This is a long post, but I think it will be worth your time!
We live a "privileged life"...take than back...we live an excessive, extravagant life. We throw away left over food each night, we have clothes in the closet we might wear once per year, we have an empty bedroom in our house, we have money in our accounts that we don't need, we leave the house with lights on all over (wasting money and resources). Our stewardship is not consistent with what the Great One calls us to.
Anyway, our family makes food packs (gallon ziplocs with water, non-perishables, and gospel tracts). When we see homeless folks on the corner, we give them bags of food rather than money (which might go to feeding addictions that keep them on the streets). Our children love making the packs, enjoy handing them out, and really have a heart for praying for every person who receives one - for God's provision in their life and for eternal life in Christ. Well, my life was comfortable. I felt like I was "serving the poor." Then a few things happened in the past week that really opened by eyes to how ignorant I am. Let me describe them.
First, I took my son camping with a group of other Kindergarten boys and their dads. We call our group BCM - Building Christian Men, and we go camping from time to time and build a character trait into our boys throughout the course of the weekend. Last weekend it was Servanthood. On the way home, we saw a homeless man on the corner (one we see often). His name is J-Bone. After we prayed for him, I told Caleb we can think of new ways to serve these men and women.
Second, that Sunday (last Sunday) night I was reading Scripture and a story to my son from our daily devotional. It was on Matthew 25:31-46. It speaks of our choice to feed the poor, shelter the poor, love the poor, really engage with the poor...or our choice not to. Christ goes on to say that when we love the poor, we love Christ himself and when we ignore the poor, we mock Christ himself.
Third, Monday was a day of fasting for me. A brother from church led a group of us in a week of fasting, as we prayed over Isaiah 58:4-9. In this passage, among other things, we are called to provide for the hungry. At this point, the Spirit was certainly moving in me that food packs were great but insufficient. Therefore, on Monday I asked Caleb if he wanted to go downtown and spend some time with folks living on the streets. He said "yes!"
I then called another BCM dad, Michael Fleming, and asked if he and his 5 and 7 year old sons wanted to join us. He jumped at the opportunity, which wouldn't surprise anyone who knows Michael. Caleb and I made up a dozen food packs and picked Michael and his boys up yesterday morning. Michael's wife said "Beau, do you know where yall are going?" My concise answer was "No." So we headed out with the goal of living out our faith with a lost and hurting world.
We parked downtown and started walking. My son was whining about being hungry...thirty minutes after eating breakfast at home and while we are looking to feed the hungry! We took that as an opportunity to talk about using a thorn in our side as an opportunity to pray. So we asked our boys to pray throughout the morning instead of telling us they were hungry.
After 15 minutes of walking, we met Del (short for Delano), a ~65 year old homeless man in a wheelchair. We all sat with him for 45 minutes as he shared his story. We asked how we could serve him, and he said our willingness to hang with him and chat was the best way we could serve him. We mourned with him as he shared about his broken marriage, his alcoholism, and his estranged relationship with family. Michael did a great job encouraging Del on many fronts.
After this we walked a few minutes and met Mike, a homeless guy who sells a local newspaper written by the homeless community. It is Mike's effort to get money without begging. We hung out with Mike for an hour and heard his story. Much like Del, his marriage and his career (long haul truck driver) were destroyed by alcohol and drugs. We started asking Mike about whether he had a relationship with Christ. He told us he didn't. He said he went to church growing up, but once he was on his own he found more joy smokin dope, sleeping with women, and getting drunk. I told Mike I totally understood that. I shared with him that I have been a part of self-absorbed, hypocritical groups of people called a church and when I was a teenager, I quickly turned to alcohol, sex, pornography, etc which were more fun. I then shared with him the difference between "going to church" and "submitting to and following Christ." I prayed he would have that. He then shared with us that Shady Grove church picks him (and lots of people) up every Sunday from Austin Street shelter to go worship with them. He said he went last week and wept as the pastor spoke of the danger of pursuing desires. Michael then asked Mike a question we also asked Del - "What single thing most contributed to getting you to where you are in life today?" Mike said the most destructive thing he has done is choose to do everything he wants to do. Can I get an "amen!" for that! I pray Mike is on his way to recognizing that only one Person wants the right things all the time and that Mike hands over his life to Christ.
Before I forget, everyone we met was so nice to our boys. Our boys introduced themselves to each of these men and shook their hands. The men respected our boys, answered all their questions, etc. I pray our boys' hearts continue to soften for the modern day "tax collectors, prostitutes, etc."
