Today was a busy day for us. My mom stayed here with our kiddos while Eric and I headed downtown to help out with a homeless ministry. My Dad has a ministry called Spice of Life Ministries, and one of their outreaches is to the homeless community here in Columbus. This was the first time that they had been to this particular area of Columbus to distribute food, clothing, blankets, batteries, small propane tanks, and countless other items that these people need just to survive the winter.
The place where we were is near a set of railroad tracks. You can't see the homeless camp from the street. You have to climb the hill to the railroad tracks and look over the other side, and then you will see many, many little make-shift campsites where the homeless of Columbus live. I did not go to see the site myself because I felt that it would be intruding on their privacy, but we did have a couple of people walk up to the tracks so that they knew we were there to distribute items.
We didn't have as many people come today as I would have liked. We had so many, many things left to give. Tons of clothing was left over, but the good news is that a local ministry was able to take all of the leftover clothing to distribute at other sites around the city. We know that it will be given to those who need it.
I can't really say that today's experience was eye-opening for me because I've experienced homeless ministry before. The first time was at a shelter in Florida when I was 15 years old. That was eye-opening and shocking to me. What impacted me today was the fact that our family has been so, so blessed. Eric was without a good job for two and a half years. I babysat to bring in some money and later worked in our church's childcare program very part-time, but we were by no means making it. Bills didn't get paid. It was humbling, to say the least, especially for a the perfectionist in me who prior to that point didn't believe in paying anything late.
Anyway, looking back on that time in our lives made me realize that we were only a few steps away from the lives that these people were living, and we both have college degrees! (Of course, an out of date teaching certificate gets you nowhere, especially in a state where you've never been certified.) At any rate, I think that people judge people too harshly. Who's to say that you and I won't have to join them some day?
I know a man who used to be a pastor. Several years ago he left his family and the church. Since then he has wandered from place to place and job to job, and at times, he has been homeless, living out of his car. I know someone else who is perfectly capable and willing to work any job, and his family would never allow him to end up on the streets if they could prevent it. Yet, for a time in his life, he fell so far away from his family that he did indeed live on the streets.
Who knows why they are on the streets? It's not our place to say, but it is our place to serve these people, to minister to them as Jesus would, and to shine light into their lives. For whatever reason, they are living on the streets, under viaducts, behind railroad tracks, or wherever they can find shelter from the cold winter winds and harsh sunlight of July. Maybe they are too proud to turn to a loving family member, or maybe they don't have a family member to turn to. Yes, I'm sure there are the stereotypical homeless people who have just made poor choices, but that isn't the case with all of them.
I wonder what their stories are. I wonder why they are living where they are. And I wonder why we are letting them live this way.