Ministering to the Homeless

lovingourcity

“It’s complicated!”

This is often what we say when we are unable to give a clear response to a question, or when we are unsure how to navigate through a situation.

Consider the subject of homelessness. Broadly speaking, the homeless community is one of the most misunderstood and marginalized community groups in the States. And in the Dallas – Fort Worth area, it is difficult not to see or run into a member of the homeless community.

Brian Fikkert, a leading thinker on ministering to the homeless, once remarked: “There is a lot more going on than meets the eye, so the solutions need to move well beyond ladling soup, dispensing clothing, and handing out food stamps, as important as those activities can be. Indeed, the problem of poverty is so complex that it takes a miracle to eradicate it.”

How then do we as Christians engage and understand this overwhelming and often heartbreaking subject?

Here are three thoughts to help guide the conversation, all the while remembering that the homeless are neither projects or pariahs, but first and foremost, fellow image bearers of God.

First, take time to understand your context. 

Poverty is pervasive. But it does not manifest in the same way in every place. There are some common underlying forces at work, but there are nuances as well. This requires thoughtfulness and creativity in the ways we engage.

For example, in early 2017, Dallas Morning News reported, “More people [in the homeless community] are visibly living outside in encampments and tents throughout Dallas and surrounding cities. And the ongoing shortage of affordable housing units is making it more difficult to get people off the street, forcing people to remain homeless longer. The census shows that the average unsheltered person has been homeless for more than three years.”

Local news reports like this provide insights that can deepen our understanding of the issues at hand, and remind us it is not so simple a matter as handing out a few dollars here and there, but neither should those acts be easily dismissed.

Regarding local ministries to the homeless, one of the most active and gospel-centered ministries in the Dallas area is OurCalling. Theirs is a ministry that is the result of much trial and error, yet with a steadfast, multilayered approach to bring Christ-centered discipleship to those often neglected. This is simply one model of ministry to the homeless that can be a supporting resource for those navigating through this topic.

Take time to understand your context (investigate, read literature on the subject, ask questions of those already in this field of ministry) so that you might move towards the homeless community in your area with wisdom, humility, and compassion.

Second, pursue this ministry with others, not in isolation.

Most likely, you are not the only one in your church wrestling with how to engage this subject. And because this subject is so multifaceted, it will require numerous perspectives and skill sets that will extend beyond you. See this as an opportunity to bring together members of the body to serve a community often treated as modern-day lepers. And perhaps, to also consider joining other agencies or parachurch ministries already immersed in this work.

Finally, pray!

Pray for those in your area who are homeless. Pray that God would give you courage and clarity in terms of how you and your church might engage. Pray that you would be alert and sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this matter.

Arloa Sutter, founder of Breakthrough Urban Ministries, which serves homeless adults and youth and their families in Chicago, offers this helpful reminder:

“Listening to God and being prompted by the Spirit needs to be the basis for our action. God works in us and then out through us. In practical terms, this means… contemplation of God and God’s word…spend time praying and listening for guidance before diving into action…respond with obedience to those nudges of the Spirit when God instructs us to act. [For] it is when we are moving in obedience that God can use us effectively to care for others.”

The hope, then, for the church and the homeless is that God is on the move. And He is in the business of bringing hope where there is despair, and life where there is death. There will be many different ways for you to come alongside the poor and homeless in your context. Some will be helpful; some will not. And that is ok.

Thanks be to God that He is unlimited in His creativity and ability to use imperfect and impatient people to display His justice, grace, and compassion.

2 book resources worth reading:
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller

Too Hungry to Fast

Too Hungry to Fast Post

ABOUT KRISSY SMITH, GUEST CONTRIBUTOR:  My name is Krissy Smith and I’m a wife and mother of 4 kids ranging in ages from 3-21. I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life and think most clearly when I can see the Rocky Mountains. I am passionate about talking to people and hearing their stories whether it is a business partner at work, a mother in a developing country or a neighbor down the street.

I am so thankful for the work I get to do on a daily basis. For the past 13 years, I’ve been working at Compassion International as an advocate for children living in poverty. My work allows me to see the chains of injustice and poverty being broken on a daily basis because people are choosing to make a difference in Jesus’ name.

I’m an East Indian preacher’s kid and growing up in the Indian church we had all sorts of rules to follow in our home. On Sunday mornings, we had additional rules to go with our already strict Monday through Saturday rules.  A few of them included:

  • No TV on Sunday mornings
  • No reading the newspaper before church.
  • Learn memory verses
  • ALWAYS wear your Sunday best.

One of the biggest rules in our house was that we were not allowed to eat on Sunday mornings before church. I knew we were supposed to be “fasting” but I was never really sure why we were fasting. As a kid, all I really knew was that I was hungry and wanted to sneak a little snack, even if it was just a piece of bread when nobody was looking. My brothers and I would count down the hours, minutes and seconds until church ended and we could dive into lunch.  Fasting was made especially difficult on Sunday mornings because after church, our house would be filled with guests, so our mom would start cooking early and the house would be filled with the smells of our favorite foods. Talk about struggles!

