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What Can One Church Do?

Toward a Biblical View of Homelessness

Posted Thursday, July 07, 2005 by Sam Yeiter

I would like to open a discussion on the Church’s response to the homeless.  Particularly, what should be the response of a little church?  I’m hoping that it’s a given that God cares for the homeless, and that the Church ought to be involved if it’s something God cares about.  In this post I recount my experience with one man whose story I believed.

In the heart of winter my wife and daughter were visited by a man claiming to be homeless.  He had found no one at the church (I’m bi-vocational, and thus am hardly ever at the church office), and so he wandered down to our house.  (Later I’ll have a post on the curses and blessings of living in a parsonage.)  My wife gave him a number where I could be reached and tried to explain that we were a little church and probably couldn’t give him the help he needed.  I waited for his call, which never came…since she accidentally gave him the wrong number.  All the time I was waiting, I was thinking, “What do I say to him?”  We’re a very small church with less than 30 members.  We don’t have the budget to help just anyone who asks for it, and believe me, once you give anything to one, you’ll invariably get hit with a host of handout seekers…


For the next couple months we had silence around our house and I forgot about the man.  Then one evening I heard a knock at our front door…a sure sign that it’s someone I don’t know.  It was the same man.  He was young...much younger than I had envisioned from my wife's description.  He apologized for bothering me and asked if I had a minute.  I did, I told him.  He told me his story…his sad, wretched story.  He told me he grew up Catholic and that he was into God.  However, terrible things had happened to him for a long time and the result was a broken man in front of me.  I’ve spoken with lots of homeless people, but this one was different.  I believed him.  As he told me of the abuse he had received from people you’re supposed to be able to trust, I began to feel pain for him.  If Mark was writing about this meeting, he would say, “And straightway, Sam was moved with compassion…but had no idea of how to help the man.” 


He needed money for a hotel room and food.  I gave him some cash and some mixed nuts and fruit.  I told him that the people who had hurt him had no right to do so and that God loved him, and that I loved him, too.  I gave him a job lead and gave him my right phone number and e-mail address, and told him that I would loan him the tools he would need to try to get the job I had mentioned to him.  I then let him make a phone call to his step-grandmother for about 20 minutes, which I sat and listened to.  I could hear her voice from time to time, and I wanted to cry right there.


In the end, I prayed with him, told him I was there for him and sent him on his way.  I returned to my meal, which was now cold (oh, the humanity!). 


So, what is a church of our size to do with the homeless that come to our steps?

Should I expect parishioners to take homeless people in?  (I certainly wouldn’t take in a strange man with my wife and daughter there.)

What should be spent on helping the homeless when we don’t meet the most basic bills required to keep us open?


I’m sure there are other questions that ought to be asked...but I’ve forgoten them.  Maybe you’ll raise them…maybe we’ll answer all of our questions and change the world.  One part of me whispers that there’s no hope and let’s get back to talking about fun stuff…but I think that whisper does not honor our command to be salt and light to a dying people.  So, lets get to the hard work of thinking.

Saturday, July 09, 2005 5:35 PM

Sam wrote: 

Upon further reflection...let me offer some thoughts:

- Reserve financial resources for individuals who can be truly helped by it.  Don’t give to someone just because you feel guilty.  Guilt does not equal compassion.

- Have gift cards on hand to give instead of cash.


When possible take people the places they need to go…spend time with them.

- Know what resources your church can muster (place to stay, low-cost rental unit, gift cards, job leads, etc), and develop a plan for distributing them.

-Know what resources other local churches offer, and let them know what you can do.  One church cannot do it all; we are not called the Body of Christ for nothing.

- Don’t be afraid to share the Gospel with them.  There is probably a connection between their physical need and their spiritual need.  Remember the lesson of the paralytic in Mark 2, and the crowd in Mark 6.  In both cases, Jesus sees their needs clearly.

-Pray for and with the individual.  Be sure they have a Bible to take with them.


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