It turns out that I like the homeless. How did I reach this conclusion? The hard way. I previously had a bad taste of the homeless coming from my experiences of homeless people in Chicago who bug you until you pay them to leave you alone. For my internship this summer I volunteered to go downtown with some students to work with the homeless for a week. Okay, honestly, I didn’t even want to go on this trip. Elizabeth took me to the train station and I was complaining on the way there. It wasn’t that I hate students or didn’t think this opportunity was a good idea, but I was worn out from all the ministry I’d been doing this summer. I was dreading for several reasons: I knew it was going to be a lot of work, I didn’t know what we were going to do, and I didn’t know anyone. But, I had signed up, so I went anyway.
I arrived at the train station to a chaotic mix of parents and students all looking for direction. When they realized I worked for Northpoint, they turned on me. I had signed up to go because I like to work with students. I had no idea about all the other details. Mallory, the person in charge hadn’t shown up yet and I was bombarded with signed parental permission slips and a myriad of questions about the if’s, where’s, and what’s. I’m good at thinking on my feet so I made up assuring answers to calm the anxious parents. When Mallory got there, I readily shoveled all the forms and questions to her, and stood close by to help the best I could get the trip moving.
The train took us downtown where we exited and walked to an a building that housed the organization called “Safehouse.” This is where we received our assignment for the week. It was simple; to serve with unrequited love. Joe, the pastor at Safehouse, challenged us to use this opportunity to give without expecting anything in return. He referred to it as “Love without an agenda.” Other than that, he really didn’t give us any assignments, which I hated… at first.
Every night of the week at Safehouse, a different church would come in to lead a cook dinner and lead a service. Our job was simply to hang out. This seemed strange to me in a way. I’m so used to being told to serve, cook, building, evangelize, or something. This simple plan of hanging out didn’t seem like ministry to me. We hosted a makeshift youth group with a bunch of silly icebreaker games. The high schoolers invited homeless people and we’d just hang out and connect with them. This seemingly meaningless assignment quickly turned amazing.
Within minutes of our first night of this, one of the girls had given her shoes away and was walking around in socks! This set the tone for the rest of the week. We went to parks, hosted meals, and just hung out with the homeless. As people have asked how this trip changed me, my answer is that the highlight of my trip really was seeing the students flourish in these circumstances. It was a huge confirmation of my calling to work with students and see them be changed. This generation is not a lost cause. They are incredible!
One morning, Joe asked if we were comfortable washing feet and giving people new socks. I remember the taste of bile clawing at my throat. I’ve been to Iraq and been in a number of uncomfortable situations, but that might be the line for me. I hugged the homeless people and held their hands as we prayed but I didn’t think I was capable of washing their feet. Joe asked for volunteers and I kid you not, every student raised their hands. There were other jobs to be done and students could have chosen other things, but they all raised their hands. Joe only chose seven lucky students, so, thankfully, I did not have to swallow my bile. But these students were off the hook!
One day, we made pancakes. That was mixing things up a bit because most shelters only make dinner. The students eagerly went to the neighboring parks to find homeless to invite them. Then, they served the meal with enthusiasm. One of the group members decided that we needed some background music, so he turned on his iPod. That was fine, but as the first song had rhythm, some students were inspired to “show us what they got.” They jumped on stage, and started showing off some dance moves. Pretty soon some homeless people were being pulled on the stage to be taught how to do the dance. Soon, it turned into a wild dance party. It was unreal. I am not exaggerating, two hours later, the iPod had played every Michael Jackson song I know and every song that narrates a dance. It went through every song I knew you could dance to and more, it was unbelievable. One homeless person could do the entire music video dance for “Thriller.” The founder of Safehouse said that, “I have never seen these homeless people smile so much”-- which is saying a lot coming from him!
One night a student started crying as she was telling me about a conversation she had having with with one of her homeless friends who had told her he was thinking about committing suicide. The longer she talked with him, the more connected she became. By the end of the conversation, all she wanted was for him to tell her that he’d still be around tomorrow. She learned that there is nothing she could do to change him. She could only love him that moment in time. And cry.
Another student traded shoes with a person who was wearing the wrong size. It didn’t matter that they weren’t his size either. The funny thing is, he thinks he got the better end of the deal. I saw him at church the next Sunday and he was still wearing them.
I could share so many more stories, but because you are already bored, I’ll close with a final thought. Out of everything I saw and experienced through this mission trip, I cam away feeling such a confirmation of my calling and so excited that the future of the church is in the hands of such a passionate generation. We were not forced to tell anyone the gospel, we weren’t given a 5 point tract to hand out, we didn’t have a trick question, we weren’t doing apologetics. These students were just loving these people and the gospel was brought by love without an agenda.