Somehow, I guess I knew that fasting was important to my parents, so it should’ve been important to me. But I just didn’t get it. My parents never explained the purpose of fasting to me, maybe thinking I was too young to understand or maybe they just wanted me to be disciplined from a young age.

But that lack of understanding about fasting followed me for years. As a young-adult, I still struggled with knowing what to do on Sunday mornings. Was it wrong to eat breakfast? Was it wrong to not fast? The years of ingrained behavior made me feel like I was breaking an unwritten rule by eating when I did.  But then again, not eating breakfast, but making a mad rush to the buffet line at lunch made me feel that I was missing the point as well.

It’s funny that sometimes what we learn as children become the things that we carry into adulthood believing that’s how we should live the rest of our lives. We sometimes don’t even know why we do certain things, but since it’s familiar, we carry on the pattern. Do we do things simply because our parents told us to do them as kids? Do we know what the scriptural basis is for things we practice, preach and pray?

 

The topic of fasting left quite an impression on my young mind, so as an adult I’ve looked into it on my own and Isaiah 58 jumps out at me:

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

 Can you imagine? Our fasting is meant to loosen the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

I never would have known that had I not opened up the scripture and read it for myself. My act of not eating is actually a battle against oppression.

It says specifically that’s what happens when I fast. Fasting is not meant to make me look holy and perfect to God. It’s meant to bring life, hope and relief to those around me. When I am hungry, I will see the hunger in the eyes of my brothers and sisters around me. When I am thirsty, my eyes will be open to the thirsty around me who need so desperately to hear about Jesus through my love for them.

Why is that so hard for us as Christians to understand? There are people all around us every day who need a little relief, but often we’re so caught up in self-motivated fasting.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for good things in our lives, but too often we are fasting and praying for a winning game, a good grade, the perfect spouse, a bigger house, a better job, a better location, better looks. We often compare ourselves to those around us and feel dissatisfied with the blessings we have which lead us on a path to pray for more.  This, my friends, is the type of fasting that God despises. The kind of fasting where we are left wondering why God isn’t hearing our prayer, but we forget that in His word, he’s told us in Isaiah 58:9b-10,

 “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.”

It’s kind of hard to believe isn’t it? That God would be so harsh in addressing us about our role in taking care of the poor? We sometimes doubt that He meant that for us specifically.  Maybe taking care of the poor isn’t always forefront in our minds and maybe all we need is some direction in life and some answers to prayer. So, if that’s what we need, why wouldn’t we follow his word? Verses 8 and 9a say:

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

I want that! I want that for myself, for my family, for my friends and for you!

It’s sometimes a hard concept for us as a new generation of Christians in a multi-cultural world to understand that the mandate still remains for us to reach out to the lost and the hurting…to put someone else’s need above our wants for bigger, better and bolder…to be the answer to the prayer of a child in need or a neighbor in want. The truth of scripture has not changed.

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

 It’s interesting to me how God uses the “If/Then” statement to explain His intense meaning. IF you do this, THEN you will see the light. Amazing isn’t it? My fasting, isn’t meant to make me look good or holy to my parents or my church. It is meant to battle the wickedness and oppression that exists to debilitate and strip my fellow man of dignity and hope. If I don’t step into the battle, then it becomes my sin that gets in the way of another person’s freedom.

My prayer is that God will allow us to see that we can do something on a daily basis to reach beyond ourselves and to help those in need. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Fasting is one of the most powerful and necessary weapons we have been given to fight against the darkness and oppression in the world. It’s not just a chance to go hungry, but an opportunity to do some serious battle for the kingdom.

As an adult and mom of four kids, I understand the value of spiritual practices and, I’m actually really thankful for a lot of the rules I grew up with. In hindsight, I know those rules were intended to help me focus on getting into a head space for worship, not to cause me to struggle. Of course, as a kid, I just felt like my parents were being unreasonable. The thing is that as a parent, I’ve seen the need for discipline in my life and in my kids’ lives and I’ve been able to share with them why I fast as a follower of Jesus and why it’s so important for us to make a conscious decision to take a stand and change the world around us with the weapons we’ve been given.

The question is: Will you step forward and allow Him to use you? Will you fast in a way that pleases the Lord? Will you be the one who is called Repairer of Broken Walls and Restorer of Streets with Dwellings? (Isaiah 58: 12)

Questions:

  1. Do you fast and pray? If not, what’s preventing you?
  2. What is your perspective on poverty?
  3. What is God’s perspective on poverty?
  4. What is your motivation for fasting?
  5. What are you teaching your children about fasting?
  6. What do you consider as injustice?
  7. How does your mindset change when you read Isaiah 58:6?
  8. What is something you can do today to loosen the chains of injustice for someone around you?
  9. What can you do this week to share your food with the hungry or provide the poor wanderer with shelter? How can you clothe the naked?

