I watched my six year old son hug a homeless man. I told the kids to say goodnight, and Andy instinctually ran to give his new friend a hug around the leg. His friend grinned and then said, "wait", and slowly sits in a chair...reaches out...and closes his eyes taking in the full embrace of my sweet child. It is long and tender. The funny thing is that Andy doesn't ever give long hugs...but somehow deep down he knows.
As we walked through the doors we greeted friends that were serving the evening meal. People we know...people we already love. Even though it is 7:30pm on a school night I brought my 11 year old daughter, and my 6 year old son. My husband stayed home with our sick 9 year old boy. We've done this project several times, and they're both sad because they know what they're missing. We probably won't get home until after 10pm, but it is a sacrifice I don't even think twice about because each time we do it...it changes all of our hearts.
We grab a plate of food and look for a table without volunteers so that we can spend as much time as possible loving these strangers. If I were walking in their shoes, I probably wouldn't try to make eye contact either. It's hard, even for them, to accept what's given. They know they haven't earned it. They know they have nothing to give in return. I'm sure they question our motives. "Are they judging us...our decisions...our circumstances? Can they tell if we are unclean, will it repel them? Will they think we aren't intelligent? Will they be afraid? Do they assume we are on drugs or drink? Without first earning our trust, will they expect us to tell them our story?"
I introduce the kids to Robb and Paul. Robb is disheveled...but thoughtful...slow to speak...and kind. Paul is tidy...but a little manic...hard to talk to. None of us knows where to start. They talk about articles they read during the day. Hannah seems a little uncomfortable around Paul, but at peace with Robb. When it seems like everyone is almost done eating Andy asks to play Jenga. I try to bring along things to bridge the gap. Things that make everyone feel normal...at ease.
One year when the kids were really little I brought paper and markers. After dinner I watched as six homeless people lay on the ground with my kids coloring and drawing. Everyone had smiles on their faces as they chatted away. I didn't intrude. I didn't want to break the magic. I just watched. My kids asked me that night as we headed home, "Where were the homeless people?" I fought back tears as I tried to explain how God used them that night to help heal the hearts of troubled, lonely people.
Paul was working the room. He doesn't sit still for long. As we play Jenga Andy is the supreme host. He passionately includes Robb. Everyone loves Andy because of his ability to do this. He never meets a stranger, and he genuinely loves everyone. Before Robb makes a move, Andy teases him, "No not that one...the tower will fall!" Robb grins and does as he pleases. Andy laughs and makes a big deal over how good Robb is at this game!
Hannah and I leave Andy and Robb to chat and build things out of the fallen wooden blocks. Our time is almost done, and I want to meet more people. We find another table with a white woman in her 50's and a young Hispanic man in his 30's. They've bonded on the streets, and take care of each other. Hannah is an avid soccer fan and quickly prods Santos into a conversation about the sport. He dramatically talks about his favorite teams, and playing ball when he was a kid. Two sticks at each end of his yard were the goals. All afternoon everyday he and his friends would play. Hannah is riveted, and regrets that we don't have time to go outside and kick the ball with him. We have to come back Mom...we have to!
I'm chatting with the woman, and since I'm bad with names, I've already forgotten. I feel guilty for this. She lives her life nameless...and now I've forgotten too. She tells me how before she met Santos she was attacked many times on the streets. She lost her job a few years back. Didn't have much saved. Traveled to another state to try to start over. Money gone...car goes next...now she lives hand out to hand out. She wants to believe that maybe because of her strong faith, God put her on the streets and is using her to reach out to other homeless people. She clings to that belief. "Every time I have a need...it is met. God has been faithful...but it's hard," she says.
We clean up and watch them make their palates on the floor. They feel more comfortable with us now, and each face beams with thankfulness. They ask us to come back...we say, "We'll try."
The kids and I get in the car and start our drive home. Hannah says, "Mom, Paul was strange and there were moments I felt uncomfortable there, but I'm so glad we went." I told her, "Whenever I'm in a situation like that I tell myself...this is someone's child.
A mom gave birth to this person, had dreams for this baby. I imagine that each person there is really you. My baby lost in the world...no home. If I were in heaven, and you were in those circumstances, I would want someone to love you not out of pity, but because human beings need to be loved." The car was dark, but I could see her shoulders shaking and the tears glistening on her cheeks. I reached out and took her hand, and it was silent the rest of the way home.
I tucked Hannah and Andy in bed that night, and Hannah reached out for a hug and pleaded with me, "Please Mom...we have to go back."
"My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me." Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?" The king will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me." Matthew 25:34-40
*Our church hosts a group of homeless people for one month every year. It is a part of a program called Hotel De Zink run through an organization called InnVision. For more information click here http://mppc.org/calendar/hotel-de-zink.