“On Becoming Homeless…”

A couple friends of mine, who’s names I will not mention until a later date, are writing a book together. One of them asked me to do a short write-up about our (Intentional Gatherings) time with the homeless on the streets of Ft. Worth for them to publish in the book. It was so reminiscent to think back two years ago and write out our story. Hope you enjoy…

On Becoming Homeless…

For a group of white, middle-class, suburban kids the journey we were about to embark on would prove to be quite shaping. We had been exploring what life as a follower of Christ should look like based upon what we found in scripture. It was not long after that we “broke it off” with our beloved pew, and said “goodbye” to the church as a building. While we stayed closely connected to the Body of Christ as a people we refused to allow that to hinder us from intentionally spending more time with non-Jesus followers than we did followers. From Starbucks and other “third spaces” to our neighborhoods, schools, and jobs we began exploring a life on mission outside the context of the bubble we had so unknowingly been seduced into previously.

As we devoured the scriptures communally it was not long before we noticed a theme throughout Jesus’ ministry of service to the poor and needy; not to mention His commands to us, as His Body, to take care of them. At this time in our lives ministry to the homeless was not the “hip-&-cool fad” it has become today. As we began seeking ways to live out these Gospel principles found in scripture we learned about what we would soon label the “modern-day leper colony”. About 20 minutes from our comfortable suburban homes, tucked quietly under the intersection of several major highways near the downtown area, we found what would soon become a place our souls longed to be. The majority of Ft. Worth’s homeless population called this area just off East Lancaster Boulevard “home”. For the most part they went unnoticed, and were ignored by society. Those who knew they existed steered clear of the area, or pointed down from the overpass as they attempted to teach their kids a lesson about “responsibility”.

We began taking regular trips to the streets in pursuit of being obedient to what we felt God was instructing us to do. We became students of those who had “worked” there for many years, as well as the homeless individuals we sought to “serve”. We learned very quickly how ignorant we were to the real needs of these people based upon the real reasons they were there in the first place. It did not take long to realize the abundance of tangible resources available to the homeless on East Lancaster. From churches to various non-profit, and government organizations the basic needs of the people on the street were met with excess. They did not need our Wendy’s dollar menu burgers, or our hand-me-down fashion from the closet.

A man named Michael Hatcher became our close friend and mentor. Michael had been “ministering” among these people for years, and taught us everything we know about working among the homeless in Ft. Worth. He and his family had moved into the “hood” several years before, and were dedicated to seeing lives transformed by the power of the Gospel of Jesus. Michael was known on the streets as “The Rev”. He was someone the people trusted, respected, and would give their lives for. Michael walked the streets during the week ministering to these people. He helped them get their ID’s, jobs, bus passes, but most importantly he gave them himself as a friend. We naturally followed in the footsteps of our mentor. We made a commitment early on: while countless others brought material goods to hand out to the people of the streets we vowed only to bring ourselves; a “hand-up” not a “hand-out” if you will. While others handed out food and clothes we sat on the curb to listen. Conversations led to prayer, topped with hugs, and a side of comfort knowing they had made a new friend. You must understand that many of these people had not engaged in conversation with another human being in years.

Things were going well, and we were seeing fruit from our labor. However, there was still something missing. While we had close relationships with our new friends on the street they knew we came from our comfy suburban homes, and would return there after our short time with them on the streets. We could not truly relate to them. Around that time several twenty-something’s from our newly formed “organic” church community felt a strange pull to move in, and “set up shop” among our new friends from the streets. We all began praying that God would provide a house for communal living among the poor…

By the grace of God our little crew of 15 broke college-aged kids began to make quite the impact on East Lancaster. We had organized the annual “Art-n-the Park” celebration, birthed the “Unity in the Community Network” of organizations who served among the homeless in Ft. Worth, and had the attention of many in the city. We still felt we had so much to learn. After all, we were in this for our new friends on the streets, and God’s ultimate glorification, not our own narcissism. Michael Hatcher decided that we needed to know what “life on the streets” was really like. He and his wife put together “Ghetto 101”, and about 10 of us agreed to a weekend we would never forget; a weekend our parents would not be happy to hear about…

We knew that we had to “be in their shoes” to really know how to best serve them. We had no idea what it meant to sleep on cold cement without a wallet full of plastic, or a cell phone to call mommy and daddy when things got rough. Our weekend began with turning in everything we had come with, a cold shower in the Day Resource Center, and a hopeless search through a box of clothes that would be our only possessions for the next two days. For those two days we were on our own in this place we had deemed the “leper colony”. Luckily, we had made many friends who “showed us the ropes” and “had our backs” if things got weird. We ate what they ate, walked where they walked, begged where they begged, slept where they slept, collected cans for money, and endured life disconnected from the rest of the world. The weekend was incredible. We learned a lot, gained the respect of our homeless friends (Who now saw that we were “for real”), and scared the mess out of our parents.

