On a Friday morning I became homeless. It happened suddenly without warning. I lost my home and my friends and found myself with a sleeping bag and small sack to carry my only belongings.
It was hot. I walked down the road feeling invisible. No one driving by noticed me as I stopped to rest in the shade of a tree. People crossed the street to walk around me. People looked at me and triple locked their cars in the parking lot. I have never broken into a car, or even tried. I am a honest person. It felt terrible.
What changed that day was that I was suddenly someone to fear. I felt ashamed. I was scared too. Where would I sleep, where would get something to eat, where would I find water? How would I let my family know where I was?
I had to look carefully for a place to sit, the ants were busy. I actually felt having a salient thought was harder to come by, my mind racing to understand my dilemma!
This was our Iris Abilene School of Ministry 24 hour emersion in homelessness!
Larry, our guide, had a story. He was a truck-driving partner with another man. Sitting shotgun he had a serious heart episode. He was left at an ER. His truck driving buddy never returned.
His heart was seriously blocked and he didn’t have the money the hospital required to place the needed stint! He found himself alone and sick in a strange city. The only thing he owned in the world was a bed roll. He lived under a bridge where railroad tracks ran.
Larry graciously showed us the ropes of living homeless. What a humble man. I may never look at my house, bed and frig the same way. He said, “I slept out under the stars with a train busting by my tent. The sounds of wild things from the dark sent my heart into double time.” I thought about what it would be like to have no living person wondering where I was. And perhaps worse, feeling like no one in the world cared.
Larry shared that the cement under-girders of the local bridges were the safest places to sleep, but mighty hard on the bones. He feared someone beating him up for the few things he owned . He was hungry and lonely and sick. His meals came out of a dumpster. His relentless thought was of ending his life by throwing himself under a train.
But he also prayed. Larry told a story of hearing weird, demonic noises in the middle of the night as he slept under a tarp which hung from a little tree. He heard a voice telling him to get up and move. After four months of homelessness he found Love and Care Ministries in Abilene who helped him find a place and a new way. Larry showed us bridges and fields where we might find shelter. How quickly you can feel dirty!
Under one bridge where the homeless sleep we spoke with a police officer who shared a conversion story which started by helping an elderly man across a street. He asked the man a question about his circumstances. The man opened his wallet and he showed him a warn picture from a church directory. His wife and three kids had all been killed instantly in an accident. His world ended and he was unable to keep working. He lost his home and ended up living on the streets. He’d been there for years! That police officer’s life was changed that day.
We were treated well by our host at Love and Care. We got to ride in their food van taking meals to the homeless and less advantaged. People welcomed us into their small and dilapidated homes as we brought the one hot meal they received that day. We also folded clothes and blankets at the ministry center. They give away hundreds of shirts, shoes, socks and showers every month.
After a night sleeping in a field, off the beaten track, we debriefed about our experiences. As we left for our own home and soft bed I was again thoughtful and grateful to the generous hearts at Love and Care, for Mark Hewitt, the director and his team who minister to hurting people every day.
It seems there are a significant number of the very poor in every city. Look for them and ask God to show them to you! Many on the street got their by no fault of their own. As I offered a bottle of cold water and a meal to these folks I was grateful to God to be received by them, and that they received our prayers!