A Journey Toward Sabbath

Journey To Sabbath

The monologue in my head goes like this when I read Exodus 20:8-11:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy;

(Me: Alrighty then, I go to church and get lunch sometimes with friends on Sunday, then take a nap. Sounds pretty holy to me.)

You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

(Me: All my work?!? My to-do list does not stop. I don’t think this is possible.)

You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates.

(Me: Not do ANY work?? But I have to do all the adulting to prepare for work on Monday. Also, I don’t have servants, or livestock, so…pass.)

For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day.

(Me: Even God rested on the seventh day? Oh. Maybe I should try this…but only when the to-do list dwindles, when I retire from working in the healthcare field, or when I get my own livestock. Someday…I’ll get to start a real Sabbath. Also, does watching Netflix count?)

First Step to Sabbath: Resistance

My first adult memory of the Sabbath was of Orthodox Jewish families walking to the temple in North Dallas. My friend told me that on Saturdays, those who practice Orthodox Judaism don’t drive on the Sabbath and even set timers for lights and stoves so they don’t have to do the work of turning them on that day. How quaint, I thought, how unrealistic for my modern life. Even a more watered down Sabbath is probably unattainable for me.

Second Step to Sabbath: Fatigue

So I proceeded like a happy clam, moving through my Sabbath-less weeks for great opportunities in ministry, building my marriage, keeping up with friends, advancing in my career. Sometimes my decisions were Spirit-led; other times, I would power through, no matter if God wanted me to or not. Finally, I hit an unforgiving wall called “burnout” at the end of 2016. Looking back, my version of burnout can be summed up by this Parker Palmer quote:

“Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”

This stage of my life really wasn’t surprising because I have a habit of burnout anyway, trusty millennial that I am. Starting in my late adolescent years, I would burn out, then quit jobs or ministry roles that I initially fell in love with at a breakneck pace every two years. I needed to recover from it, but didn’t really know how. More small group meetings, more spiritual books, more memorization of Bible verses and less ministry roles? Six months into my search for restoration, a kind sister gently asked me, “When is the last time you took a Sabbath?” I fumbled for a halfhearted answer, not even knowing what a true Sabbath would like in my own personal life.

Third Step to Sabbath: Accepting God’s Grace

Through a sequence of God-orchestrated events, I stumbled onto a book – Emotionally Healthy Leadership by Peter Scazzero. Out of all the terrific insights this book had, I will always remember one quote about the precious seventh day of rest, in which “we are deeply loved by God for who we are, not what we do.” I kept soaking the sentence in over and over – it was the Gospel message for my empty, thirsty soul. In my work-driven world, it was difficult to believe, and even more difficult to accept for myself, but my dried out soul was drinking it up so desperately. “I am deeply loved by God for who I am, not what I do.”

Fourth Step to Sabbath: Taking Baby Steps

Miraculously, that sentence and the first half of Scazzero’s book snapped me into attention and my heart started longing for rest in Jesus, at least once every 7 days for an ENTIRE 24 hour period. I was relearning the Gospel (Isn’t that what faith walks are made of? Needing Gospel reminders/reshaping/relearning/resharing?). My first early attempts at a true Sabbath only consisted of a) choosing to do things that allowed me to delight in and rest in God and b) to not complete or add any tasks to my running to-do list. The first time I tried that, my heart nearly stopped. I had been so enamored by my lovely to-do list, I didn’t realized it had sneakily taken its place as my glorified ball and chain – essentially a mini-god. My brain started resisting again — Sabbath, I don’t like you.

In that first month of battling and arguing with God about the Sabbath, another friendly sister offered me Jesus’ words as respite.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

My heart opened up again to the idea, realizing it was no longer a concept of legalism. God gave us the Sabbath day for rest for our own good!

The second week I attempted the Sabbath, I prepared about 2 days in advance, taking care of all the priority items on my task list so I could rest well. My soul took in rest much more readily, armed with the verse from Mark about the Sabbath, and the whole day made me realize how my soul was so starved after so many years of ignoring rest. After that, I started craving rest in God’s Word in short spurts (aka. devotional time or daily office) throughout my weekdays, and God led me into an extended sabbatical from ministry for about two months after that. I had nothing to prove anymore – to myself or anyone else; I desired to honor God by releasing my control and receiving the abundance of life He had for me through the Sabbath.

At this point, I’m on my third month of Sabbath keeping. I still forget to take a Sabbath some weeks. My mind still wanders back to my to-do list. A couple times, I willingly decide to bypass my day of rest completely with plenty of ‘legitimate’ excuses. And yes, I do still take a nap most Sabbath days – sometimes two.

Brothers and sisters, I pray this restorative practice into your life. It’s countercultural and difficult to initiate, but God is always waiting with loving, open arms for you to step into his invitation of rest. If your heart is ready for the Sabbath, these questions might help:

What makes me feel restored?
What places or activities help me find true joy and delight in God?
Does my Sabbath involve unplugging from technology? Social media?
What are the biggest obstacles in the way of my Sabbath?