On many Wednesday nights his weary hazel eyes would peer through his thick glasses. He always seemed to be carrying a heavy burden that weighed almost visibly on his Jansport backpack and worn sneakers. On this particular night, however, he held his chin a little higher than where it historically rested, and there was a difference in his step that made his cut-off sweatpants bounce around his calves with weightless freedom.
I greeted him with the only name I ever knew him by. Hey Frank, how’re you doing this week? It’s Jim. My name’s Jim, he corrected me. Jesus in me…that’s my new name. He paused for a moment and then spelled it out, J…I…M, Jesus in me. Chase, do you like it?
Jim is one of the many homeless folks who come to Alameda Park weekly to share a meal with a few members of our church community. We have been meeting together for over two years and enjoying the generosity of consistent volunteers and delicious meals provided by Paul and Kathy Shields. Our purpose is to meet the homeless where they are, and live out the gospel in a tangible and personal way.
Back to my friend Jim. After hearing of Jim’s new name, I commended him and agreed that Jesus indeed was in Him. What great news this was! However, he did not really need my approval— he had already made up his mind. He confided in me that he had been searching for a new name because he did not want to be associated with the baggage of his old name. He opened up to me about his struggle with sin and the difficulty of life in the flesh. Whenever he would start to talk about Jesus’ love for him and mercy toward him his eyes would fill with wonder. He professed with a greatly animated countenance about life with Jesus, unashamed of his brokenness and confident of God’s salvation. Jim was not preaching Christ to get a meal or buck from some church volunteers. He was a genuine guy who spoke truth that struck me like words of prophecy. He talked about the ways he appreciated the church’s response to homelessness, but also challenged the church to follow the words of Christ and better serve the community.
Perhaps Jim is an unusual character compared to the rest of the homeless who make their way to the park each week. Regulars include those with serious addictions to drugs or alcohol, vagabonds, and the mentally and physically handicapped. Despite these obstacles, many homeless people are educated about the world and are social just like the rest of us. Many homeless are often well versed in the scriptures, and might have more put to memory than perhaps you or I do (though Reed might win in a Forest Home bible quiz). The challenge is that so many folks on the streets have heard the gospel thousands of times: it is preached where they receive their meals and assistance. Although they are given physical sustenance and the gospel, the thing they often lack is the Love of Christ in the form of relationships.
For me, it is often fear and selfishness that keeps me from loving the homeless as they need to be loved. But I am working on sharing more of my life with them, just as Jesus cared for the Samaritan woman at the well. It is not aboutus and them, but it is about the children of God—the body of Christ. Consider these words from Isaiah 53,
…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.
It is intriguing that this prophecy about Christ describes him having an appearance similar to how we might describe the homeless. Though it might go against our natural inclinations or threaten our comfort, we are called to care for the ‘least of these’. Jesus calls us in Matthew 26 not to overlook the poor who need food, the naked who need clothing, and the thirsty who need a drink. Considering these passages in conjunction with our recent study of the Sermon on the Mount, my heart
and mind have been challenged as I consider how to interact with the broken people of this world. I want to proclaim boldly along with Jim that I have Jesus in me!
If you would like to help out with this ministry by volunteering, providing supplies or food, or for more information, please contact Chase Koop, .