By this point it was getting late in the morning, and I had promised the boys we would walk over to McDonald's for a meal. I also told them I hoped the Lord would providentially allow us to invite a homeless man to join us for breakfast. Well we were walking to McD's downtown, and as we were getting to the entrance, a homeless man walked by with his head down. Michael and I both said hello, and he popped his head up and said hi. Michael asked "how are you doing?" The man said "Not good. I'm tired and hungry." So I blurted out, "you want to join us for a meal at McDonald's?" He said yes. God answered our prayer! We all introduced ourselves and learned his name was Frank. Michael, Frank and the boys sat down, and I ordered up a big breakfast (10:45am by this time). We sat down and Frank started eating a lot. I assumed he was a crack addict since he said he was tired at 10:45am and was eating like he hadn't eatem in days...likely coming off a crack fix. We asked him, and he said he has been a crack addict for the past 4 years, since he got out of prison. He told us the last time he had crack was in the middle of that night. (note: fun story to explain crack cocaine and addictions to your 5 year old!) After eating for 30 minutes or so (I had to go order him seconds!) and hearing his life story, Michael asked Frank if he was satisfied with his life. Frank suddenly got really sad and shared with us how miserable the streets are and how helpless he felt in trying to get off crack. Michael asked if Frank really wanted to get healthy. Frank said yes. We then asked if he would be willing to do anything we asked him to in order to get healthy. Frank said yes. So I got on the phone to call friends from church (Watermark) to find somewhere to bring Frank to detox. We learned of a place just south of downtown called Homeward Bound. We asked Frank if he wanted to go, and he said yes. Frank threw away his last hit of crack in the garbage can at McD's and hopped in my really stylin minivan with Michael, the boys, and me. We drive to Homeward Bound and walked into an office where a man and woman were working. (note: the look on this woman's face to see three young boys standing beside a crack addict was priceless. Her jaw dropped to here knees and she was speechless for a few seconds.) Unfortunately, Homeward only takes in new patients Monday through Friday, so we were out of luck. So we all hopped back in the car. At this point, my boy Caleb very sadly said "Mr Frank, I am so sorry we couldn't serve you."
As we drove around, Frank said "I remember a place called Victory Outreach that offered to help me. I wish I would have accepted." Within ten seconds, we were calling 411 and getting their numbers. They had relocated to east Dallas on Garland road. We went over then, but they were away from their church and shelter across the street in a park feeding local folks and sharing about the redemption and recovery that only Christ can bring. Everyone stayed in the car while I hopped out. I found the guy who runs the Men's Home for this church. I told him about Frank. All the guy asked me was "does he really want to get healthy?" I said yes, so he said "We'll take him." We all hopped out of the stylin minivan and joined this party. We met Oscar, a former drug addict and gang member who went through Victory Outreach's program after he lost his wife and kids. Oscar told Frank that the only way they could help Frank is if Frank would let Jesus help him. Oscar said Frank would have to live in their home for a year, would have to wake up at 5am daily (to allow for 2-3 hours of prayer, Bible study and worship to start the day) before working in the home for the day followed by worship and small group at night. Frank said he really wanted to do it. Then we wrapped arms around each other as Oscar prayed for all of us, and especially Frank. The prayer was quite powerful and reminded me of the prayers I heard while spending time with those suffering but redeemed in Africa. It is amazing how those who have suffered the most are the most passionate in their prayer and supplication to the Lord. By now it was 1:00. We all hugged and encouraged Frank and then left him with Oscar. I pray he gets healthy and gets Jesus. We will call Monday to see if Frank decided to stay with the program or ran out at the first longing for crack. Michael and I will also try to learn more about Victory's ministry and see if it might be appropriate for us to help them in their ministry.
My friends, the body of Christ is universal. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us that we need to use our gifts to serve one another. Michael partnered with me. Victory Outreach partnered with us in loving Frank. Shady Grove and Austin Street helped us in loving Mike. I am grateful for the vast expanse of the body of Christ. Each of us might have different views about certain theology in the Bible, but as Randy Alcorn says, if we can agree on John 17, we can then focus our efforts on serving Christ and His people together.
I thank God for this experience. It was one of the best Saturday's I have had in a long, long time. Michael and I are going to bring our boys again next month (and check out Victory again before then). We are also inviting the other BCM dads and boys to join us for a more hands on lesson in servanthood. The cool thing is we will be the ones who are served in this effort.
Grateful for the Cross -Beau