Is it possible to build meaningful and healthy relationships with those who are homeless? I have pondered this for the longest time. Their world is like an entire different universe. Living too long in a middle/upper class society has taught me that. One person told me that ministering to them is like taking on a new cultural group; akin to serving a Chinese or Hispanic church focusing on one ethnic makeup, and I think he is right.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Consider Dwight, a homeless man who gave his life to Christ last year summer at community night. He doesn’t come for food anymore, but he does show up once a month when we have recovery meetings. Dwight likes to talk to God, and he loves the church. He asks for prayer all the time. But his faith is young. He usually comes drunk and only stays for about 15 minutes. Dwight is a heavy smoker and consistently asks for money. He requires a lot of attention, and doesn’t seem to want to change his living situation. Under such conditions, what am I to do?
There are many layered problems when it comes to homeless ministry to which a few come to mind: How are we to integrate them with those from middle-class society? To what degree is the church responsible for helping them with their social and personal struggles? Where do we draw the boundaries?
The first question is a mystery I ask God about a lot. One homeless young lady has begun exploring her faith in more depth and comes to Sunday service occasionally on top of Saturday community night for food. She is open to me about her relationship and spiritual issues. I know she needs another female to help her deal with the deeper issues. But to pull that someone from the church is a challenge. I mean for anyone, adjusting to a new church family is difficult, but how much moreso when those families live in nice homes with loving parents whereas she never had any of that. When I asked the lady if she wanted to come for lunch with a group of friends (they were open to the idea), she politely declined. She said she didn’t want to take our money in that way. But I knew what she really meant. Afterall, what would she talk about with church friends? What would she be ‘allowed’ to order? Perhaps she felt these friends only wanted to convert her?
So while I let the matter go, I began to pray. I asked the Lord how we as a church body are to help the poor. One thought that comes to mind is how Peter healed the lame in Acts 3. Another is also how Jesus healed the paralytic in Mark 2. In both instances, the focus is on the spiritual healing, rather than the physical (immediate). So I do think as a pastor while a balance of both (spiritual and social gospel) is important, an emphasis on bringing spiritual guidance is the priority of the church. Then there’s also 1 Timothy 5:9 which says:
No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband
While this passage focuses on how to divert church resources toward widows, I think the broader context to poor people applies. While I believe there should be a general fund that is distributed to the poor by the church, I think special priority is given toward those who have been faithful to the church. So when I think of the matter of boundaries, the church should limit what it gives to help others using discretion.
Through this journey with street people, I have come to realize that I am so blessed to have many skills that others do not have. To be able to reconcile my past hurts, to be sociable, to be able to manage finances, to write a resume and apply for a job, to exercise self-control, to be able to listen, to read English, to smile – that I am thankful for.