Heads, Hearts, Hands, and the Homeless

Here’s a guest post from a mate who’s been doing some hard thinking about how to free up and use more of his financial resources to help others. 

SANDWICH STREET

This is a highly unusual morning.

I find myself on a busy street with a bag full of sandwiches that I’ve just bought from the supermarket.

This is the street I usually walk along to get to and from work – have done for the last few years. And it is lined with homeless people.

As I walk, I hand a sandwich to the first homeless person I see, then the next, and the next, until I’m out of sandwiches.

Definitely not something I’d usually do.

See, I walk this street twice a day, to the salaried job that pays the bills for the house that I live in and the car that I drive. The pavement is a bit cracked but that’s fine because I have shoes on my feet. I’m not cold from the waist down because (you’ll be pleased to hear) I’m wearing a quality pair of jeans. In the pocket of my jeans is my iPhone. On my iPhone I’m listening to music on Spotify, for which I pay £10 a month.

But because of some things I’ve been learning and thinking about recently, I can no longer walk past the people who have nothing but the cardboard they’re sitting on, and the clothes they’re wearing, without doing SOMETHING. Anything.

Do I think I can change the world with five quid’s worth of sandwiches? Absolutely not.

Do I think I can change my own heart for the homeless with it? Absolutely.

This unusual walk to work – which I end up repeating on the same day the following week, and the next – is not a one-man crusade against hunger and homelessness in the UK. It is the first step of responding to part of Jesus’ message I’ve been learning about, something I believe God is specifically putting on my heart right now.

It feels like everywhere I turn, everything I read, every sermon or podcast I listen to at the moment, they all seem to be talking about loving God by loving the needy. I don’t think this is the only way to love God, and our salvation is by grace and not by works. But everything I’m learning and absorbing at the minute is echoing the same message, referring to the same verses in the Bible, the same teachings of Jesus.

Proverbs 31 talks about speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defending the rights of the poor.

In Matthew 25 Jesus said that when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome a stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick and visit the prisoner, we do it for him. He’s saying that to love the poor is to love God Himself. And God is interested in our very real, very physical, very human experience.

For too long, I’ve looked at these things as cosy metaphors for feeding the ‘spiritually hungry’ with the ‘bread of life’, giving the ‘spiritually thirsty’ a drink from the ‘living water’, clothing the ‘spiritually naked’ with ‘royal robes we don’t deserve’. Whilst I think this is all true and good (this is a ‘both/ and’ situation), the reality is that we live in a world where people have very real, desperate physical needs.

1.75 billion people are desperately poor. 1 billion are hungry. 80% of the world’s wealth belongs to 20% of the world’s population. There’s enough food in the world for every single human to never be hungry. The Earth is doing its job (God is providing through the produce of the land). The problem is with our distribution.

We are the wealthiest generation of Christians ever. And we have the opportunity and resources to do something. Anything.

Three questions I came across in Max Lucado’s book ‘Out Live Your Life’:

  1. Had you been a German Christian during World War II, would you have taken a stand against Hitler?
  2. Had you lived during the Civil Rights movement in the South [of America], would you have taken a stand against racism?
  3. When your grandchildren discover that you lived in a day in which 1 billion people were hungry, how will they judge your response?

Max goes on to say “I don’t mind first two questions, they’re hypothetical and I like to think I’d have done the right thing. But those days are gone and those choices weren’t mine. But the third question has kept me awake at night.”

Here’s a short sentence that is transforming every part of my day right now: We can bring some of the Kingdom of Heaven to people who are experiencing Hell on Earth. Read it again. Then get a tattoo of it.

So we’re taking baby steps, and we’re listening, and we’re responding, in whatever small way we can to start using our resources, our time and our finances.

It’s the same reason I’ve decided to volunteer with my local Street Pastors, and give time to a local soup kitchen run by a neighbouring church.

It’s the same reason that we’ve recently started to sponsor a child in Africa through a charity. (Although, side note – once you’ve made what you think is a big bold move by signing up with your however-many-pounds per month to sponsor one child, you INSTANTLY realise you could have afforded a second. And what about a third? “Cold my warmest thoughts” as Newton’s hymn says).

Even if I never ever do the sandwich thing again, it’s dragged me out of myself and pointed my heart in the direction of empathy and generosity, so God has been at work.

I don’t think we’ve got the whole way forward sussed out. There may be more effective ways of using our resources that I’m going to learn about in the coming weeks and months. There’s definitely more we could be doing. But if we are hearing from God then I need to respond. I need to throw my actions out ahead, and let my heart catch up, let God teach me through it, lead me through it, open me up to new things, new perspectives, let him speak and teach through the experiences.

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