Last weekend we thoroughly enjoyed having the Whispering Pines youth down here for a mission trip. We took them sightseeing downtown, they had a chance to pass out tracts and sing a little, and went along Sunday morning to help feed the homeless and pass out bundles they had brought along.
One of the highlights was watching the Children’s Christmas Parade Saturday morning. While we were there, a homeless man struck up a conversation with Randy and Jolene. They introduced me to him later, and he invited me to come downtown so that he could give me an inside look at his world, the world of the homeless.
So, this morning I dropped Christy and the boys off at the zoo and headed downtown. I knew that he slept at the Catholic church, but all I knew to do if he wasn’t there was to ask others who might know him. He had assured me that some of the others would know where he was. In his words, “They know who I am. Just tell them my name.”
I parked and set out to find him. I went to the church, the park where we met, and a good bit of the area close by. No go. The people I asked seemed to have no idea who I was talking about. In the end, I did not find him, but I had a lot to think about.
As I walked the streets in the 40 degree cold and my hands started to tingle from cold (yes, I am a southerner!), I wondered what it would be like to depend on others for my clothing. Walking past a gated open basement with a welcome heat blast emanating from it all I wanted to do was huddle down as close as I could get. What would it be like to not be able to adjust the thermostat at will? One man, loaded with his bundles, stopped for a quick rest. When I asked if he could help me, all I saw in his eyes was panic. Although it seemed that he was suffering from either a mental illness or some other cause, I realized that he had no idea what I was up to or what I intended, and his distrust was obvious. This was reinforced when the next man I asked said, “We (referring to the homeless) stick together, but we really don’t know most of each other’s names. I doubt half of them know my name. There are too many of us.” A life of constant wariness, of uncertainty, is a stress that I find hard to fathom. Seeing all the people that spend most of the day surviving for that day is so different than what I know. I realize that a very high percentage are in their situation because of an addiction of some kind, whether it is drugs, alcohol, or another substance. That did not change what I felt as I watched. Knowing that many of them spend a large portion of their day going from one person to another, all while clearly being seen as inferior by the majority of those they meet, is saddening. Their choice impacts them, but our response wounds them. Watching so many of them interact with each other, mostly male-to-male, makes me ache for them, wishing they could have the family connections I am blessed with. I can only imagine the depression I would struggle with if I were in their shoes.
I came away amazed at how positive so many of the people are I am blessed to feed. I’ll never forget the time soon after I started when one of them looked at me and said, “You need to be smiling!” This man was smiling then, and has every time I have seen him.
I also can only imagine the loneliness, the dependency, the inferiority that many of them feel. I wonder how far a smile of recognition, a “hello,” an offer of help go. I left wishing I knew more about Jesus’ heart for the needy. But mostly, I keep thinking of the man who said, “Most of us don’t know each other’s names.”