It seems that everyone has an opinion on homelessness in our nation. If you live in Houston, you face the issue daily, as every intersection, bridge, park and bus stop seems to be occupied with these “wanderers”. Methods of ministry differ, but are often defined by a free meal, perhaps clothing or a blanket, accompanied with an offer to pray. For the short-term missionary, you were probably surprised by the vulnerability, jovial spirit, and willingness to accept prayer that these men and women exhibited. Unlike the business districts of our cities, the homeless offer no pretense at “having it all together” and rarely refuse a prayer. I have also been surprised that so few of them have a “victim mentality”. There is an overall sense of responsibility. I often hear, “I have made bad choices.” Or, “No one else is to blame but myself.” Often these choices are addictions to drugs or alcohol. For many, these addictions drew them to the streets, for others it was acquired on the streets, but for all of them it keeps them on the streets.
Living in Houston for 3 months, I have seen how demanding and discouraging Homeless ministry can be. The chance of successfully integrating these men and women back into society is extremely slim. For many of them, their addictions play a leading role in the statistics, forcing many of them back on the streets time and time again. For others, their addictions have caused mental illness. For other still, their age works against them, having been on the streets so many years that they have become addicted to the streets themselves and the warped sense of community that it offers them. These men and women realize their choices hold the power to change their circumstances, but prefer their life as it is. They are stubborn and stuck in their ways. With these odds stacked against them, it seems like nothing short of a miracle will turn their life around.
May I say now that it is easy to become discouraged? Bitter? Frustrated? Unsympathetic? I often wonder at how our director’s hearts are still soft and passionate in their mission to “rescue those being led away to death”.
For me, when I feel myself becoming detatched, I remember two things. First, I am a product of western thought and culture. I am often driven by results, success, numbers, increase and change. Often times I focus so deeply on the destination that I miss out on the importance of the journey. We all long for a moment of instant transformation, for the final culmination of all our efforts. In homeless ministry this is a rare occurrence. Other areas of work such as disaster relief or children’s ministry achieve more visible progress. Yet when you deal with men whose lives have been wrecked by illness, young imprisonment, absence of family and the deep addictions that follow, you are faced with a long road ahead. It is then that you must embrace the slow, patient journey, enjoying the small beginnings of prayer for the first time in years, or a phone call between a father and a son, or the willingness to be placed, for the third time into rehabilitation. Above all, we must keep in focus that it is not the rejoining into society that is our highest goal, but a true, deep relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
The second thing I often think on is: “What is my motivation in being here?” For if this question is answered correctly, no amount of discouragement can ever deter me. I find my answer in this quote from Paris Reidhead. Upon his arrival to Africa, he was discouraged by their sin, pride, and refusal to accept God. In his frustration, God spoke to him:
“And there alone in my bedroom I heard God say to my heart that day something like this:
‘I didn’t send you to Africa for the sake of the heathen. I sent you to Africa for My sake. They deserved hell but I love them and I endured the agonies of hell for them. I didn’t send you out there for them. I sent you out there for Me. Do I not deserve the reward of My suffering? Don’t I deserve those for whom I died?’
And it reversed it all. It changed it all and righted it all. And I wasn’t any longer working for my cup and ten shekels and a shirt but I was serving the living God.”
What are your thoughts on the quote from Reidhead? Have you ever been discouraged in ministry? What has God spoken to you in those times? What experiences have you had in homeless ministry? Share your thoughts!