By Bo Lane
I was 13 years old when I got my first true glimpse at homelessness – volunteering for a new outreach ministry in our church. At first it wasn’t so bad. I made some sandwiches, opened some extra large cans of peaches and watched elderly ladies smile as they poured their hearts out, giving their best possible, in a way they knew well.
We collected as many boxes and paper bags as we could, stuffing them full of our freshly made bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches, fruit, and then topping them off with an NIV Bible. One of the ladies prayed a nice prayer, including something about protection or wisdom and we all felt this sense of closeness to one another and to those who would receive these blessings.
We gathered our things together and I called my mom for a ride home. We were prepared to head out the church door after a long night’s work and that’s when it hit me: What happens next?
Who were these blessed people that would receive this food that we had worked so hard to prepare? But more importantly, how would they receive it? Maybe we were going to create a nice sign and stick it in the front yard of the church; our Children’s ministry had loads of crayons, color pencils and markers. Or maybe we’d place an advertisement in the local Nickle Ads and include words like “free” and “bologna” and “less fortunate.”
But as soon as I opened my mouth to share these miraculous ideas, the ministry coordinator blurted out, “Who’s coming tomorrow to help distribute these boxes? We’re heading out at 8am. It’d be a good idea not to wear your nicest clothes because you might get them dirty from walking through the trees and in the mud.”
Silence. I surely didn’t expect that. Neither did anyone else.
The worst part of it all was the fact that it was summer. No school, no obligations, and no reason to say “No.” Most of the older ladies were retired or widowed and didn’t have anything better to do except quilt or play bingo or do whatever older widowed ladies do. Surely he didn’t expect us to sacrifice this much. After all, we had spent all afternoon and most of the evening preparing these blessed meals.
The next morning I woke up at 7-something am, hopped in the shower and prayed that I wouldn’t get some sort of infection from stepping on fields full of needles because, after all, all homeless people are drug addicts or alcoholics, right?
Emerging from the shower, I was oblivious to the fact that my life would change that very day. My heart would break for a homeless population. I would see things that would give me a different perspective on life and love. My judgment would cease. But it would take several years for me to find out that they, regardless of popular opinion, are just like you and me. They were at one time an infant, a child, a young person, someone’s son or daughter, another’s brother or sister. They’ve made mistakes, just like you and me, and they’ve paid a consequence.
I find it hard to drive around Salem and the surrounding areas and not see the effects of our homeless population, both young and old. I find it hard to drive by and watch as people, yes actual people, live out their life on the streets of Salem.
Just the other day Melissa and I came across a lady on a street corner. The years had obviously taken their toll. Life had settled in far too rapidly. All we had was one dollar.
We couldn’t help but to think that at one point, this woman was in the arms of a loving (or not-so loving) parent. She ate baby food just like our 8 month-old daughter is eating right now. She grew up. She had acne. She cried a lot and smiled as well. She wore pig tails at some point in her life and we’re sure that someone loved her. Even if it was one person, we are convinced she had experienced love. And at some point, one point, her life changed.
Then we showed up, rolled down the window and handed her our dollar; useless to us but treasured by her. And then, of course, we drove off.
We should’ve felt happy. We should’ve looked at each other with joy, relieved that we put our hard earned dollar to work in someone else’s life. But we didn’t.
Let’s just be honest. We’re tired of just giving our coins. We’re tired of just driving by and saying a prayer that starts with “Lord, send someone their way…” Maybe that someone is you. Maybe that someone is me. Maybe we’re supposed to give our coins. Maybe we’re supposed to wonder if they’ll eat another meal. Maybe we’re supposed to feel like this because that’s how God would want us to feel.
Maybe we’re tired of feeling like this. No. We are tired of feeling like this. We don’t want coins – we want change.