Saturday, March 24, 2012

Homeless in the OC: The Journey Continues

Yesterday, I learned that the county (OC) has a ten year plan to end homelessness. Here's the url and link to that report (148 page pdf file):
http://ocgov.com/vgnfiles/ocgov/OCCS%20-%20Housing/Docs/10YrPlan_Homeless_Prevention.pdf 

A little more than a month ago, I invited our church's spiritual mentoring program leader to consider taking the program into a homeless shelter or transition home. She hasn't yet gotten back to me; in fact, on Mar. 11 I found out that she'd forgotten about discussing it with her team leaders. I encouraged her to do so.  In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to elaborate on my request.

My idea is very simple: IPC spiritual mentors, in pairs or in groups (not singly) will visit Isaiah House during the daytime and hang out with the women there. By hanging out, I mean the mentors will engage them in conversation, talk to them and listen to them without any attempt to fix their problems. When we do this we treat the poor with the respect and dignity they deserve as God's children, who like us are made in his image. This sort of "engagement" goes beyond serving them a meal or doing something like laundry, cooking, or giving money. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't serve meals for the poor or do their laundry. I've noticed when we serve them, the way we often do, we don't really get to know them; sometimes, we get to know each other, that is, the volunteers serving with us but oftentimes, even that does not happen. How then do we build strong bonds in Christ with one another and empower each other as he calls us to his work of healing our world?  To help each other and to know the poor, I can't always be serving in the way our usual church programs for the poor and volunteering activities tend to do. There's also another and more important reason for just hanging out. From everything I read and hear about the poor without homes, it appears they don't get treated with the every-day ordinary respect and dignity, that I get and take so much for granted. Let me illustrate this with something from my life that happened recently.

At the grocery store, a young man standing in line at the check-out lane saw that I had only a few things in my hand while he had a cart, albeit with the same number of goods as I. Nevertheless, he invited me to go ahead of him. I was reluctant but he urged me. I agreed, and while we waited, we engaged in conversation. A simple exchange about our grocery shopping habits but a powerful expression of a human connection between two strangers. I (and possibly other Christians) don't always have this same sort of respect and connection with the poor who have no homes.

Shane Claiborne's experiment recounted in his book Irresistible Revolution provides some evidence for this lack of connection with the poor on the part of many Christians and our churches. 80% of the "strong followers of Jesus"  he asked, felt that Jesus spent time with the poor. Yet, only 2 % of them ever did. Shane concludes that we can admire and worship something without ever doing what Jesus did. I don't know if I can hang out with the poor like Jesus did but I'll never know if I don't make a start. It would be great to have others, like me, from my community of faith, encouraging each other and engaging with the poor, as we do this. Its like Mother Teresa said, " We can't do great great things, only small things with great love." We may not solve the problem of homelessness in the OC but we can give a small a bit of our time and ourselves because we are the body of Christ in this broken world and Christ lives in us.

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