After eight months of praying God decided it was time. We found two duplex’s on the same property. Two of the four units were for rent, and they were cheap. By this point our organization, Intentional Gatherings, had gained its non-profit status, and donations were coming in from people who believed in the vision of the “I.G. House”. We moved two guys into one unit and four girls into the other. It was then that we truly began to learn the in’s and out’s of homelessness, and how to attack the problem at the root. We were in a neighborhood about a mile from the “leper colony”, which was full of the “working poor”. (Those who are not-yet-homeless, but hanging on by a thread) The primary focus shifted from the already homeless to the almost homeless; the work among the already homeless continued, and the relationships that had been made were fostered. The “I.G. House” crew grew close as they lived in tight-knit Gospel centered community, and sought to make a difference in the neighborhood in which they resided. As the crew grew they eventually took over three of the four units on the property. From weekend kickball tournaments to front porch after-school tutoring & Saturday morning breakfast in the yard this group of immigrants was serving Jesus in a way previously foreign to us all.

We had finally learned that in order to make a true impact among a people we had to “incarnate” ourselves among them. We had to put ourselves in their shoes, eat what they ate, sleep where they slept, and live life in their context. It was then that we truly gained a door into their lives. We refused to simply come from the outside bringing in the “answer” to life. We brought our lives to the inside of their lives, shared life, and discovered what the “answer” was with them. Thank you Jesus for “incarnating” yourself among us, sharing in our lives, and teaching us of yourself, the answer.

Advertisements

church, my personal Lord & Savior.

“It was NOT church that died on the cross for us. In fact, church is one of the very reasons Christ died on the cross. He died, as our bridegroom, that we, a broken and dirty bride might be made pure and clean – ready for His return…”

Have you accepted church as YOUR personal Lord & Savior? Has church entered your heart, and become the leader of your life? Have you allowed church to “take the wheel”, & be in the “driver’s seat?” Have you committed your life to church, and begun to share about your faith in church with your friends and family? I trust that you have invited those friends and family into a personal relationship with church so that it may transform their lives, allow them to play a part in the kingdom, and grant them eternal salvation in heaven.

(Before anyone gets upset, or defensive please know that my ABOVE use of the word “church” is directed at all different forms/models of church – mega, simple, house, attractional, incarnational, institutional, conventional, traditional, missional community, etc.)

I am attempting to illustrate how we worship our individual church, or “form” of church sometimes MORE than, or ABOVE Christ. It seems as if we have become “Dependent” upon those things rather than Jesus Christ. The above sounds, and IS heretical. However, we have not merely replaced the word “Jesus” with “church” in this blog post, but it is evedent in our actions – we are guilty of heresy in our practices. Why is Jesus not enough for us?

Be it mega-church or house church we all tend to fall into the trap of thinking it is one of those things that is the answer, and not Christ. We want to give people one of those things before Christ. We want them to find “community” and relationship in one of those things. We will talk about our “churches” sometimes with more excitement and enthusiasm than our Savior Jesus. how often do we offer church to people before we offer them Christ? Sure, our well-intentioned desire is that they might find Christ once they “join” a church or get involved there. I would submit that they need to know Jesus through YOU, and therefore become a PART of the body of Christ-the Church-as a result.

Here is a prime example of what I am referring to: I have a friend who has a pretty intense drug/addiction problem. After being “clean” for a while I learned that he had “re-lapsed”, and was not doing so well. We were riding in the car as he shared with me how he had been clean again for 3 days, started going to AA meetings again, and wanted to start going to church again (By this he meant he wanted to start attending a weekly service on Sunday mornings). I immediately asked him why he wanted to “go to church” again , and he replied, “because I want to get right with God, get close to Him”.

It hit me that we have substituted church for Jesus. At best we have made them synonymous when they are NOT. Church has become the default way to get close to God. Church has become the answer, and not Jesus. My friend is not in the wrong; he didn’t know any better. I was extremely excited for him, and his PURE desire to clean up, and “get right with God”. This is not an accusation towards him, but us, as the body of Christ. What picture have we painted for the world? Have we offered people church before Jesus? Why is that the default “solution” before Christ?

I became very convicted after the conversation with my friend. You see, I immediately began to think of the best place for him to go that would assist him in his pursuit. I named several options, one of which was one of the simple churches we had started. I am not at all saying it would be bad for him to go to one of those places. I am not even saying that he would not encounter God and be discipled in one of those places. However, why was that the solution I presented him…FIRST? Not to mention, why did I try to “pawn him off” to others when here he was sitting right in my lap practically begging to be discipled? We do not realize it is also OUR job to disciple others into a saving knowledge of Jesus-not primarily an institution or form of church. We, as the body of Christ get to evangelize others into the body. Once there, we get to disciple them as new members of that body. Yes, the body as a whole plays a part in that discipleship, but we, as the evangelizer/discipler play a huge part in that process. Bottom line: I need to disciple my friend. I need to give Him Jesus.

Whatever pursuit of BEING the Church you subscribe to I challenge you to subscribe to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior first and foremost. May that be what dictates our pursuit of BEING a part of the Body of Christ. I will be taking a personal challenge this week to make a mental note of every time I have a discussion about “church” in comparison to how many conversations I engage in about my Jesus. For it is not church that we place our faith in.

“It was NOT church that died on the cross for us. In fact, church is one of the very reasons Christ died on the cross. He died, as our bridegroom, that we, a broken and dirty bride might be made pure and clean – ready for His return. May we worship Him, and not the bride for whom He was murdered.”