? Do you think it is because they are a reminder to our own humanity? Could it be we are afraid? Maybe not so much afraid of them, but afraid because it could happen to us? Could we possibly think if we ignore them they will go away? Are we who have homes, jobs, families, health, really better? Superior? More righteous?
I am reminded of a couple things.
First, Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-45…
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me,you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Hebrews 13:2 forewarns us… Do not neglect to extend hospitality to strangers [especially among the family of believers—being friendly, cordial, and gracious, sharing the comforts of your home and doing your part generously], for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Am I saying Charlie is an angel? No, probably not. But, I am saying he is a man, a human, a brother in Christ, and if I were to just judge him by his appearance I would never know it.
How many more Charlies are there out there?
I hope you got something out of this post. I hope you remember Charlie the next time you see someone who looks unlovely, maybe doesn’t smell so good, or just looks like a “bum”. Be careful my friend, everyone has a story. The same God Who created you also created him.
If you love God you will love others. Because let us not forget, the smell of a homeless person smells like the sweetest of colognes when we compare to the stench of our own righteousness in Gods nostrils.
Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world. James 1:27
Be kind. Walk in love. Share His joy.