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With my leftovers from lunch rustling in the plastic bag at my side, we wandered the mall in D.C. I was 14 that summer, and as we continued down the long span of grass we passed various others with their dogs and frisbees, kids, joggers, and more noticeably, the homeless.
One man caught my eye with his cardboard sign and his raggedy clothes.With a little hesitation, I reached out and offered him my sandwich.
He waved his irritated hands at me and cursed. “I don’t want that (expletive)!” I stepped back, afraid, and he said something about wanting money. My friend and I hurried away without looking back.
I decided then, that homeless people didn’t really want help–they wanted cash. I further judged that they likely wanted money for drugs or booze or cigarets. I figured if I were homeless, and someone offered me food, I’d probably take it, so maybe, their situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
I made these judgments as a child. Growing up as a middle class, somewhat privileged person, I admittedly knew nothing about the struggle that those who are homeless face. I didn’t know how they became that way, and my bad theology told me that people became homeless because of bad choices they had made.
Even as I write this now, I grieve my selfish and arrogant attitudes that pepper my past. I am ashamed to say that before Christ infiltrated my life, I lived mostly without any real compassion, and with the sting of criticism always on my tongue. I’t’s not a secret, my struggle with pride.
I didn’t see people, I saw problems.
By God’s grace, I am changed–wrecked by grace and given fresh eyes to see.
Fast forward to this past weekend. I recognized him as soon as I saw him standing there by the stop sign with his cardboard sign in hand. I’d seen him recently at Target, with that rope tied tightly around pants that looked 3 sizes too big and a backpack laden down with probably everything he owned. In the lane farthest from him, I felt a nudge to offer him something–money maybe? I thought about buying him lunch at the Mcdonalds across from me, but the light turned and traffic moved, and I drove on.
I blew it.
I didn’t do anything.
And days later, I still hurt over my decision to turn away. I finished my errands and went back by the stop sign, but by then he was gone.I’d missed an opportunity to serve him. I kept thinking about Jesus’s words in Matthew:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separatesthe sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40)
I wept as I apologized to God for ignoring the prompting I felt. I don’t know why I didn’t serve him.
I don’t know why I hesitated.
My friend Dan King recently partnered with Dillon Burroughs and Daniel Darling to write what should be THE handbook on how to be a faithful activist.
Their book, Activist Faith tackles many of the hot-button issues we hear about today, including homelessness, human trafficking, genocide, environmentalism, immigration, abortion–and many more. Activist Faithlooks at each of this issues through the lens of scripture and offers insight into how we as Christians can and should serve from wherever we are. This book has rattled my heart in the best ways, and I am so grateful for their effort in creating such a tremendously useful resource.
From the back cover:
The Bible doesn’t call us to like or tweet about or even vote on human need and social problems. It calls us to act–to feed the hungry, visit prisoners, care for orphans, and bring good news to the poor. Join the co-founders of the dynamic Activist Faith movement as they share biblical contexts, personal stories, and practical guidance for engaging twelve divisive social issues. Written for Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and even those who despise religion yet love Jesus, Activist Faith will guide you toward speaking–and living–the truth in love.
I shared my story about neglecting to serve that man on my facebook page and got some really great ideas from people about building “grace bags” to keep in the car, something ready made to hand out when the opportunity arises. I am determined to act quickly next time–to not miss another opportunity to live out the love of Christ.
Some items you might want to include in your grace bags:
- toilet paper
- travel toothbrush
- bottled water
- dental floss
- granola bars
- raisins (or other nutrient rich snacks)
- first aid kit
- gloves/socks (during cold seasons)
- note of encouragement
- small denomination gift cards for local eateries
Whatever your situation, however busy you are, or limited your resources, there is always something you can do. You don’t have to travel out of the country to serve others. The homeless man I mentioned was less than 5 miles from my house. Had I done nothing more than gotten him a bottle of water, it would have been something, and it could have helped. I pray God gives me another chance to get it right.
Join me in becoming an activist, because of your faith.