“Cold doesn’t care how you got there; it’s just as cold whether you got there because of laziness or because of circumstances beyond your control.”
Those simple yet profound words were spoken during a testimony Sunday morning given by our homeless ministry director. Everyone was stone silent as he continued, “Last week when the temperature got down into the mid-thirties, and the rain was coming down in sheets, I saw two ladies by the light beside the Burger King, holding up signs asking for help. I pulled into the parking lot, called them over to me, and asked them what they needed. A couple of minutes later they both had new coats, hats, gloves, and a McDonalds gift card. Your giving makes that possible day after day. When they walked away with those things, they were both crying.”
A lot of us were too, by that point.
Since 2014 our church has had a formalized ministry to the homeless which used to consist of picking them up every Sunday night, bringing them to the church fellowship hall and feeding them a home-cooked meal, taking them into church with us, and then returning them to the uptown shelter. COVID-19 put a stop to all that, since the shelter stopped taking people in at all, and everyone sort of scattered.
So we revamped. We figured that if we could not help them one way we would find another. We started collecting new or very gently used coats, hats, gloves, sleeping bags, blankets, socks, and gift cards to places that sell food but do not sell alcohol. Our homeless director drives around each day with those things in his vehicle, and when he sees someone in need, he pulls over and starts handing things out. They are also provided with the gospel of John and Romans in both English and Spanish (courtesy of Berean Armed Forces Ministry) and a brochure from our church with the plan of salvation in it.
Many of our folks buy and bring the aforementioned clothing and supplies and gift cards. Others, often people on tight budgets of their own, repeatedly reach into their wallets and pull out money to give to our staff to buy those things. And every last one of us do every bit of this with one crystal clear realization:
The people we are ministering to cannot and will not give us anything in return.
In Luke 14:13-14 Jesus said, “But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”
A church is not likely to gain members by handing out coats and gloves to people on the streets. There will be no more money in the plate each week by their so doing. They will not likely achieve the fame that goes with the status of being a mega-church. But to paraphrase what our homeless director so powerfully said, cold doesn’t care if helping this person will help your church or not; it is just as cold whether it helps your church or not.
I think sometimes, even just by meaning well, we over complicate things. Another wise yet funny thing our homeless director said was, “We are all well aware that sometimes people are on the street because they would not work a job at a pie factory taste-testing pies all day.” And to be Biblical and balanced, we are also aware that 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” But the next two verses also make it clear that God was primarily dealing with lazy people in the church who spent their day as busybodies when they could have and should have been working. In other words, everyone knew them and their situation and knew full well that they were hungry because of laziness, and that as Christians they were damaging the name of Christ by being lazy. In that case we would absolutely do well to let people’s stomachs growl till they are motivated to get up and go to work.
But we have no way of knowing what brought a person to the streets and whether they are saved and should know better or are lost and have no way of knowing better. In that case, it surely seems better to err on the side of carefully meeting obvious needs and letting God sort out the rest.
I don’t know if we will ever see those two cold, wet, ladies walk through the doors of our church. All I know is that we in Christ’s name made sure that they were way less wet and way less cold after they crossed our paths that day, and that we will be back out there tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that attending once again to that very thing.
The cold doesn’t care how people get there; it’s just as cold no matter how they get there.