Years ago I worked with a faith infused homeless organization. They had a lot of problems and made what I considered bad choices. But they had Jesus. A lot of Jesus. Sometimes I wondered if they chose Jesus over intelligence or common sense or reason. Still I asked to be part of their staff twice and was told to wait and pray. Instead they came to my Lutheran church and I sat in back while one of the leaders preached about being lukewarm and vomit. It was a message I felt needed to be said to people at that time and maybe it did, but it was harsh. So harsh, I wonder if it was the reason why no one ever joined me to come hang out with the homeless.
But I have fond memories of this place and that time of my life.
One of my best friends, Darren Baker, at the time was there. He was super Jesus-y…and recovering from 20+ years of heroin use, but he was super friendly and caring towards me. He had genuine rock star stories and some CDs to prove his past. He never asked for much and often gave more than he received. As the skeptic always protecting his pockets, I didn’t feel used and only gave when I felt like it, and always something useful like a set of guitar strings or some fruit while we were hanging to compensate for the gruel they fed him. He fasted and prayed and praised and rejoiced with this place and its people even when I wondered why.
I came to worship with him and them. And hung out randomly with people I knew. Always under tight restriction. Being questioned what I brought them and when…and why. But the thing I took away from this place— a place that no longer exists because almost all of the staff left for New Orleans right after Katrina—was the joy they gave with. And what they gave away.
The pastor who made his wealth before starting the place gave his high end SUV to a staff that needed it to haul more people around. Then she gave her car to an intern who gave her bike to a program graduate and so on with a few more cars and then a house!
There was a family living in the shelter rooted in jobs and school in the neighborhood. A neighborhood that had high rents next to project housing. Neither of which they were eligible for because they had work, but not enough. So a family who moved out of the city gave them a house instead of selling it. They knew it would be a hassle to find a buyer at that time, and it was paid for already.
Since then, I have wondered why we sell things when we know someone with that need. Why we donate clothing to a building when there is a homeless kid on the corner. Why we throw things away that might assist someone else. And to be fair we are trained to not burden people or to give something we have deemed worthless. But I have always felt that the key to community is freely giving what you no longer need. And I wonder how much more I have to give since I just spent time in a season where a lot of time and energy was given to me.
What do you have to give away? Do you only use the corporate trailer truck donation centers or do you partner with local agencies?